Red Eared Slider Handling & Behavior Notes

hand feeding turtles
Contributed by Roman Muryn

Red-eared sliders and other pond sliders typically have fairly personable dispositions and quickly associate their keepers with food. They will pace back and forth at the front of their enclosure in anticipation whenever you walk by. However, don’t mistake that frantic pacing with begging for affection — they’re just hoping for a treat. Generally speaking, red-eared sliders dislike handling and prefer to be left alone.

One of the easiest and most effective ways you can build trust with your pet red-eared slider is with tong feeding. Don’t hand-feed — this is likely to get you nipped! — but using a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers is likely to have the same effect. Use the tweezers to offer occasional treats like bits of cooked shrimp or canned insects. Accustoming your turtle to hand-feeding is a good way to coax them out of the water for quick health checks, especially when you have a pond.

You can further engage your pet with training and enrichment activities. This can be fun for both you and your pet red-eared slider! For more information, check out the resources at Reptelligence.

Red-Eared Slider Handling Tips

When handling is necessary, scoop them up from below with your palm rather than grabbing them from above. This will help them not to panic. Then grasp the shell with two hands, supporting both the body and the legs. Keep a firm but gentle grip — falling can do serious damage to a turtle, and can even be fatal!

Avoid petting your turtle. They generally don’t like this very much, and it will likely stress them out more than contribute to building a positive experience.

Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your turtle. When soap and water is not available, use a good hand sanitizer. Children under 5 should not be allowed to handle turtles, even when supervised.

Do red-eared sliders bite?

Anything that has a mouth can bite, but red-eared sliders are known for occasionally biting humans that annoy them. Although red-eared sliders don’t have teeth, they do have sharp beaks, which means that a bite from a red-eared slider will be painful and likely to draw blood.

What should you do if you get bitten by your turtle?

If you get bitten by your red-eared slider during handling, don’t put it back in its enclosure right away. Its enclosure is the place where it wants to be, so putting it back is like a reward. The turtle will make the connection that biting humans is a good thing, and will be more likely to bite in the future. Instead, hand the turtle off to someone else (they can hold on to the turtle with a bath towel) or place it in a temporary container that it can’t escape from.

Once the turtle has been taken care of, wash the bitten area thoroughly with lukewarm water and mild soap. Keep running it until water for about five minutes to thoroughly flush out the wound. Do not pour hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol on the area — this may kill germs, but it will also damage your own cells and interfere with healing. Instead, apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage.

Red-eared slider bites are unlikely to be deep enough to require stitches, but if it’s deeper than 1/4″, continues to bleed after applying pressure for 15 minutes, or shows the underlying muscle, bone, or joint structures, then it’s best to head to an instant care clinic to get it checked out.

Infection is a risk with animal bites, so keep an eye on the wounded area while it heals. If it gets red and inflamed, starts producing a yellow/green or cloudy discharge, gains a streaky appearance, or you develop a fever, then you will need to go to an instant care clinic for treatment.

Can you get salmonella from your turtle?

With smart hygiene practices, it’s pretty rare to get salmonellosis from a pet reptile. However, because of their aquatic lifestyle, you are more likely to get salmonella poisoning from a turtle than from most other reptiles. For details on how you can keep yourself and your family safe, read our article: Reptiles and Salmonella: Should You Be Worried?

Common Red-Eared Slider Behaviors

Retraction — This is when the turtle pulls its head and limbs into its shell. Retraction usually signals that your turtle is uncomfortable, either with its current situation or because it’s not feeling well.

Sunbathing — Turtle will stretch out its limbs and head to their fullest extent in a yoga-like position. This posture allows the turtle to completely dry out and create maximum surface area for absorbing warmth and UVB. Usually this can be interpreted as a sign that your turtle is enjoying their basking session.

Pacing — Turtle is swimming back and forth along the edge of the enclosure. This is more common with glass aquariums than ponds. This can indicate the eager anticipation of food, or if the behavior is near constant, that the turtle needs a larger aquarium. (Note: Just because the turtle is “begging” for food doesn’t mean you should always give it.)

Fluttering — Male turtle will face another turtle, head-to-head, extend forelimbs, and gently tap the other’s head with his claws. This is usually a courtship behavior performed toward females, but it can also be a method of asserting dominance.

Stacking — Multiple turtles will stack on top of each other to share a basking location. This is a form of competition for the best basking spot, and should be discouraged. If you notice this behavior between cohabited turtles, provide more basking areas.

If you have multiple turtles, watch for dominance displays or signs of bullying. This includes fluttering, stacking, biting/nipping, and fighting over food. A bullied turtle will be skittish, hide often, or sit constantly in one place. They may have scars, wounds, or damaged scales from being bitten by other turtles, and they are likely to lose weight. For these reasons, many choose to house their turtles singly.

If you decide to have multiple turtles sharing one enclosures or pond, here are some ways you can reduce competition and bullying:

  • Increase the pond size by half
  • Provide multiple basking areas
  • Feed them separately
  • Provide enrichment activities/items

Sometimes certain turtles just don’t get along, despite your best efforts. (This is especially the case pertaining to aggressive males.) When that is the case, it’s best to just separate them permanently.


  • Red-eared sliders don’t particularly like being handled.
  • If you have to pick up your turtle, scoop from below – don’t grab from above.
  • Red-eared sliders can and will bite if they feel threatened. They can draw blood, but they are unlikely to cause severe injury.
  • Enrichment activities are a good way to bond with your turtle and improve its quality of life.
  • Cohabitation of red-eared sliders can lead to bullying, and is best avoided if you do not have a large pond.
retracted red eared slider behavior