How to Care for Your Red Eared Slider Turtle

Did you know that red eared sliders are one of the most popular species of turtles kept as pets? They are great aquatic reptiles that can be kept in either a tank or an outdoor pond environment, are hardy and versatile, and also quite cute which makes them appealing to both seasoned herp enthusiasts and those just getting introduced to the hobby as well.

Because red eared sliders are so common, we’re dedicating this blog article to discussing how to care for these fantastic turtles. We’ll answer some commonly asked questions such as:

Do red eared sliders make good pets?
What do red eared sliders eat?
What kind of habitat will my red eared slider need?
Can I keep my red eared slider outdoors in a pond?
Are red eared sliders good classroom pets?

So if you’re contemplating getting a pet red eared slider or you already have one and you want to make sure you’re giving it the best care possible, read on!

How to Care for your Red Eared Slider Turtle (Trachemys s. elegans)

Do red eared sliders make good pets?

To sum it up – yes! Red eared sliders make excellent pets, which explains why they are so popular!

baby sliders
Red eared sliders are communal and often stack on top of one another when basking. It’s quite humorous to watch them slide into the water when they’re hanging out in groups like this.

Red eared sliders get their common name from the distinctive red mark or stripe behind their eyes where typically an external ear would be found. They range in color and can have shells that are greenish brown, olive green, or even just brown. They always have yellow bellies with irregular markings on their belly scales or scutes.

Red eared sliders can be longer than sixteen inches, however it is far more common to see turtles that range in size from six to ten inches. They are relatively long-lived animals and typically live between twenty and thirty  years.

Not only are sliders appealing to look at, they are great outdoor and indoor pets. Many people build fancy ponds in their yards and enjoy watching the sliders thrive in a very natural outdoor environment, while others are content to create aquatic enclosures within their homes. No matter where your slider lives, they are communal creatures and it is entertaining for young and old alike to watch them stack on top of each other while basking, only to scuttle into the water when startled. Funny enough, this habit is actually where the “slider” portion of this turtle’s common name originated.

What do red eared sliders eat?

In the wild, red eared sliders are omnivorous. They eat both protein (meat) and vegetation. Ideally, this omnivorous diet should be replicated in captivity as well, with a good balance being struck between the amount of protein your turtle eats and the amount of plant matter.

Aquatic vegetation and plants that occur naturally in pond environments coupled with dead fish, frogs, and invertebrates are all food items consumed by red eared sliders in the wild. In captivity, in order to ensure a proper diet with all the correct nutrients, many slider owners feed their turtles commercial pellets. But like people, sliders shouldn’t necessarily eat the same thing all the time, so it’s a good idea to offer leafy greens, crickets, roaches, worms, krill, and even pinky mice as treats from time to time. Most sliders aren’t picky eaters and will pretty much enjoy eating anything you feed them.

We recommend that vegetable matter always be available for your turtle to consume when it’s hungry. Protein items can be offered daily, but don’t be alarmed if your slider doesn’t eat them right away. Reptiles have much slower metabolisms than mammals and actually don’t need to eat as frequently.

What kind of habitat will my red eared slider need?

Because red eared sliders are semi-aquatic turtles, you will need to provide them with an aquatic set up, whether you choose to house your turtle(s) indoors in an aquarium environment or outdoors in a contained pond.

Creating an Indoor Habitat

We always recommend keeping hatchlings and juvenile turtles under four inches long indoors. This way you can monitor their diet more closely, keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t escape your yard, and also make sure that no predators manage to capture them.

Indoor aquatic set ups for red eared sliders aren’t very complicated, although because sliders are a messy species of turtle that produce a lot of waste, you will be required to clean the tank fairly often, even with a very good filtration system.

baby red ear slider
Baby red eared sliders are best kept indoors in small tanks. They are more vulnerable to weather, predators, and other threats than their older counterparts.

When it comes to setting up a tank for your red eared slider(s), the general rule of thumb is that the enclosure should be able to comfortably hold ten gallons of water for every inch of the turtle’s shell. So, for example, if you have a hatchling slider that is three inches long, your tank should hold at least thirty gallons of water. This might seem like a lot of space for such a small reptile, but keep in mind that red eared sliders are a particularly active species of turtle and they do quite a bit of swimming and spend a lot of time in the water. For this reason, we do recommend making sure that you can provide a home large enough for your adult turtle before you purchase. Considering that at maturity, although rare, very large sliders can be around sixteen inches long, you’ll want to make sure that you are prepared to provide an aquatic enclosure that holds at least 160 gallons of water.

