Is a red eared slider turtle the right pet for you?
As a child, did you wear out the stuffing in your favorite toy? Or, did you place your favorite ballerina doll, or action figure, carefully in it’s case, high on its shelf. Once there, did you cherish it’s perfection from a safe distance?
If you long for a pet with which to snuggle and play games with, don’t get a red-eared slider. If your ideal pet is one to with whom you can feel comfortable relaying your day’s woes to while said ‘pet’ makes appreciative noises and faces also don’t get a slider. Odds are, what you really want is a warm-blooded mammal, not unlike yourself.
Red eared sliders are aquatic turtles, reptilian. They’re not warm-blooded. Whatever emoting they do is on a level too subtle for most mammals to catch. And they don’t snuggle. In fact, overt changes in temperature and environment can make them uncomfortable, stressed out, and even ill.
If however, you are that special individual that can appreciate your pet’s attributes without needing to pick it up and hug it then a red-eared slider may be your right pet. If, in fact, your best reward pet-wise is seeing your pet healthy and attractive and living his pet-life, congratulations. You may well appreciate owning a slow-moving, aquatic turtle with an exciting regimen that goes all the way from swimming, to basking, to swimming again. Your red-eared slider will not greet you, lick you or play with you. He does, however, have attractive and distinctive red markings. So, you may well regard him as a bit of living art in your living room.
First, however, you will have to make him comfortable, and quite possibly for a long time. Red eared sliders are adaptable as turtles go. Native to southerly climes, the slider has been released in other parts and done well enough to create some serious competition with the original inhabitants. Turtles, including red-eared sliders, live long lives. Sliders can manage up to almost half a century in the wild. As pets, they may grace your living room for a decade or two with careful care. So, be sure you want an attractive, but not-really-for-handling, sort of pet. You could have your slider for quite a while. And aquatic turtles, like red-eared sliders, do take some care.
Once upon a time, (in fact a mere decade or so ago) goldfish were frequently given away in plastic bags as freebies. Sliders were also once a common give-away. Cute, little baby sliders were sent home in cheap plastic bowls, as if that was any sort of environment for a creature that could grow up to more than a foot in length. Not only are little sliders healthy growers, they are healthy and messy eaters, who will poop, as aquatic creatures will, in their water.
Nowadays, pet advocates and pet shop owners are far more aware of the needs of turtles, including sliders. They realize that they need a large well-made environment that allows for both basking and swimming as well as a great filtration system to keep them healthy. They also require a well-rounded diet and access to regular sunlight or a UVA and UVB light. Turtles are unable to save vitamin D3. So, it is vital that they have a way to absorb it daily.
If you live in a warm, sunny part of the country and have a backyard pond, then nature may have already outfitted you with the perfect turtle habitat. However, for the majority of would-be red eared slider owners, a tank is crucial. Sliders grow quickly and can easily achieve a full foot in length. In any case, don’t go with a cheap, small, or plastic, tank. Not only is glass easier to keep clean, it’s less likely to be damaged by the growing sliders. Sliders have sharp claws.
Even if you only own a single slider of about half a foot in length, it is recommended that you provide it with at least a 30-gallon tank. Obviously, a turtle twice the size should have a double-sized tank. There is a basic rule of thumb. Tanks should be four times the length of its resident’s length and twice the width of the same. Remember your turtle needs enough space for his two primary activities. You’ll want about a third of the tank to go towards that all-important turtle activity known as basking. The other two-thirds can go towards a swimming environment.
Make no mistake. Although basking is allotted a smaller portion of the tank’s resources, it is very important to the health of your slider. Basking in regular sunlight, or with the assistance of a UVA light for heat and a UVB light to help with nutrient absorption, is crucial. The one keeps his shell dry. The other allows him to absorb that crucial vitamin D3. Turtles that do not have enough D3 can get metabolic bone disease (MBT.) Vitamin D3 is crucial to the turtle’s ability to metabolize calcium. Turtles with calcium malabsorption can develop soft shells, shells with cracks and a whole host of other problems.
Semi-aquatic turtles, like sliders, go into a dormancy state during colder months. Also, sliders, like other reptiles, are unable to regulate their bodies’ heat level. If you want a healthy and active slider, you will have to help it keep its temperature warm and consistent. You may require an aquarium heater. Even if you don’t, you will definitely need a thermometer to ensure the tank’s overall temperature stays in a moderately warm range. Keep it higher than 75 and not much lower than 90. Remember the turtle’s basking spot is likely to absorb the most heat. You’ll want your slider to be toasty, but not uncomfortably so, or he may refuse to use his rock. Allowing the temperature to get too low could also prove problematic, causing your slider react as he would in the wild, by becoming sluggish and eating less.
