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Turtles-red ear slider

By Bubbett

This article is about red eared sliders. While there are many different ways to house turtles, this article is about keeping turtles in a tank in areas where the temperature drops below 70 degrees. In colder climates, a kiddie pool would not be a suitable place because the turtle would freeze to death.

Timmy is the name of the first red-eared slider turtle to join our family. He was a given to my daughter on her 8th birthday. My daughter is 10 now and Timmy is still alive and swimming. We had so much fun with Timmy that we brought Tammy, another red-eared slider, last summer.

Before we had turtles I was under the impression that you put them in a bowl of water and sprinkled some food in once in a while. I suppose it was the way they portrayed them in movies that gave me that idea. They always showed a kids room with a round little bowl sitting on a desk, inside the bowl was a turtle happily sitting on a rock with a small fake palm tree in the bowl. This is so far from the truth it's not even funny.

Buying a turtle is pretty cheap, the highest I've seen a red-eared slider cost was $25. The equipment you need to keep them alive and healthy can run into a few hundred dollars.

I received an email from Nils in Norway who has 3 red eared sliders. He has informed me that it is forbidden to import turtles in Norway, but it is legal to buy/sell turtles which already are in the country. And in Norway they cost around 100-200 dollars!

I'd say for a decent turtle set up starting from scratch: turtle, 20 to 30 gallon long tank, filter, heat light, rock, and under water heater, the cost would be at least $140.00. The costs and ideas here are not written in stone. This is what I have learned through research and experience.


There are tanks that are high and tanks that are long. A long tank is the best kind for a turtle. It gives them enough water to swim in, leaving room for a basking area. The water needs to be high enough for the turtle to be able to be completely covered, yet you also need to have a basking area where they can get out of the water completely. This can get pretty tricky because there is also the filter and rocks to consider, which is covered in their respective areas below. We use a 30 gallon long tank. There are tanks specially made for turtles. I've seen these tanks starting around $75 dollars. The only difference between the turtle tank and a plain fish tank is the turtle tank has an area cut out to put a filter into. This eliminates the need to have an extension on your filter.


Keeping the water in your turtles tank clean is very important. Turtles are pretty messy and if you don't use a filter you'll have to clean out the tank a few times a week! You'll need a filter that hangs off the side of the tank. Due to the water level in the tank, setting up your tank really takes some planning. The filter tubes need to be under water so you'll have to purchase an extension tube for your filter. Make SURE the filter you purchase is able to be extended. I use an Aqua Clear filter and the pet shop was able to sell me an extension tube for $5 that fit my filter. We have about 4 inches of water in our tank. This give the turtles enough water to be covered, yet they can stand up and stick their heads out of the water to breath. I've seen tanks that have been totally full of water with floating platforms for the turtles to bask on. I've also seen tanks with just enough water for the turtle to be covered but they are able to stick their heads out of the water without standing up. I really didn't want a full tank of water to clean out so I went with the 4 inches of water. Even if you use a filter you'll still need to clean out your turtles tank frequently. I keep the filter running constantly and generally have to totally clean out the tank every two months. The water evaporates quite a bit so I'm adding clean water at least once a week to keep the water at the filter level. At least once a day I take the filter tubes off and clean those out, and scoop out anything floating in the water. If you feed your turtles in a separate tank the maintenance on the main tank is not to bad.
Because the filter is so high up on the tank, the water that comes out of the filter has a long way to fall. This can get pretty noisy! I took a long clear tube of plastic and cut it to fit the width of the tank. Then I placed it under the area where the water falls out of the filter. I figured the area where the water falls onto the plastic tube and cut a hole in the tube. The water falls out of the filter, into the hole in the plastic tube and just kind of dribbles out the other side. It's still noise, but it's not as loud.

Rock or Platform

Turtles must have a "basking" area. This is where the rock or platform comes in. They need someplace where they can get completely out of the water and bask under a heat lamp. You can purchase a rock platform at the pet store. I tried rocks from the back yard, but it was hard to get the right height in proportion to the water level. Turtles can gouge their shells on sharp rocks, yet they need something that their claws can grab onto so they can climb up. Some people use floating logs, floating platforms, rocks piled up in a corner. Use your judgment. With the addition of an under water heater you need to make sure the turtles won't be pushing rocks onto the heater or using the heater as a leg up onto a floating platform. I've found the stationary rock platform to be the best thing in our tank. It's a piece of rock-like material that is shaped like an H but is curved in a half circle. Great description huh? The turtles are able to go under it, and like to slide off the top as well. It also makes it easier to clean out the tank.