In addition to making sure your tank is the proper size, your turtle’s aquatic set up will require several other elements.

We recommend a good filtration system to help keep the tank clean since we’ve already established that sliders are messy. While a filter is certainly not a replacement for regular cleaning of the tank, it will certainly help keep things as clean as possible between cleanings.

Your red eared sliders will also require a UV lamp. Both UVB and UVA rays are  essential to your slider’s health, so make sure your bulbs are full spectrum and mimic the rays of the sun. The temperature of the basking area beneath the lights should be between eighty-five and ninety degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition to a basking light set up, your red eared slider will need what’s referred to as a basking dock. This is essentially an area or platform completely out of the water where the turtles can emerge to dry off and soak up the UV lights. Basking docks can be hand made or purchased at commercial pet stores.

While we have seen aquatic turtle set ups without a water heater, we do still highly recommend purchasing one. Turtles of all species will thrive when the water temperature is consistent. If you keep the water temperature from fluctuating too much, your slider’s metabolism will stay active, making for an overall healthier reptile. Our recommendation for the ideal water temperature is between seventy-five and eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

Creating an Outdoor Pond Environment

We highly recommend keeping larger red eared sliders outdoors in contained pond environments, provided the temperatures and weather are appropriate. It is better for the health of the turtle(s) and it is also far less hassle to maintain since large turtles require large bodies of water.

Read on to find out more about how to create an outdoor pond set up for red eared sliders.

Can I keep my red eared slider outdoors in a pond?

As we’ve already touched upon, yes, you can most certainly keep your red eared sliders outdoors in a pond environment! However, please keep these things in mind when you choose to use this housing method:

  1. Your pond needs to be large enough to accommodate the number and size of sliders that you own. Most turtle pond set ups don’t just have a single turtle living in them, so you’ll want to be sure that your pond is large enough to comfortably contain all your sliders.
  2. The outdoor temperatures and weather in your area need to be red eared slider friendly. This means that if you love somewhere extremely cold or conversely, extremely hot, you might want to reconsider having a turtle pond.
  3. Your outdoor pond should be contained. Red eared sliders are active reptiles and they might want to go exploring. You’ll want to be sure that they are unable to go far if they leave the safety of the pond, so backyards with fences are ideal.
turtle pond
Turtle ponds can be as elaborate or as simple as desired.

When building a turtle pond, you’ll want to protect it from local wildlife, namely any potential predators. Racoons, foxes, and coyotes are often quite threatening to turtles, believe it or not. You can protect your enclosure and help prevent escaping turtles too by setting up a fence or other similar border around the pond.

Another consideration when you build your pond is to make sure that the water is not always in direct sunlight. You will want some form of shade present so that the turtles can thermoregulate and the temperatures don’t get too hot. Essentially, just like you want a hot and cool side for your indoor tank, you will want to fulfill the same requirement for your outdoor pond.

You can go as big or as simple as you want when building your pond. There are so many different options available for budgets and yards of all sizes. You can even include fish and aquatic plants as natural sources of food for your red eared sliders.

group of turtles
Because Backwater Reptiles also re-homes and rescues reptiles, we get so many sliders brought in from the side of the road. Good Samaritans often save them from being run over but then don’t know where to safely return the turtles to the wild.
The turtles in this photo are all rescues being temporarily housed in a kiddie pool until they are re-homed.

One thing we’d like to stress when it comes to creating an outdoor pond environment is that you need to make sure your pond is secure. Red eared sliders are so hardy and versatile that they have actually become an invasive species in many areas. They can escape yards and wind up interfering with natural ecosystems if you’re not very careful. Please plan your pond’s “security” accordingly. Ideally, no predators should be able to get in and no turtles should be able to get out.

Are red eared sliders good classroom pets?

Red eared sliders can make excellent classroom pets, however please make sure that you are not keeping small turtles in a classroom with children who still like to put small things in their mouth. For this reason, we’d recommend only turtles with shells over four inches long for any classroom.

Sliders are great animals to teach kids responsibility. Not only do they need to be fed a balanced diet, they need to be cleaned up after frequently. Red eared sliders provide a good way to teach children the responsibilities of cleaning up their pet’s waste.

No matter what age group your classroom happens to be, it is important that all children wash their hands after handling the sliders. While most people with healthy immune systems are fine being exposed to the natural bacteria sliders carry, it is always best to be safe. We recommend that any time the sliders are handled by anyone, that person wash their hands with antibacterial soap to kill any potential bacteria such as Salmonella.


