Red-Eared Slider Care Guide

Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

Difficulty: Hard

Published: December 19, 2020

Last updated: April 5, 2021

trachemys scripta native range mapThe red-eared slider is a diurnal, semi-aquatic freshwater turtle native to parts of the United States. It inhabits ponds, lakes, swamps, creeks, streams, and slow-flowing rivers — wherever water can be consistently found. As a semi-aquatic animal, they need lots of water in their habitat, but they also need dry areas to bask, such as rocks, logs, and other surfaces above the water.

They have a smooth, oval, bright green shell as juveniles which darkens to brown, olive, or dark green with age. They also have a yellow plastron (belly plate) with dark spots, striped green and yellow skin, and most notably, a red stripe that runs behind each eye (thus their name). Like other aquatic turtles, they have webbed feet adapted for swimming and strong, sharp, beak-like jaws that facilitate their omnivorous diet.

Red-eared sliders can grow up to 12” (31cm) long as adults, although there are reports that they can grow larger, and females tend to be larger than males. They have long lifespans of 20-30 years, although 40+ years is not unheard of.

The red-eared slider is actually just one of three subspecies of Pond Slider:

  • Trachemys scripta scripta
  • Trachemys scripta elegans
  • Trachemys scripta troostii

Although this is technically a red-eared slider care guide, it can be used as a reference for caring for any of the three subspecies of Trachemys scripta.

Red-eared sliders are arguably one of the most abused species of reptile in captivity, often severely neglected and/or irresponsibly released into the wild, which is one of the reasons why they are so prolifically invasive. Although incredibly hardy and adaptable, red-eared slider care is not easy or inexpensive — in fact, they require a lot of preparation and ongoing maintenance to keep successfully. That being said, with proper care, this turtle can be a personable, fairly interactive pet, best suited for life as a display animal.

Fun Facts About Red-Eared Sliders

  • Although you can’t see their ears, turtles still have them. They’re just covered by skin! And they don’t just have any old ears. Their “aquatic ear” is so sensitive that researchers speculate that red-eared sliders may use underwater sound communication with other members of their species. (source)

Red-eared sliders are the most popular pet turtle in the world. If you are planning on a red-eared slider as a pet, PLEASE strongly consider adopting one from a rescue or your local classifieds before purchasing from a pet store. There are many wonderful turtles that have been rejected by their owners and need a forever home.

The market is already flooded with red-eared sliders. By adopting, you discourage the breeding and sale of more unwanted turtles. Plus, you can often adopt one for cheaper than you would buy one at a store — often for free. It’s a win-win!

red eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

Red-Eared Slider Care Guide — Table of Contents:

Special thanks to Roman Muryn, Andrew Cummings, John Vu, Jessica Warner, and Elizabeth Allison for their contributions to this guide.

Map credit: Asþont based on maps by USGS, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons