What are Red Eared Turtles?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Red eared turtles, also known as red eared sliders, are semi-aquatic turtles native to the American South where they are widely distributed. These turtles have also reached other regions of the world, thanks to their popularity as pets. Some pet stores offer red eared turtles, and they are also available directly through breeders. For people considering a turtle as a pet, it's important to remember that a turtle is a lot of work.


These turtles can grow up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in length, with distinctive red markings on the side of their heads where one might expect an ear to reside. They spend much of their lives in the water, surfacing to bask in the sun and lay eggs, and many red eared turtles are relatively solitary. They can become quite aggressive about defense of their habitat, and they are famously very fast, especially when they spot potential prey. The “slider” in their alternate name is a reference to the way in which these turtles can glide effortlessly off rocks to enter the water.

Red eared turtles eat an omnivorous diet which consists of almost anything they can harvest or catch. Small fish, insects, and slugs are all potential prey, while various aquatic and semiaquatic plants are also popular with red eared sliders. The population of red eared turtles is very stable in the wild, and they are a familiar sight along many Southern waterways.

People who keep red eared turtles as pets should be prepared to pay for a large aquarium which provides enough room for the turtle to swim and play, as well as provide a basking space out of the water. Red eared turtles need warm water to swim in, and a warm environment with lots of ultraviolet (UV) light, which usually requires special lamps. It is also important that their water be kept clean with the use of good filtration systems. These turtles also need a varied diet with lots of calcium to enrich their shells.

In addition to requiring special equipment, red eared turtles also need some special handling. They, like many turtle species, carry salmonella bacteria. The turtles do not seem to be unduly distressed by the presence of the bacteria, but it can pose an infection risk to human handlers. It is important to wash thoroughly after handling a red eared slider and cleaning its enclosure. Because of the salmonella issue and the level of care needed, red eared turtles do not make great pets for young children.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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