Red-eared sliders are semiaquatic turtles which means they can live in water AND on land. If you look at your turtle's rear feet you will notice that its webbed feet are perfect for pushing water. The slider shell is considerably more flat and smooth, which reduces resistence as they swim, than those of non-aquatic turtles which have more highly domed shells.

In general, they remain in the water 70% of the time and on land 30% of the time. These hardy turtles will spend time on land, or any dry material such as a log, to bask in the sun. Like all reptiles, turtles need a range of temperatures to aid in digestion. Sunlight provides the necessary heat, UV-A and UV-B wavelengths which helps the turtle's body to produce and metabolize vitamins and minerals.

Some other reasons for out of water activity on land include: the travel of hatchlings overland from a terrestrial nest to water, travel by the female to a nesting site, movement to and from hibernation site or alternate feeding areas, departure from an unsuitable habitat and travel by males in search of females.

Sliders prefer lakes, slow moving rivers, small streams and even man made canals with submerged and floating vegetation where it has been observed that they hunt by poking their heans into the plants to scare out prey like small fish, water bugs, and small frogs and tadpoles. Turtles may also practice neustophagia during which they will skim the top of the water with their mouths open, forcing water out of their nostrils and jaws and eating the remaining algae and duckweed.

Hatchlings will spend time in shallow water and in clumps of dense floating vegetation. They can cling to the vegetation to rest, and access the surface while remaining camouflaged. Aquatic vegetation is also home to baby fish and aquatic bugs all of which are easy prey for the turtle. I suspect that shallow water will have higher temperatures which will heighten baby turtle metabolism which will increase digestion and growth.

Full grown turtles will spend time in deeper water to hunt bigger prey. Another interesting reason why adult females may avoid shallow water is that their size and weight will make them more slow and vulnerable to predators.

The most ideal home for a full grown slider is an enclosed escape proof and predator proof pond. If you cannot build a pond at this time there are other alternatives such as wading pools (find the deep collapsible kind rather than the rigid and shallow) and livestock watering troughs. Sturdy plastic containers designed for outdoor use such as those made by Toter.com can be buried in the ground to make a mini pond for your friend.

Hatchling sliders may be housed in large rubbermaid storage containers.

The most common home for pet turtles are fish tanks.

Recently, my turtle's habitat has been upgraded to a Waterland Tub.


I attached the hoods to the wooden frame which came with the tub and metal grids. I constructed a land area rather than fill it with dirt. I have since raised the water level to allow for easier access for basking. The setup is filtered with a Magnum 350 canister


  • 16x18x48 glass tank + wood stand cabinet

  • 1ft of water

  • 2 301 Aquaclear Powerheads + 2 Lee's Triple Flower Corner Filter + Filter Floss + Carbon/Ammo Chips

  • 10" diameter dome w/ ceramic socket
    Active UV&Heat Mercury Vapor Lamp w/ Ballast
  • Aquarium hood w/ fluorescent Iguana bulb

  • Pro-heat Titanium heater

  • Turtle Ramp + Cork bark


Temporary Setup

After I moved I didn't have a chance to acquire a glass tank nor a waterland tub so I constructed a temporary enclosure using office cubes, a rubbermaid tub and some baby blankets. As long as you provide your turtle with hiding areas it will not try to escape (remember the trick is to make your pet feel SECURE). Again, this setup was temporary and lacked adequate swim space---I just wanted to demonstrate that creative solutions are possible when you are desperate.


Glass or Acrylic Tank
I have used both. The biggest tank I currently own is made of glass.
Acrylic tanks, especially the seamless ones, are worry free in terms of leaks. In fact, many acrylic tanks come with warranties of some kind which pertain directly to leaks. However, many acrylic tanks are designed for built in trickle filters which may prevent you from installing proper lighting, heating or basking structure for your turtle. Acrylic tanks also require special cleaning pads which will not scratch the surface. However, if you DO find an acrylic tank which will function without the water filled to the top then go for it!

