So you want a pet turtle? These critters are lots of fun and make wonderful pets. But they do need some specific care.
Let’s explore what it takes to have a pet Red-Eared Slider turtle.
Red-eared slider turtles need to have both a place to swim and a place to bask. In the wild, red-eared sliders love to stack on top of each other to sun themselves.
The best home for your pet turtle is to start with an aquarium that is at least 10 gallons in size. But note that as your turtle grows, you will need to buy a bigger aquarium.
Did you know? Red-eared sliders can grow up to 12 inches (30.5 cm)
A good rule to follow is your pet turtle will need 10 gallons of water for every inch-in-length it grows (2.5 cm). So a full-grown, 12-inch turtle should have a 120-gallon tank!
You will also need some other items to make your turtle’s home great. These include;
- A large filter – this helps take out all the harmful chemicals in our tap water and keeps the tank clean. It also adds oxygen to the water.
- A submersible water heater – turtles, don’t like their water too chilly.
- Aquarium gravel (optional) – be sure it is large pebbles to avoid the turtle from choking on it.
- A basking lamp – UVB and UVA rays, to mimic the sun
- A basking dock – gives the turtle a place to get out of the water and bask.
- Aquarium thermometer
- Turtle food
- Water condition – this is added to remove the chemicals found in tap water.
- Aquarium stand or a sturdy table to place the tank on
- Aquarium vacuum cleaner
- Brand new bucket (used only for tank maintenance)
How to Set Up a Turtle Tank
Before you bring home your turtle, you have to get it’s home ready. Here’s how to set up turtle tank.
Step #1 – Rinse the aquarium to rid it of any dust or residue.
Step #2 – If using gravel, pour it into a clean bowl and rinse it thoroughly. Pour it into the bottom of the aquarium.
Step #3 – Place the aquarium on the stand or table – be sure it is where you want it as it is very heavy and will be difficult to move after it is full of water.
Step #4 – Fill the aquarium about half full of water. The ideal temperature for turtles is between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 and 29 degrees Celsius). Use an aquarium thermometer to get the temperature right.
Step #5 – Place the submersible heater into the tank and turn it on.
Step #6 – Add the water condition.
Step #7 – Set up the filter (according to directions). Choose a filter rated for at least double the amount of water you will be filtering since turtles are messy pets.
Step #8 – Construct or add the basking dock.
Step #9 – Add the basking lamp.
Step #10 – Place the lid on the tank
You will notice lots of debris floating around, but this will clear up as the filter does its job.
Monitor the temperature in the tank to get it to the ideal warmth for your new friend.
Your Turtle’s Swimming Area
Red-eared sliders need room to swim. At a minimum, the water should be as deep as your turtle is long (so a 4-inch turtle should have a minimum water depth of 6 inches). The water also needs to be at least five times the length of the turtle, and the width should be at least three times the length of the turtle.
Red-eared sliders are strong swimmers. But you will want to make sure it can get out of the water, and there are no areas where it can get trapped.
Your Turtle’s Basking Area
If you decide to make a basking area, use smooth rocks and stack them using gravel on one side of your tank. You can also use wood or a plastic “turtle docks.”
Be sure your turtle can climb onto it easily and that it allows your turtle to dry off completely.
When decorating a turtle tank, keep it simple (uncluttered) and easy to clean. Remember that turtles can knock things over and push stuff around. Live plants may be a nice to look at, but turtles are likely to make a snack of them or uproot them.
Plastic plants will likely be toppled over and will make cleaning the tank more difficult. Likewise, gravel can cause the tank to be harder to clean and you must make sure it is large enough that it won’t be accidentally swallowed.
Your Turtle’s Tank Heat & Light
We know that red-eared sliders like a warm environment. The submersible heater will do the job, but you will want to place it behind something to prevent the turtles from bumping and breaking it.
Your turtle will also need the air outside of its watery world to be quite warm. The basking spot should be between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 35 degrees Celsius).
Provide a light over the basking area to keep your turtle warm when it gets out of the water. A reptile bulb/heat lamp in a reflective lamp can serve this purpose.
Tip: to keep your pet sake, make sure there is no way the turtle can touch the light or that the light can fall into the water.
Using a basking lamp with a UVA/UVB light bulb is necessary for proper calcium metabolism and general health of your pet turtle.
It is also nice to take your turtle out into the natural sunlight in warmer weather if you can.
Feeding Your Turtle
Red-eared sliders are omnivores. This means they eat both meat and plant. In the wild, they feed on aquatic vegetation, small fish and decaying material such as dead fish and frogs, etc.
Pet red-eared sliders will feed on just about anything you give them. However, it is recommended to feed them a commercial turtle food or pellet – this benefits proper growth and health. On occasion, you can offer them leafy greens, freeze-dried shrimp or krill, crickets, super worms, and rosy red minnows.
Cleaning Your Turtle Tank
Filtration will reduce the frequency of water changes, but your turtles will still require 25 percent water changes weekly. You will also want to clean the tank at least once-a-month thoroughly.
Tip: Feed your turtle in a separate container. This helps minimize the mess in its tank and reduces the load on the filtration system.
Fun Red-Eared Slider Facts
Did You Know?
- The lifespan of a well-cared for red-eared slider turtle is up to 20 years.
- Red-eared sliders got their name from the red markings on their heads. They are also known to “slide” into the water when scared.
- Male sliders are smaller than the females.
- Baby turtles become boys or girls depending on the temperature inside the nest.
Do you think a red-eared slider turtle might be a good pet for you? Leave us a comment with your thoughts on these “shelled friends.”