Whether you keep a single red eared slider in a tank inside your home or build a fancy outdoor pond habitat for many red eared sliders, know that these turtles are popular pets for a reason.

Red eared sliders are very versatile, hardy, and beautiful reptiles and we guarantee that you and your family will get hours of enjoyment and entertainment from watching them and interacting with them.

Ready for a red eared slider of your own? Backwater Reptiles has sliders of all sizes available for sale.


What’s the Difference Between Turtles & Tortoises?

Have you ever wondered, “What’s the difference between turtles and tortoises?” If so, you’re not alone. Many people confuse turtles and tortoises because these two types of reptiles are very similar in overall physical appearance.

However, when it comes down to it, turtles and tortoises are very different animals and have very different care requirements when kept as pets.

In this article, we’ll delve into the similarities and differences between turtles and tortoises. In our opinion, both make excellent pets, but you’ll want to know if a turtle or tortoise is better suited to your needs before you adopt one.

turtles vs tortoises
This hatchling common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is a turtle species that spends nearly all of its time in the water.

What’s the Difference Between Turtles and Tortoises?

Physical Traits

Upon first glance, turtles and tortoises appear very much the same, mainly because they both have hard shells that allow their body to retreat inside of it. However, when you examine both reptiles closer, you’ll see that their physical characteristics are actually slightly different to reflect their different life styles.

The shells of tortoises tend to be dome-shaped and weigh a fair amount. The shape helps to ward off potential predators. On the other hand, turtle shells are usually flat, smooth, and overall fairly light-weight in proportion to the animal. This is to keep the animal stream-lined for an aquatic or semi-aquatic life style.

A tortoise’s legs are chunky, sturdy and stay bent at the “knee” area to promote walking on land. Conversely, turtles’ legs tend to come straight out from underneath their bodies to support swimming and a more aquatic life style.

peninsula cooter turtle
This Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) turtle has a flat shell, webbed feet, and claws which suit it to an aquatic life style.

Turtles also have claws or toe nails on their webbed feet, which tortoises tend to lack. And if a tortoise does have toe nails, the nails themselves are worn down and not sharp due to the fact that they spend a lot of time walking on dry land. Some turtles have even adapted to have flippers instead of feet. This is generally only true if the turtle species in question is truly aquatic (i.e. a sea turtle).


We’ve already hinted at what is probably the biggest different between turtles and tortoises – their habitats. Turtles tend to live fully aquatic or semi-aquatic lives, whereas tortoises live on land.

While there are some turtles that prefer life on land such as box turtles and there are also some turtles that live in the water nearly 100 percent of the time, such as sea turtles, most turtles will split their time between both land and water.

sri lankan star tortoise hatchling
This Sri Lankan Star Tortoise hatchling (Geochelone elegans) has a dome-shaped shell to protect it from predators on land.

When you create a turtle habitat in captivity, you need to do your research and make sure that you are setting up the proper habitat to support your turtle’s life style. Some need a dry home with a water dish, whereas others will need a tank filled with water with a platform to emerge from the water to bask. It really does depend entirely on the species you choose to keep as a pet.

Turtles vs. Tortoises: Diet and Food

Most tortoises are vegetarian herbivores, but turtles can be carnivores or omnivores. Just like with habitat requirements, dietary requirements vary from turtle species to turtle species because they consume a wide variety of food.

Pet tortoises need to have leafy greens and veggies as their main diet. We give ours kale, collard greens, spinach, and root veggies like carrots. Occasional fruit can be given as treats too. And we should mention that commercial tortoise pellets are also a great option if you worry about your tortoise receiving a fully balanced diet.

adult ornate box turtle
This is an adult Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). Although it is a turtle, it is a species that is primarily terrestrial.

Feeding a pet turtle is actually really easy. Aquatic turtles tend to like turtle pellets. We supplement pellets with crickets, roaches, and meal worms too. And it’s wise to leave some vegetable matter in the enclosure too so that your turtle has access to it if it chooses.


Both turtles and tortoises lay eggs. Both species dig a hole, lay their eggs, and then cover the eggs. The eggs will incubate for a time and then the hatchlings will dig their way out of the dirt or sand.

