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Choosing a Red-Eared Slider

While some animals are faced with extinction, the problem can be just the opposite in the pet trade – an overabundance of animals, so cheap and readily available that they become disposable pets. That’s what’s happened to the red-eared slider, a beautiful small turtle native to the Mississippi River drainage that has become the most popular turtle sold in pet stores throughout the world.

While these turtles are relatively easy to keep, they need care, good accommodations and proper nutrition to thrive. And if they do thrive they can live for a very long time – at least 25 years and more. Because they can be bought in a pet store for a few dollars, parents buy them for children as an “easy” small pet. When they get sick, or the children outgrow them, the turtles are often abandoned to shelters, or released into ponds where they threaten local species.

Many Red-Eared Sliders Abandoned

A survey of turtle and tortoise shelters shows that red-eared sliders make up the majority of their orphaned animals. While many offer these animals for adoption, with the animals so available in stores, few look to the shelters for their pets. The advice the shelters give is that these small turtles – as well as yellow-bellied sliders – do not make good pets for children. Turtles need daily care and, because of their longevity, they are a long-term commitment.

Federal regulations ban the sale of turtles less than 4 inches in size except for research or educational purposes. The regulations are aimed at preventing children from contracting Salmonella. Despite the ban on sales, the number of abandoned turtles continues to grow.


Before purchasing a turtle or tortoise of any kind, make certain you will be able to house it. A red-eared slider needs a tank of at least 20 gallons. It will grow from the 5-inch length at purchase to nearly a foot. It needs both dry land and enough water enough to swim comfortably. As the turtle grows the tank will have to grow as well.

The best circumstance is an outdoor pond with sides high enough to keep the turtle from escaping. The temperature needs to be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The animal needs sun or full-spectrum light. And above all, these turtles need a varied diet. Proper turtle nutrition is a delicate balance of animal and plant protein not to be taken lightly. You should also know a veterinarian that can diagnose and treat turtle illnesses.

If you do decide to have a red-eared slider as a pet, contact a local animal shelter or local chapter of a turtle and tortoise society. You are fairly guaranteed then to get a healthy animal and a great deal of advice on how to care for it. When buying from a pet shop avoid buying turtles that are living in crowded or unclean conditions. Make certain the animal has clear eyes and no discharges from the nose or mouth.

And make certain to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the turtles, both in the store and at home. As fascinating and beautiful as they are, these animals are not toys.