Home | Turtles & Tortoises | A Survey of Amphibians, Reptiles and Insects Suitable for Maintenance in Outdoor Ponds – Part II, The Red-Eared Slider, Chrysemys scripta elegans

A Survey of Amphibians, Reptiles and Insects Suitable for Maintenance in Outdoor Ponds – Part II, The Red-Eared Slider, Chrysemys scripta elegans

During our last look at outdoor ponds  I discussed an ideal amphibian inhabitant, the American bullfrog.  Today I’ll introduce a reptile that is equally at home outdoors, the red-eared slider.

A Better Outdoor Than Indoor Pet
Red-Eared Slider, Blanding's Turtle, Eastern Painted, Wood Turtle Basking The Red-Eared Slider is the world’s most popular pet turtle.  The small green hatchlings were previously sold by the millions throughout the USA, but government restrictions have now limited the availability of animals under 4 inches in length (pending legislation may change that situation in the future).

However, sliders are not well suited to indoor aquariums, as they are very active and females can reach a shell length of 12 inches or so.  A turtle of that size needs a tank of at least 55-75 gallon capacity, along with a very powerful filter to maintain water quality.  Even in aquariums of that size, however, these vigorous turtles are cramped.

Sunlight and Diet
Sliders make interesting, attractive inhabitants of garden pools if given enough space and easy access to sunny basking spots. Like most turtles, they require unfiltered sunlight in order to form the vitamin D that is necessary to process calcium and build strong shells (exceptions to this rule are certain largely aquatic, non-basking species, such as snapping turtles, musk turtles, and soft-shelled turtles).

Red-eared sliders will readily consume Repto-min, earthworms, crickets, mealworms, prawn and canned insects, and will do their best to catch small fishes and tadpoles.  They usually will coexist quite well with larger goldfish and sunfish, if there is ample room for the fish to avoid the turtles.  Adults may consume some types of pond vegetation, but if provided with romaine, dandelion, kale and other greens, they will often leave ornamental plants alone.

Other Turtles
Other turtles of similar habits that do well in outdoor ponds are the Eastern painted turtle, Chrysemys picta picta (and subspecies, such as the Midland, Western and Southern painted turtles) and the various Map Turtles, Graptemys spp.  The largely aquatic musk turtle, Sternotherus odoratus, does well even in quite small pools.

Enclosing the Pond
Eastern Redbelly Turtle BaskingSemi-aquatic turtles often remain near their pond, even if it is unfenced, but males may move away in search of females during the breeding season, and gravid females will seek out suitable nesting areas.  Bear in mind also that raccoons are very adept at preying upon even quite large turtles.

Useful information on constructing and maintaining an outdoor turtle pond is posted at:
http://www.tortoise.org/general/pondmak.html

43 comments

  1. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    I recently stumbled across Agama International’s webpage, which is a breeder who keeps most of his animals outdoors all year in outdoor enclosures. Even with light snows a variety of creatures do fine. In particular he raises Argentine BW tegus, Australian water dragon’s, and Morrocan uromastyx. The behavior he saw was also pretty interesting…such as his tegus staying underground for 7 months of the year, even times of year when it was still quite warm.

    My home in Fresno, CA gets to about 110 degrees highest in the summer and 35 degrees lowest in the winter.(but we basically never get snow, only frost) Naturally it is a semidesert area. Bit of pipedream considering the folks were averse to the idea of fencing an outdoor pond for inclusion of turtles but I wonder how well this area would work for housing animals outdoors permanently?

    Thanks!
    ~Joseph

    • avatar

      Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interesting post.

      I’m also often surprised at how cool the weather can get in places that, as a New Yorker, I consider to be mild in climate.

      You can’t ask for much better than central California for keeping reptiles and amphibians outdoors year-round. A good starting point in species choice would be to look at other areas of the world with the same general latitude as your home, both north and south of the equator …you’ll have plenty to choose from.