Under water heater

Red eared sliders need to have their water temperature kept above 70 degrees. From what I've read, 75 to 80 is the best temperature. Buy a thermometer that sticks to the outside of the turtle tank. Put it below the water level on the opposite side of the tank from where the underwater heater is. If the water gets too cold this can make your turtle sick.

Full spectrum heat lamp

A basking area is VERY important to turtles. They need to have the full spectrum of light that the suns rays give out. Putting them in front of a sunny window will not cut it. When the sun passes through a pane of glass it loses many of the U.V.A. rays that your turtle needs for healthy skin and shells. There are many types of heat lamps. A reptile heat lamp is the best thing to buy. They have round lamps, and long lamps. The cost for these lamps can run quite high. We have a cat so we needed something that would rest on a screened cover. (Don't use the type of cover that has glass as this will filter the U.V. rays!) The light should have full spectrum as well as heat. Make sure to place the light over the rock or platform so the turtle can bask out of the water.


Turtles can only eat in the water. If you've ever done any research on what to feed your turtle I'm sure you ended up as confused as I was. There were many people who swore that commercial turtle logs we're the worst thing to feed your turtle, while others recommend lettuce and other fresh fruits. Some said lettuce was not nutritional and a waste of time. After slogging through all the material I've found a diet for our turtles that works out well for both of us. Their main diet is crickets, turtle logs, and feeder fish. The crickets get pretty messy in the tank. Floating cricket legs and guts an what not, but from what I've read, crickets are the best thing to feed them. I buy about 15 crickets a week for the 2 turtles. They eat them in about 5 minutes. The rest of the week I throw in a few turtle logs every day. I've read that the feeder fish are not really nutritional for the turtles, but it gives them something to chase around the tank and they clean up any extra food floating around. I also give them some lettuce once in a while, just to give them something to snack on. Ice-berg lettuce is pretty much non-nutritional, romaine lettuce is better. My turtles also love grapes! They chase them around the tank snagging bites here and there. Sometimes I throw in a few pieces of raw hamburger meat. They love dandelion leaves and grape leaves. As soon as I track down the rest of the list I made for what is poisonous and what's not, I'll post it here.


Just a few tips if you decide you'd like to purchase a red eared slider. Make sure you purchase a turtle from a pet shop that has healthy animals! If a pet shop has dirty tanks and unkept cages, chances are your not going to get a healthy turtle. Pick a turtle that is swimming around, not sitting quietly on a rock. I made that mistake and the turtle didn't last a week. The shell should be smooth and colors uniform. It's hard to tell a female turtle from a male, but according to a book I once read (can't remember the name, sorry!) females have shorter claws and a shorter tail then the males.

We have a 30 gallon long fish tank, an Aqua Clear 150 filter with an extra filter tube extension. I use a long type light with small 25watt BrightLight Full-Spectrum daylight/heatlamp bulb. We use natural rock gravel (those small rocks that don't have any color) and an H shaped rock platform purchased at the pet store. You don't have to use any gravel in your turtle tank. I just think it looks nicer. We do have the tank in front of a window where the turtles can get lots of sun. I know that I said it's not good enough for the full spectrum U.V.A. rays, but the turtles enjoy hanging out in the sun anyway. And with the full spectrum heat lamp they get plenty of the right kind. It just gives the turtles a chance to see the outside and gives them something different to look at. I turn the heat light on in the morning and usually turn it off after about 12 hours. I don't like to leave the light on at night because I read that it disrupts the sleep of reptiles. There are special black heat light bulbs that you can purchase that you can leave on at night. We use them in the tank we keep our anole (small lizard) in.
During the summer months we take the turtles outside and let them hang out in a small kiddie pool. They really seem to love the larger swimming space and the unfiltered sun. We just stick a few rocks in the pool and they bask away all day. We place a piece of green plastic fencing over the pool to avoid the possibility of the turtles climbing out of the pool or the dog grabbing one and running off with it :) I'm sure chicken wire would work just as well.

Turtles are a lot of fun. They can also be a lot of work. If you want a healthy, happy turtle it's going to take a lot of effort on your part. I don't know about other states, but here in Connecticut they cannot sell baby turtles because of salmonella problems. It's important to remember to wash your hands each and every time you touch your turtle. Although a turtle may be healthy, many organisms can be carried by it and transmitted to you.

This article is just to help you get an idea of how much maintenance red eared sliders need.
If you need supplies for your red eared sliders, use an online coupon, click on pet stores.

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