The main difference between turtle and tortoise reproduction is in incubation times, which vary from species to species, and in upbringing methods. Turtle hatchlings are essentially on their own from the time they emerge from the egg. Tortoise hatchlings, on the other hand, have some degree of protection from their mother. Some tortoise species will guard their nest, while others simply stick around and babysit the hatchlings for some time.


Ultimately, turtles and tortoises are very similar in build and physical appearance and we would recommend either reptile to anyone interested in a  relatively low maintenance pet.

If you are debating between a pet tortoise or a pet turtle, we recommend going with a tortoise if you want a land-dwelling animal and a turtle if you want to provide an aquatic habitat.

Most Popular Pet Turtles

Turtles are very popular house pets. Not only are they cute, but they’re easy to care for, very robust, gentle around children, and can also be very interactive lifelong companions. We highly recommend turtles for people who are new to keeping reptiles.

So, if you’re in the market for a simple pet, read on to find out our top picks for the best pet turtles.

Red Eared Slider (Trachemys s. elegans)

If you want a pet turtle with an aquatic habitat, our first recommendation would be a red eared slider. These turtles are very common pets and tend to thrive in captivity. They’re also almost always captive bred nationwide, which limits the risk of parasites.

most popular pet turtles
Red Eared sliders (Trachemys elegans) are some of the most popular pet turtles worldwide, and for good reason.

Red eared sliders get their common name from the red marking on the sides of their head. Aside from having red “ears,” sliders also tend to scoot themselves right into the water when they sense any kind of danger in the wild, hence the “slider” portion of their name.

We feed our hatchlings commercially prepared turtle pellets, although we do supplement with live insects from time to time. Red eared sliders are omnivores and eat decaying animal and plant matter in the wild, so they are very accepting of many types of food in captivity.

Adult red eared sliders will grow to be approximately twelve inches long and can live for around twenty years if cared for properly. Due to their size, we do recommend at least a ten gallon tank for hatchlings.

As they grow, the turtles will require about ten gallons of water for every inch of shell. So, for instance, a turtle that is five inches long should be housed in a tank that is at least fifty gallons in size.

If you’re ready to get a red eared slider of your own, Backwater Reptiles sells captive bred Red ears, as well as their awesome cousins, the Yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta).

Painted Turtles (Chrysemys sp.)

Painted turtles are another fantastic species of aquatic turtle, however they only reach approximately six to eight inches long at maturity, which makes them very manageable in size.

Painted turtles are a bit harder to come by in captivity, although they are by no means rare. You just won’t tend to find them available in most large-scale, chain pet stores. Many people like the colorful red or yellow borders around the seams of the turtle’s inner carapace.

eastern painted turtle
This shy Eastern Painted Turtle might be able to hide his face from the camera, but he can’t hide the beautiful red coloration on his shell.

There are three main species of Painted turtle, including Eastern, Western, and Southern. All three look quite similar, with minor physical differences.

Painted turtles have very similar care requirements to the red eared slider, however they are slightly more carnivorous. Commercial turtle pellets can serve as a staple food, but painted turtles will thoroughly enjoy feeder fish, aquatic worms, aquatic shrimp, and traditional crickets when on land.

The key to keeping a painted turtle happy and healthy is offering a variety of foods in the form of both animal protein and vegetation.

Unlike the red eared slider, Painted turtles are less skittish and not as inclined to bolt into the water around people. This means they are more interactive pet turtles, although we still can’t guarantee that your turtle will enjoy being picked up, handled, and/or coddled.

Want a Painted Turtle of your own? Backwater Reptiles has got you covered!

Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis)

Like the Painted Turtle and Red Eared Slider, the Peninsula Cooter is an aquatic turtle that will require an aquatic enclosure. They thrive in both indoor or outdoor setups and many people even enjoy having them in turtle ponds in their backyard. However, we do recommend that smaller cooters be kept indoors until they reach a reasonable size.

There are many species of cooter turtles and identifying and classifying them into subspecies and categories can be confusing. However, the Peninsula Cooter is a subspecies of pond slider and they tend to live in areas with slower moving currents of water.

pet peninsula cooter
Peninsula cooters aren’t as shy or flighty as red eared sliders but do have very similar care requirements.

Peninsula cooters can grow quite large for an aquatic turtle. Females will be considerably larger than full-grown males and can be up to thirteen inches long at maturity.

Feeding your cooter shouldn’t be hard. They are not known for being picky eaters and their omnivorous diet means they’ll pretty much enjoy anything you give them. At Backwater Reptiles, we give turtle pellets for simplicity and supplement with protein every few days such as crickets, night crawlers, or roaches. We also make sure that a small amount of leafy greens are available, even if the turtles don’t always eat it.