Tank Dimensions & Stand & Water Depth
Get the largest tank you can find! Keep in mind that proper tank stand may easily cost twice as much as the tank. Unless you are an experienced aquarium stand builder you MUST buy a proper stand otherwise you may wake up one morning with your turtle on the carpet.
Many fish tanks are too narrow for a turtle to comfortably turn around.
Try to choose a tank which is twice as wide as the length of your turtle's shell that way it can swim comfortably. For adult turtles fill the water as high as possible---adult turtles are excellent swimmers. Remember you are caring for an animal which can live in a deep lake. Hatchling turtles on the other hand, should have water as high as the length of their shell. As they grow, increase the water depth so they can exercise and develop bone density.

Where to Place the Tank
Keep your tank away from direct sunlight which will encourage rapid algae growth and cause the tank to overheat. Drafts may lower your turtle's basking area temperature. Never place a glass or acrylic tank in direct sunlight as it is equivalent to leaving a child in a car on a hot day.
My turtle seems to enjoy watching people so his home is in our living room. By making the tank your household's center of attention you may observe your turtle's behavior and quickly spot illness and detect habitat problems. For example, my turtle broke a submersible glass heater. I walked by and noticed the light in the heater flickering and immediately unplugged the device. If the tank had been in a low traffic area, the heater may electrocuted my green friend---or me. Note: I have since purchased an unbreakable titanium heater.

Water Quality & Filtration

Your shelled friend is living in a closed system in which the water he drinks is also the water in which he poops and pees. So all the rules of water quality in fish keeping are the same for turtles. I use tap water treated with chlorine neutralizer. During partial water changes I add ammo-lock. Ammonia is a substance which is produced from animal waste and rotting food---it can easily kill fish and may have long-term negative effects on your turtle's shell, skin and eyes.

To keep tank water clean you will need a filtration system. In the past, I have used a hanging power filter with minimal success. It would clog and overflow by the middle of the week. Remember, many filters are designed for fish. The external hanging filter produced a constant noisy water fall because I did not fill the water to the top of the tank due to the basking structure. Now, that I have a bigger and deeper tank I have to use (2) 301 Aquaclear power heads attached to (2) Lee's Triple Flow corner filters. I load each corner filter with filter pads and a filter mesh bag filled with carbon.

I have recently upgraded to a MAGNUM 350. It was easy to install and has consistently kept the water crystal clear. I highly recommend this canister filter.

  • To the left is a filter mesh bag filled with carbon and ammo-lock carbon. If you wish to preserve the beneficial bacteria in the carbon be sure to keep the bag in a bucket of the original tank water. Once the tank is filled with new water dechlorinate it and then place in the carbon. The bottom line is, chlorine will kill the good bacteria.

  • The cork has been soaked in hot water and will be placed in the sun to dry.

  • The Lee's Triple Flow Corner filter is being loaded with new filter mesh.

Light & Heat

  • The three different artificial light and heat sources to choose from
  • Note: the hood to the right has a ceramic socket to accomodate the high temps of the mercury vapor bulb
  • The black box is the electric ballast.

As mentioned earlier sunlight and heat are crucial for your turtle's health. Bodily functions such as digestion and shell growth depend on the right combination of sunlight and heat. The most ideal situation is if your turtle was housed in an outdoor pond and enclosure where it can bask freely.

Before finalizing your light and heating arrangement in your friend's home you must first purchase a reptile thermometer. Place the thermometer exactly where your turtle will sit and turn on the lamp. If the temperature reaches 90-92 degrees then you are set! Ultimately, the goal is to provide a range of temperatures for your pet. The long piece of cork under the lamp allows my turtle to move farther or closer to the heat source. Another added benefit of using cork as a basking platform is that the rough surface allows air to circulate beneath the turtle's body drying the plastron.

Whatever setup you decide on always remember to secure the hoods, clamps and check on electrical outlets. If you live in an earthquake prone region, be sure to invest in secure clamps and a timer or turn on the lights whenever you are home.

