By Katrina Smith
Do you have a red-eared slider or other aquatic turtle, or are you thinking of getting one? Not sure of how to care
for it? The information here is to help you get started in the world of aquatic turtles. This is just the tip of the
iceberg. Some recommended websites and books can help you learn more.
WARNING: Any reptile has the potential to carry salmonella. Always wash hands after handling a turtle or
touching any equipment that comes into contact with the turtle or the enclosure. In most states, it is illegal to
release a pet turtle, particularly a red-eared slider or non-native turtle.
Aquatic turtles, such as sliders, painteds, redbellies, cooters, chicken turtles, map turtles, and terrapins all
need the same basic supplies: Large tank or fenced-in pond, basking spot, filter, food, hiding spots, and
if indoors, a basking light (heat light), UVB light, and siphon.
Tank/Pond: For adult aquatic turtles, a 40 gallon breeder aquarium or LARGER is preferred, with outdoor
ponds in enclosed yards being ideal. Female aquatics in particular need ponds in yards due to their large adult
size. A good rule of thumb is roughly 10 gallons of enclosure per inch of turtle shell. Using this example, an
adult female slider needs AT LEAST a 75-gallon tank, and an adult male slider needs from a 40-gallon to a 75-
gallon tank, depending on his size. Rubbermaid stock tanks, found at farm supply stores, are cheaper than
aquariums, and cost less than a dollar per gallon. They come in 50, 100, 150, and 300 gallon sizes. They aren’t
as pretty as aquariums, but they can be decorated, and they weigh much less than a glass tank of the same size,
and are less likely to break or leak.
For juvenile aquatic turtles, a ten-gallon to forty-gallon tank is needed. Although a ten-gallon is acceptable for
new hatchlings, depending on the individual animal (but NO turtle should live permanently in a ten gallon
aquarium or even a 20-gallon aquarium), it’s best to start with the largest size possible. A 20-gallon tank should
last about a year or two with a hatchling before the turtle outgrows it.
Water depth should be at least as deep as the shell is long, although it can be much deeper. Sliders and other
aquatics were designed to live in ponds and lakes, so they can handle deep water so long as they have proper
basking spots and underwater resting spots. Indoor ponds and aquariums require a haul-out spot (also called a
basking spot), a heat light over a basking spot, a UVB light (such as Reptisun 5.0) over the basking spot, a high powered
filter, and occasionally a water heater (depending on how cold your room is). Some households do not
need a tank heater so long as the turtles can get under a basking spot whenever they choose. A heat light – at
one end only - is a MUST indoors! You don’t want to overheat a hatchling or small turtle, but there should be a
light over the basking spot to provide a thermogradient. A simple household light bulb in a “dome” fixture, set
on top of a screen or hung from the ceiling, works fine for a heat light – the wattage will depend on the size of the
turtle and how close the light is to the basking spot.
Outdoor ponds must be in an escape-proof yard or the pond itself must be escape-proof. Outdoor winter
hibernation is allowed depending on the size of the pond, the species involved, and your winter temperatures.
Ponds must be dug below the frost line so that they do not freeze solid. A floating heater or a running water
pump will help keep a portion of the surface open for oxygen exchange in the winter. Generally, you’ll need at
least 300 gallons to allow hibernation, and two adult sliders will need at least 300 gallons of space. If the turtle
can hibernate in your temperature zone, (this includes much of the mid-Atlantic for sliders) the turtle can be
added for the first time to an outdoor pond between mid-May and mid-September, so they have time to acclimate
before winter sets in.
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