Now that your new red-eared slider has a big, comfortable tank with lots of clean water, as well as light and warmth, you’ll need a good filtration system to keep that nice clean water clean. This is especially true, as sliders, like most aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles, like to be fed in the water. Some owners solve this problem by creating a secondary spot they put their turtle in just for feeding. This needn’t be anything elaborate. A plastic tub will do. Feed your slider in its tub. Then you can whisk away any uneaten matter before it turns into rotten sludge. As an added caveat, you can make sure that your turtle is eating enough and whisk away any poop it creates post-eating.
Also, in the interest of keeping the water clean and healthy, you may need to use a water conditioner to ensure the water’s purity. Your local pet emporium should be able to advise you. Tanks, including filtration systems, should be cleaned at least once a month. Outdoor turtle environments can go longer, but should get a going over every four to six months or so. In between times, go old school and net out any big pieces of debris you can for the sake of your turtle’s health.
Once your slider’s home is warm, safe, clean and suitable for swimming and basking, how pretty you make it is up to you. Place smooth gravel at the bottom. Create shelving, or use small sticks for turtle rest-stops. For the basking spot, choose a large flat-top rock your slider can coast off from easily. Use other rocks, or small sticks, to shore up the basking area. Be careful to not pick anything sharp. Beware of decorations that look so much like real plants that the new resident tries to eat them. Young sliders are voracious. Real plants will get tasted. Make sure they’re not toxic. One that can be used for decor is the sword plant, as turtles do not like the taste.
Now that your new slider has a suitable home, he needs something to eat. Aquatic and semi aquatic turtles, like red eared sliders, enjoy protein foods. But, they also like veggies and fruits too. Young sliders often lean towards the protein foods. However, the scales definitely tip towards a preference of things herbivorous as the turtles age.
As hatchlings and young turtles, sliders are generally fed daily. Grown sliders can be fed less. Some owners elect a pattern of feeding that skips a day or two. Others like to keep on a daily regimen, keeping the amounts small to make up for the greater frequency. Bear in mind that sliders will overeat given half a chance. Look for signs of adipose tissue in the turtle’s extremities.
Remember that an excess of fat and protein is just as unhealthy as too much food period when it comes to keeping your red eared slider in good condition. It’s a good idea to offer your turtle a range of food options. Include pellets and prey items, like bloodworms and larvae, as well as fruits and veggies, like chopped lettuce and berries. A variety will ensure nutritional adequacy while preventing obesity. Observe the overall volume of food you’re offering. It should encompass an area no larger than that of its recipient’s throat and cranium. Nor is it a good idea to offer your slider more than it can consume in about a quarter of an hour. Keep these guideposts in mind when deciding how often and how much to feed your pet.
Remember that aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles, like red eared sliders, prefer their food placed directly in the water. The younger the turtle, the more their preference will lean towards the carnivorous, while older turtles tend to prefer plant foods. Even if it’s not entirely their cup of tea, it is a good idea to offer younger sliders plant options. Eventually, they will want to try them and the transition will be smoother if they have been given such options all along.
Remember too, that pet-store pellets, while nourishing, are not really the end-all be-all for turtle nutrition. They do make a good protein option. However, even the best have nutritional gaps. Plus, it is good for your turtle to eat fresh things too. Keep pellets as no more than a quarter of the nutritional offerings given your slider and consider some of the below.
Protein options: slugs, snails, shrimp, crays, frozen fish, minnows, bloodworms, earthworms, mealworms, silk worms, wax worms, crickets, daphnia, mosquito larvae, krill, beefheart.
Plant options: romaine, red leaf and green lettuce, kale, collards, dandilion greens, bok choy, carrots, honeydew, cantaloupe, strawberries, duckweed, water lettuce, water hyacinth, anacharis, squash and green beans.
Chop up plant and protein options and place them in water. Remember, that while small amounts of leafy greens are nourishing, iceberg lettuce is to be avoided as it is minimally nutritious. Larger turtles can be offered feeder fish and tadpoles. However, this does also carry the added risk of parasites.
If you feed your slider in a separate container, clean him off gently when finished with warm water.
A last word, regarding the care of your new pet; find a veterinarian with expertise in dealing with aquatic turtles and red eared sliders in particular. Then, if something unexpected comes up, you’ll have someone to call.
With a carefully designed habitat and some thought as to care and regimen, there is no reason that you and your slider shouldn’t be keeping company for years to come.