Backwater Reptiles has healthy Peninsula Cooter Turtles for sale.

Hybrid Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene sp.)

We highly recommend Eastern box turtles for reptile enthusiasts of all ages and levels of experience. These are very low maintenance turtles with long life spans and very docile dispositions.

Box turtles don’t require an aquatic habitat like all the other turtles on this list. They can even be kept outdoors in small contained areas provided that the temperatures in your area are not too extreme.

Here at Backwater Reptiles, we keep our Box turtles in a lush outdoor pen where they eat, sleep, and breed!

hybrid eastern box turtle
Box turtles are great outdoor pets.

Juvenile Eastern box turtles tend to be more carnivorous than adults, but no matter what the age of the turtle, a varied diet of both plant and protein should be offered. For adults, we tend to give leafy green veggies and some insect such as night crawlers and crickets.

Eastern Box turtles are easily hybridized in captivity which results in some really interesting shell colorations and markings.

Backwater Reptiles has hybrid Eastern box turtles for sale.

Conclusion – Best pet turtles

Whether you desire an aquatic turtle or a land-based turtle, we think that any of the turtles on this list would make a great addition to your family.

They are all relatively low maintenance reptiles and the only real care concern with these popular pet turtle species is making sure you have enough room for the larger adult species.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our article on the best pet turtles and if you have any follow-up questions, please send us an e-mail.


Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle Care

We are very excited to announce that we just received captive bred baby Madagascar Big-Headed Turtles (Erymnochelys madagascariensis)!

madagascar big headed turtle care
Here’s one of our captive bred baby Madagascar Big-headed turtles.

These ultra-rare turtles are endemic to Madagascar as their name suggests and are classified as one of the 25 most endangered turtles in the world largely due to the fact that they are prized as food in Madagascar and exported illegally to Asia for the same purpose. Not to worry – the ones we have for sale are all captive-bred and we are hoping to sell them to someone who wants to breed and help preserve this turtle species.

The Madacascar Big-Headed Turtle lives in freshwater areas and is highly aquatic. In general, these turtles only emerge from the water to lay eggs – even their preferred basking areas tend to be surrounded by water. We have a turtle bank and basking bulb available to them, but we have never once seen them use it!

erymnochelys madagascariensis


Babies are carnivorous and eat virtually any small invertebrates and critters they can fit in their mouths, but in captivity, they should be fed insects and pre-packaged turtle food. As they grow, Madagascar Big-Headed Turtles will eat a more vegetarian diet, but will still consume meat-based dietary items.

Our baby Madagascan Big-headed turtles have huge appetites. We feed ours crickets, waxworms, earthworms (red wigglers), and turtle pellets, all of which are eaten quickly in a frenzy of consumption!

We keep our’s in glass turtle tanks with about four inches of water, the aforementioned turtle bank, UVB basking bulb, pebble substrate (large pebbles to prevent ingestion), artificial turtle grass for cover, and an Exo Terra Repticlear filter to help clean the water and maintain circulation (water that has no circulation can become stagnant).

Our captive-bred Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle for sale needs to go to a good home. If you are interested, click the link and select the species from the appropriate drop-down menu.

erymnochelys madagascariensis care


Indonesian Snake Neck Turtle (Macrochelodina rugosa)

Are you wondering how to care for Snake Neck turtles (Macrochelodina rugosa)? Backwater Reptiles received a shipment of the aforementioned captive-bred baby Indonesian Snake Neck Turtles, which are known for their long, snake-like necks as their name suggests.

snake neck turtle care sheet


The Snake Neck Turtle can get rather large, reaching lengths of up to sixteen inches and this is largely due to the fact that they have insatiable appetites. They eat virtually anything (frozen reptile food, bloodworms, prawns, snails, crickets, prepackaged turtle food, and even leafy greens) and the key to keeping them healthy in captivity is a varied diet.

macrochelodina rugosa care


Rather shy animals by nature, captive-bred Snake Neck Turtles lose this trait over time and with handling. They are also generally friendly towards other turtles and can be housed with friends, although the habitat provided should be rather large due to the fact that the Snake Neck can be a big turtle and also enjoys being active and swimming a lot.

indonesian snake neck turtle


Backwater Reptiles currently has baby captive-bred Indonesian Snake Neck Turtles for sale. Get yours by following the preceding link and selecting the breed from the drop down menu.