Water is an incredibly important part of a red-eared slider’s enclosure. But there’s a reason why they’re categorized as “semi-aquatic” instead of just “aquatic”: red-eared sliders need land in their tank, too!
The “land” portion of your turtle’s tank is often referred to as a basking platform. Since your turtle will be spending most of its time in the water, at bare minimum, this basking platform needs to be big enough to get your turtle’s whole body out of the water.
However, ideally, there should be enough land for your turtle to actually be able to take a bit of a walk. Males are known to go for extended hikes while looking for mates, and females are known to do the same when looking for a nesting site. Not providing an area for them to indulge these instincts can create frustration, and goes against the 5 Provisions and Animal Welfare Aims.
Heat and UVB lamps should be positioned directly above the basking area, as UVB and heat must be used together to be most effective. Also keep in mind that beneficial UVB light is blocked by plastic (100%), glass (100%), and tight mesh (up to 40%).
You will also need a stone basking surface. Stone absorbs heat very evenly, and creates a basking area that provides warmth from both above and below, facilitating more efficient thermoregulation. Flagstone is excellent for this purpose. Wood logs can also be used, but they’re not quite as thermally effective.
Some sources suggest that it may be beneficial to also provide a “shade” platform where a turtle has the option of climbing out of the water and drying out in the absence of heat or UVB. This should only be used in addition to a basking platform with heat and UVB, not instead of one, and can be created in the same way.
There are several ways to create a red-eared slider basking area:
BEST: Artificial Shoreline Basking Area
To create an artificial shoreline for an aquarium, section off part of the tank with a piece of glass or other waterproof material. Then use 100% silicone sealant on both sides to seal it against water leaks. Once that has dried, fill the land portion of the enclosure with topsoil or sand. Add a large, flat piece of stone (flagstone works great) as a basking surface, and a ramp to make this “shoreline” easy to access for your turtle. Make sure the ramp has some texture to give your turtle some grip — one attractive way to do this is to silicone or glue natural pebbles to the material you sectioned off the tank with. You can also use cork flats, but note that the cork may stain your water.
I couldn’t find any photos of this concept that I liked, so to help you visualize, here’s a doodle:
Note that the land area will take up a significant amount of the aquarium’s space, so it only works if you have extra volume to work with. Your turtle still needs 10 gallons of water per inch of shell length!
(ReptiFiles DOES NOT recommend the Tetrafauna Viquarium kit.)
To create an artificial shoreline as part of an indoor turtle pond, you will need to build a custom “table” to either partially or fully surround the swimming area. This “table” must be surrounded with a barrier (preferably opaque) at least 10” high to prevent the turtle from climbing out.
If using wood for your “table,” seal it *very well* against moisture, or else it will rot and eventually fall apart. Cover it with a grippy material that is easy to clean and replace, like matte stone tile, or even reptile carpet if you’re willing to sterilize it weekly. If you have a female, inlay a plastic storage tub full of topsoil or play sand to act as a nesting site. Finally, add a large, flat piece of stone (flagstone works great) as a basking surface, and a ramp to make this “shoreline” easy to access for your turtle.
WikiHow actually has a decent tutorial on how to build an indoor turtle pond with an artificial shoreline.
Here are some more examples of indoor ponds with artificial shorelines:
The above ponds are examples of what an artificial shoreline can look like, but some of them are actually built for koi, not turtles. Don’t forget to put a wall around your indoor pond to prevent escape!!
To create a shoreline as part of an outdoor turtle pond, you’re in luck — this is the easiest to do (and one of the many reasons why it’s ideal to keep pond sliders outdoors)! After you have dug the pond into the ground, build a fence around the pond, leaving space for a generous land area. Make sure the fence extends at least 12” into the ground to reduce the likelihood that your turtle will dig its way to freedom. Add a large, flat pieces of stone (flagstone works great) as a basking surface, and at least one ramp to make it easy for your turtle to exit the water.
Here are some examples of outdoor turtle ponds with enclosed shorelines:
GOOD: Above-Tank Basking Platforms
Above-tank basking platforms (also known as turtle toppers) are basking areas that are built on top of a turtle aquarium to maximize the tank’s volume. Most of the ones you’ll see for sale online or displayed in turtle forums are too small to provide much opportunity for walking, but the tank topper concept itself has some potential, and can be adapted to provide more walking area and even hold sand or soil. This earns them a provisional “good” rating.
When building your above-tank basking platform, include a ramp to make it easily accessible, make it as large as possible, use stone for the basking surface, and don’t forget to build walls to prevent your turtle from escaping. Do not place clear plastic or glass on top, as this is not compatible with heat and UVB lamps.
A quick Google search will reveal several helpful tutorials for creating an above-tank basking platform. Here are some examples to give you an idea of what you want your platform to look like:
OKAY: Basking Island
Basking islands are stacks of rocks and/or wood that create a basking area in the middle of a turtle pond. Due to standard aquarium dimensions, basking islands generally work much better for indoor/outdoor ponds than they do for aquariums.
To create a basking island for your red-eared slider, you can stack flagstone, bricks, or paver stones on top of each other from the bottom of the tank. Natural wood logs can also be used, but keep in mind that they may leach compounds that will change the color of the water. Wood is also less stable than stone and tends to float, so it’s best used at the top of the stack.
As a side note, Universal Rocks has a floating island product that may perform similarly to wood.
Arrange the stones in a way that enables the turtle to climb out of the water easily. The island should be tall and wide enough to allow your turtle to 100% leave the water. Also make sure they’re not wobbly at all — the last thing you want is for it to topple over and drown or crush your turtle! If you use larger stones, the weight alone should be enough to keep everything in place. If you’re worried, you can stick the stones together with waterproof mortar (silicone may not stick to the stone very well).
Here are some examples of basking islands:
Basking islands work best when used in combination with an artificial shoreline.
AVOID: Store-Bought Basking Platforms
Store-bought turtle basking platforms are typically small and made of plastic. Although they do provide a place for your turtle to dry off and warm up, they’re small, don’t provide opportunities for walking or digging, and the plastic has poor thermal properties. They work for the intended purpose, but they’re far from ideal.
There are two types of store-bought turtle basking platforms: floating platforms, and standing platforms. Floating platforms adjust with water level; standing platforms don’t. Floating platforms are more convenient for use with aquariums, as standing platforms are generally incompatible with deep water.
If you absolutely must use one, the following products are better than most:
- Zoo Med Turtle Dock
- Tetrafauna Turtle Island
- Exo Terra Turtle Bank
- Zoo Med Floating Turtle Log
- Zilla Log Landing
If you choose to use a floating or standing basking platform, make sure to position it far enough below the lip of the aquarium that your turtle won’t be able to escape!
- Introduction to Red-Eared Sliders
- Trachemys scripta Subspecies
- Shopping List: Supplies You Will Need
- How to Select and Buy a Pet Red-Eared Slider
- Enclosure Size & Roommates
- Lighting & UVB Requirements
- Heating Requirements
- Creating a Basking Platform
- Water Management
- Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Enclosure
- Feeding Your Red-Eared Slider
- Handling Tips & Behavioral Notes
- General Health Guide
- Additional Resources