      Always great observations such as you mention when animals are kept outdoors. Dick Bartlett in Florida often surprises me with such; Burt Langerworth, who sadly passed on recently, was also well known for keeping lizards outside as much as possible. An alligator snapping turtle breeder recently told me that his turtles overwinter in ponds that ice up from time to time – they do range further up the Mississippi than most realize, but still…

      Please let me know if you have any particular species in mind, and I’ll see if I can provide some information.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    Hello Frank, hope this finds you well.

    I did some looking in on this and Central CA is on similar latitude to South Australia, Southern SA(Argentina, Paraguay), South Africa, and the Meditteranean area. Of course, this provides only a rough idea of what sp would do ok due to local climatic conditions. Particularly in light of invasive species it is interesting research on why species occur where they do(though it often requires very dry genetics!).

    Looking closer to home any experience with Crotaphytus sp.? I got to see a Socal specimen recently, a beautiful critter!(though I must say horny toads, err…Phrynosoma, take the cake as far as our natives go) They only occur naturally in the drier areas of Southern California, but with some modifications to an outdoor enclosure to encourage it to heat up more and stay dry perhaps they could be kept in Central CA, also.
    I’d guess a large diameter metal screen top enclosure(perhaps built with bricks and plastic fenders to prevent escape, I don’t know how aesthetic steel sheets would be).

    Are predators a common issue with outdoor enclosures of this sort? A metal mesh like that would keep out cats and hawks(and could be removed to observe the lizards), but I wonder if rodents might be a problem(perhaps plastic/metal around the outside of the enclosure?)

    Thanks!
    ~Joseph

    • avatar

      Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks very much for the interesting post. You make a very good point concerning local weather conditions – mountains, wind patterns etc. can make for some very unusual goings on…this was long a source of confusion to both professionals and hobbyists. Also, a species micro-habitat is important – perhaps the most common example of confusion regarding this is the extremely dry, desert-like exhibits that many zoos still use for Gila monsters. These lizards live in some of the most arid regions of the American Southwest, but spend over 90% of their time below ground, where humidity levels remain very high (this explains why they spend days on end in their water bowls in dry exhibits).

      Why animals appear where they do (and how they got there) is a great study. Genetics is, as you mention, explaining quite a bit. Such will take on greater importance as
      more and more reintroduction and similar plans are needed, especially where animals hailing from different populations will be mixed….for example, anoles from south Florida cannot take the winters in north Florida, etc.

      Collared lizards are gorgeous, no doubt, and very interesting. I still remember the first image I saw of a collared lizard. It was a drawing of one grasping a horned lizard in its jaws, in The Golden Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, written by my childhood hero, Herbert S. Zim (As you might imagine, having Herbert S. Zim as a hero, while growing up near Yankee Stadium, branded me as quite the “odd duck”!).

      I’ve found that, in contrast to most similarly sized lizards, collards do best when other lizards (I used brown anoles, which are introduced in Florida) are provided as food on a regular basis. They are also rather high strung, and need a great deal of room. There’s allot of interesting research on genetic variations between populations isolated from one another on adjacent “habitat islands”.

      Horned lizards are real gems. Texas horned lizards flooded the trade years back. As a child, I carried those I kept to ant hills throughout several summers (they refused certain ants) so that they could feed. They always did fine, but went downhill during the winters, even those that would take the limited fare available. Some time ago I noticed that someone was selling harvester ants as horned lizards food, so perhaps I’ll have another go at them someday. The Staten Island Zoo has a horned lizard species, the name of which unfortunately escaped me right now, which seemed to be doing quite well without ants.

      Metal cattle watering troughs are used by many zoos as holding cages – they can be drilled to provide drainage for easy cleaning, and fitted with hinged lids at machine shops.

      Here in the east, Norway rats are a real problem in outdoor exhibits – even to the point of killing baby mara (Patagonian cavies) and eating turtle eggs. Muskrats dig well and can demolish plantings overnight (but I’m somehow fascinated by muskrats, raised a few kits years back). Raccoons are our biggest concern, however – smart and strong. They are thriving even in Manhattan, and not just in Central Park.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Hello there,
    I’d like to know if red eared sliders get along with other amphibs, specifically, the crested newt. met one the other day and was AMAZED

    • avatar

      Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      I agree, crested newts are amazing…I never tire of seeing them. Unfortunately red eared sliders will attack newts and other amphibians. Also, crested and other newts produce powerful skin toxins; I know of several cases of turtles expiring immediately upon eating newts – so, both animals wind up dying!

