How to Set Up a Tank for the Red-Eared Slippery Turtle

In their natural habitat, red-eared turtles are semi-aquatic, which means they spend a lot of time in the water, but also spend a lot of time basking in the sun. While this basking may look like a turtle is just hanging out, it’s actually important to the animal’s health.

When kept as pets, red-eared sliders need a tank large enough to provide swimming water and an area to dry and enjoy the sun. When properly cared for in the right aquarium environment, red-eared sliders can live for a long time (over 30 years!) and are very fun pets.

before you start

As a general rule of thumb, plan a tank size of 10 gallons per inch of turtle, and a minimum size of 20 gallons for hatching red-eared sliders. Keep in mind that red-eared sliders can grow to 10 to 12 inches as an adult, so you may end up needing a very large tank.

what do you need

Gather some supplies to set up a tank for your red ear slider:

  • A 20 gallon aquarium or plastic container (minimum size for hatchlings, adults may need 40 gallons or more)
  • Sunning area supplies, such as rocks, stones, or plastic floats
  • Thermal light and UV light
  • Premium aquarium water filter

As long as you don’t mind not being able to view the turtles from the side, large plastic containers or storage buckets are good alternatives to the aquarium. If the container is high enough and the basking area is placed in a position where the turtles cannot climb out, a lid is not required.

Fill the tank with water

Red-eared slipper rays need enough water to swim. At a minimum, the water depth should be twice the length of your turtle—a 4-inch turtle should have a minimum water depth of 6-8 inches.

The red-eared sliding turtle is a good swimmer. As long as the turtle can come out of the water and there is no place to get trapped underwater, there is no need to worry about drowning.

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Create a sunbathing area

You can provide your turtle an area to bask in by stacking smooth rocks and sloping large smooth gravels to one side to create land areas. You can also use wood or plastic “turtle piers”. Whatever you choose to build a basking spot, make sure your turtle can climb on it easily and that it allows your turtle to dry out completely.

Add tank decoration

When designing a tank, it is best to keep it neat and easy to clean. Remember, turtles can knock things over and push things around. Plants may be a nice aesthetic touch, but turtles may feed on them or uproot them. Plastic plants are likely to be dug up and will only make cleaning more difficult.

The best tank accessories for red ear sliders are larger rocks and stones, as well as driftwood. If using driftwood, be sure to buy it from a pet supply store rather than using driftwood found on the beach. The ones sold in stores are parasite-free and will not harm your turtle.

maintain tank heat

The water in the red-eared slider turtle’s tank should be kept around 74-78 degrees Fahrenheit, and the hatching water temperature should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The daytime ambient air temperature in the tank should be between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit basking spot on the land area of ​​the tank. Spot lighting can be turned off at night and air temperatures can drop to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

If necessary, a submersible aquarium water heater can be used to maintain water temperature. Glass aquarium heaters can be damaged by large turtles and can lead to a potentially fatal situation if the water is heated too much.

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You can protect the heater so the turtle doesn’t bump it by putting it behind something (brick is an idea) or making some kind of cover (a piece of PVC pipe could be used). Be sure to install a good aquarium thermometer and monitor the water temperature.

Provide a reptile heat lamp in the basking area to keep your turtle warm when out of the water. A reptile bulb/heat lamp in a reflector light will do the trick, but make sure the turtle can’t reach the light or the light will fall into the water. Check the sunbathing surface with a thermometer to make sure it’s reaching the correct temperature. Skylights also help heat the air in the tank.

Install UV Lamps

Provides full-spectrum reptile ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light in addition to sunlight for heating. Exposure to UVA/UVB is required for proper calcium metabolism and appears to have other benefits to overall health, such as improved appetite. It’s also good to bring your turtle into natural sunlight in warm weather, if you can. Just make sure it doesn’t escape or overheat in the sun!

Obtain a suitable reptile UVA/UVB bulb and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for bulb placement. UV rays diminish with distance from the bulb, so it’s important to place the bulb where the turtle can get close. Replace the bulb according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, as the intensity of the UV rays produced will diminish over time. If your turtle lives outside, you don’t need this light.

clean water tank

Between feeding and defecation, turtles are very messy creatures. Your turtle tank should include a good filtration system, such as a power filter or canister filter, to keep the water clean. Choose a filter that is rated for at least twice the amount of water you want to filter, as turtles are very messy pets. Filtration will reduce the frequency of water changes, but your turtle will still need a 25% weekly water change and a thorough cleaning once a month or more.

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Prevent problems during tank setup

Avoiding common problems during tank setup will help your turtle stay healthy and prevent future problems.

  • Keep in mind that if you want to use gravel in the tank, it will make the tank harder to clean. Also, you have to make sure the pebbles are big enough so that they are not accidentally swallowed by your red-eared slider.
  • The most common mistake when creating habitat for turtles is using a tank that is too small. Double-check the turtle’s size to make sure there’s enough room in the tank to accommodate them. If you’re not sure what size tank to buy, you’re giving your pet extra space wrong.
  • To help reduce mess, feed your turtle in a separate container to reduce the workload of the filtration system.
  • If you decorate with driftwood, be aware that it can sometimes brown the water. To avoid discoloration, soak the driftwood in a separate bucket of water for a few days before adding it to the turtle’s tank. Adding carbon media to the filter also helps keep the water clear, but the carbon needs to be replaced regularly, usually monthly.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your veterinarian right away. For health-related questions, be sure to consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know your pet’s health history, and can give your pet the best advice.


How to Set Up a Tank for the Red-Eared Slippery Turtle
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