  • The T-Rex Day Bulb is to the left
  • The Mercury Vapor Bulb is to the right

If your turtle is housed indoors please consider the suggestions below:

1) Active UV & Heat Electronically Ballasted Mercury Vapor Lamp
As the name suggests, the bulb emits the necessary UV and heat. It requires a 10 inch diameter dome hood with a ceramic fixture and usually comes with a ballast which plug into the outlet. Initially, you will consider this to be the most expensive arrangement but compare it to option 2 and you will realize the value. The most important reason why I have settled on the mercury vapor lamp is the research that has been devoted to measuring its UV output and the many testimonials I have read from reptile keepers not affiliated with the company. In some cases sick iguanas owe their recovery from Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) to this light bulb. It is recommended that you replace the bulb once every six months.

2) Zoo Med/Iguana Fluorescent & T-Rex Day Blue Bulb
The Zoo Med or Iguana Fluorescent needs its own separate hood. Be sure the hood and bulb are compatible. Zoo Med/Iguana is supposed to emit the necessary UV wavelenghs while the T-Rex Day Blue Bulb, which requires a separate dome hood, provides heat. Thus, I had 2 bulbs and 2 hoods going at the same time. Besides, the clutter and need for additional outlets I could never remember which bulb needed to be replaced.

3) REAL sunlight
Nothing beats real sunlight. Whenever, possible I allow my turtle to bask in real sunlight. My turtle's good health is due to the combination of option 1 + 3 and 2 + 3... but never only solely on bulbs. Please read the Socialization and Exercise section for more information.


Just some of the equipment needed to keep one turtle happy. I usually don't need to use all the buckets on a weekly basis. Note: the 2 shallow white buckets are used as a feeding container and a place to keep small parts during cleaning.

With some creativity and planning, maintaining your turtle's home can be quite easy. Some tools to use are the Python No Spill Clean and Fill System or the Jelinek.com Super Safety Siphon, which is comprised of a submersible pond pumb and pvc pipes. You may want to purchase a regular gravel vacuum for small clean up jobs as well.

Before starting any clean up job be sure to unplug the submersible heater at least 30 minutes before emptying the tank and turn off all lighting equipment.

To the left is the Jelinek Super Safety Siphon pumping out water (green hose). Water is being rotated into the tank via the orange garden hose. I placed a large blue bucket beneath the setup to catch any possible leaks.

Whatever system you choose you will need to purchase:

  • 1 fine mesh net to be used daily to scoop poop the net should be disinfected in hot water as often as you can
  • old tooth brushes and chemical free sponges to scrub tank and filter parts. Chemical free sponges may be purchased at aquarium stores. Another handy tool is a brush attached to string, also available at aquarium stores. This inexpensive tool will allow you to thoroughly clean any tubing especially those used with canister filters.
  • 1-2 small buckets for small clean up jobs and tank refills
  • 1 shallow bucket to separate filter parts from other tank items such as rocks (a shallow bucket can also be used as a separate feeding container)
  • one large bucket to clean large tank items such as bricks, ramps and rocks (a large and deep bucket is necessary so that all items can be soaked in hot water)

Whatever water change system you choose, it may also be handy to get a sheet of plastic to place beneath the buckets to protect your carpet from minor leaks. I use an old shower curtain.

If your tank has a cork ramp I recommend weekly disinfection with hot water and allow it to dry in the sun.

To the left are the larger tank objects being disinfected with hot water.

The tank is placed in the living room, thus the garden hoses are able to transport the dirty water from the tank to the front yard. If you cannot dispose of the dirty water outside you may pour it down the toilet and thoroughly clean the toilet. Turtle water may carry various bacteria and even salmonella so if it all possible avoid disposing the water in a kitchen or bathroom sink.

Flying Turtles
One month before your departure, research airlines which will allow you to keep your turtle in the plane cabin. More than one phone call to the airline should be expected. Always keep track of who you spoke to and which department he or she represents. Most likely you will need to speak to someone in the customer relations department. If the airline is adamant to research their policy on live animals, be sure to mention that the animal will be in a secure carrier and will have the appropriate health certificate. During several phone calls I repeatedly received a "no" as an answer but finally received a positive answer from someone higher up in the airline who took the time to examine their policy on live animals. Always ask for the exact fee you will have to pay for your special carry on and what means of payment are acceptable. I paid an additional $75.00 at the airport using a credit card. Be sure to ask for the dimensions of the area beneath the seat so you can purchase the appropriate sized carrier. Once you received an okay to take your turtle on board the plane, ask for a formal letter and confirmation number. Airlines may assign a special number to your turtle and electronically attach the record to your ticket.