      Please let me know if you decide to set up the newts alone, and I’ll send along some information. In the meantime, please check out my article Breeding the Great Crested Newt.
      Sorry for the bad news!

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio

  4. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    We adopted a red ear slider and made a pond for him outside. We put a filter in it and a basking area. However, we have not put a heater in it. We live in San Clemente (in Southern California) and the weather is usually warm, but has been cold lately. The water temp is in the 50 degree range. We got him 3 days ago and he hasn’t eaten. We’ve been bringing him in at night and putting him in warmer water (70-75 degrees) What should we do? Get a heater for the pond (125 gallon) or try to create an environment in the pond for him to hibernate? Please help. Thanks!

    • avatar

      Hello Cindy, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      Sitting here in frigid NYC below 2 feet of snow, I cannot work up much sympathy for a turtle in southern California!….but seriously, a few days at 50 F is fine, and its normal for him to stop feeding until it warms up a bit. If you expect temperatures in the high 60’s-70’s for most of the season, you can leave him outdoors with a pond heater as a back up.

      Sliders from the northern parts of their range may stop feeding in winter even if kept warm – they move about and bask, and lose little if any weight; most, however, will feed once temperatures pass 68F or so.

      Hibernating semi-aquatic turtles is very difficult, and I would not recommend it.

      If he does cease feeding entirely, you can house him indoors for the season – please write back for details. Just keep in mind that in cool temps he’ll be easy prey for raccoons, coyotes, dogs or other such predators that might have access to the pond.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Thanks Frank!
    We’re looking into a pond heater for nights when the water gets real cold. I was so worried that he was going to freeze, In addition to the fact that my daughter’s box turtle can’t be found in his habitat outside either. We think that he burrowed into the ground, but we didn’t see him do it so I’m a little anxious over him also. Our yard is gated and we’re in a pretty built-up area near the beach, so I haven’t seen any wild life yet. Do you suggest any particular set-up for the bottom of the pond for the slider turtle to hide in from predators? I’ve read that we should construct some kind of hiding place. Thanks a ton, Cindy

    • avatar

      Hello Cindy, Frank Indiviglio here.

      A heater would be a good idea – let me know if you have any questions re the models I referenced in the last response. Box Turtles do quite well outdoors, as long as they can dig in; yours will likely come out on warm days; in NY, the Eastern Box turtle hibernates quite close to the surface – they are protected by a natural “anti-freeze”.

      Sliders usually just drop (or “slide” – that’s where the name cones from) from their basking sites and burrow under mud or plants; they don’t use caves as do some other turtles. You can weigh down artificial plants as a shelter – in water over 2 feet deep, not many predators will be able to catch an adult (unless an otter happens along!).

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best Wishes for a happy, healthy New Year,
      Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar

    Merry Christmas Frank! and Happy New Year! Thanks for all the great advice!!!
    🙂 Cindy

    • avatar

      Hello Cindy,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write back…best to you and yours as well. Please be in touch if you need anything further; If you have a chance, I’d like to hear how the turtle adjusts as the season progresses

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    Hello there,
    I am having a problem- I have 3 RES that have been together for about 15 years they are housed inside. All of a sudden one is attacking the other VERY aggressively, even bit the tail and made it bleed. I separated them until he healed and tried to put back in the tank and same thing. Chasing with mouth open trying to bite – can you please tell me why all of a sudden and what I should do? Thank you for any assistance you can give me.
    Lalena

    • avatar

      Hello Lalena, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      Aggression in Red Eared Sliders is often associated with breeding attempts – males bite at females during courtship and may harass them continually in an aquarium where, unlike in the wild, the female cannot escape. Unrecpetive females (in captivity) may eventually be injured, as you describe.

      As for the timing, sexual maturity and breeding behavior in general can be greatly affected by captive conditions; I’ve come across other instances of long-term cage/tankmates coming into breeding condition sporadically, and long after such would have occurred in the wild. It just may be that your male is only now becoming affected by hormonal changes.