Immediately schedule a health examination for your turtle with a qualified veterinarian. Request a Certificate for Interstate or International Movement of Small Animals. You should contact your state's Department of Food and Agriculture. It is also a good idea to get a photocopy of your pet's entire health record from the vet's office as well.

I called the hotel and spoke directly to the manager regarding my turtle. Fortunately, my turtle did not fit the hotel's no dog and cat policy so the manager allowed me to house my pet in my room. I made sure to print out a sign to attach to my turtle enclosure requesting that hotel staff not handle the animal. Please be courteous to the hotel staff and the guests who will be occupying the room afterwards by not housing your turtle in the bath tub or sink. I carried a square plastic container with me. Therefore, my turtle did not eat, drink, nor relieve himself in places which may spread salmonella. I simply poured the dirty water into the toilet.

I purchased a 17"x12"x8" Cabin Kennel, the smallest of its kind, which easily fit under the airplane's seats. The carrier was big enough to carry a flexible and thin binder which had the appropriate travel and health documents.

The kennel was a bit too big for my turtle so I placed a tupperware container inside the carrier. The container was necessary because the airholes would have allowed my turtle to stick out his arms and legs. Before departure, I witheld food from my turtle for one day so he would not poop during travel. Up until 3-4 hours before travel, the turtle had access to water. I dried and cushioned the turtle in a small towel and placed him in the container. Whatever you do be sure that the turtle is secure and does not have too much space to move around.

The new X-ray machines at the airports may be dangerous to living creatures. As soon as it is your turn to pass through the detectors and x-ray machines explain your situation, carry your turtle and have the carrier go through the x-ray machine like any other piece of luggage. You and your turtle will walk through the metal detectors. I also carried a pair of plastic gloves which I slipped on as soon as I needed to handle my turtle.

While aboard the plane, my turtle did not scratch the container nor did he try to climb out of his carrier because he was well cushioned and not distracted by anything outside his carrier. As soon as I arrived at the hotel after 7 hours of travel, I immediately allowed my slider to soak in lukewarm water and offered him food.


It is always helpful to keep a three ring binder with dividers. Label the sections as follows:

When, where and from whom you adopted the turtle.
If you purchased the turtle from a store then be sure to retain the receipt and business card.

Keep all veterinary receipts in this section. If the clinic assigns patient id numbers then be sure to write it down.
Vets usually measure and weigh animals during regular checkups. Be sure to record these numbers to track the growth of your animal.
If you order basic first aid equipment such as a Betadine or Nolvasan (topical skin and wound cleansers) then file the receipts in this section.

List foods which are recommended for turtles. Then list your turtle's favorite foods. If you need to leave your turtle with someone else then this information is critical.

Keep all other records of expenses in this section. For example if you need to order a replacement bulb but you discarded the packaging then at least you can refer to the receipt. If possible cut out a portion of the packaging which has the watts and volts. I can't remember how many times I went to the pet store and picked out the wrong fluorescent bulb.

Record websites addresses and books you have found helpful.

What would you do if you won the lottery? Upgrade your turtle's habitat ofcourse. For example, I would love to build a pond for my turtle. So I have made a list of supplies I may need. If you currently have a basking light and UVB bulb and you wish to upgrade to a Mercury Vapor Lamp then this is where to list the stores you have found the item and the cost.

Take pictures of your turtle from various angles and note unique physical features of your turtle. Ever seen a lost dog or cat flyer? You should always be prepared and have id photos ready if your turtle decides to go "exploring". I took a picture of my setup to show to my turtle's doctor so she may give additional advice. You can even make a mini album to store online or take it to reptile conventions to give ideas to other turtle caregivers.