      Two males may also fight, but this is not so common; same as regards 2 females; but dominant animals may suddenly began to bully others for reasons that are not always clear – perceived need for more space, food perhaps. Do you know the sexes of the turtles involved?

      If it is breeding related, you may be able to re-introduce them after a month or so. Unfortunately, however, captives often try to breed almost year-round, and so a permanent separation may be necessary.

      Please write back with more details concerning their sexes if possible,

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  8. avatar

    Hello there Frank,
    Thank you so very much for taking the time to answer me!!
    The two we are talking about are females the third one in the tank I believe is a male.
    I really appreciate all your help and advice,
    Lalena

    • avatar

      Hello Lalena,

      Thanks for the kind words, my pleasure. Since breeding is not involved, you might want to try removing the aggressive animal for 2 weeks or so. This sometimes changes the dynamics – the submissive animal becomes the possessor of the “territory” – and such may result in a more harmonious situation. This does not always work, but may be orth a try….

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Incidentally, congrats on keeping your turtles so long…hopefully you are on the way to breaking the published longevity record of 41 years!

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    Hello there Frank,
    Thank you so much for everything!!
    I went today and got her a new home of her own and she looks happier now : ) do not want to take any chances if I am going to beat that record!! Wow – 41 years! That is something!
    Thanks again!
    Blessings to you & yours,
    Lalena

    • avatar

      Hello Lalena,

      My pleasure…thanks so much for the kind words. I think you are quite dedicated and made the best choice. Good idea to keep an eye on the tail, just incase of infection, but usually they heal just fine.

      I think sliders have the potential for even longer lives than the record holder…a Fly River Turtle I cared for is still going strong at 62 or so, and there is a least 1 Box Turtle and 1 Radiated Tortoise that topped 100…well, you’re on the right track! Please check in from time to time and keep me posted,

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio

  10. avatar

    hollo i love red eared sliders for pets i used to catch them at my old house and now i dont know where to catch them they are so cool to have for a pet i used to have ten turtles

    • avatar

      Hello Daniel, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      I’m not sure where you’re located, but my article on Slider Habitats has a link to a map showing there range. You might also enjoy reading about some of the strange places I have found them.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  11. avatar

    i live in california in temecula

    • avatar

      Hello Daniel,

      Thanks for the feedback. They are found throughout California, but I’m not familiar with any specific sites. I would check any pond or waterway that looks as though it could support turtles of any type…often you have better luck in heavily used ponds – park and golf course ponds, for example – than in more “natural” areas, since that is where people tend to release unwanted pets.

      Good luck and please let me know what you find…I’m interested to learn where they live in your area.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  12. avatar

    hay frank i used to catch alot of turtles in loissisiana i know alot about turtles and by the way cool site and go saints

    • avatar

      Hello Daniel,

      Thanks for the kind words. Well, Louisiana is a paradise for turtles, that’s for sure, but lots to see in California; keep an eye out for Pacific Pond Turtles and Western Painteds, neither is found in Louisiana.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  13. avatar

    last night about 4 am i whent american bull frog fishin and caught 10 bull frogs i used to have eleven red eared sliders babys as a pet and know there very big so i know alot about reed eared sliders

    • avatar

      Hello Daniel,

      Thanks for the update. Bullfrogs are, like sliders, introduced to CA. Originally they were found only east of the Mossissippi.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  14. avatar

    holo frank guess what i just caught a 20 year old red eared slider

  15. avatar

    at haveston lake yeah there was alot of turtles there

    • avatar

      Hello Daniel,

      Glad you found a site, enjoy and hope you see lots of interesting herps,

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  16. avatar

    hay frank i caught a foot long american bullfrog today

  17. avatar

    Hi,

    I have a pair of red-eared sliders (5 inch male and 8 inch female) that have somehow lived for almost 25 years in fairly poor conditions. I have recently spent a lot of time and money upgrading their habitat and it seems to have changed their behaviour.

    The male now tries to court the female relentlessly. He would try it every so often in the old setup, sometimes with success, but now he’s after her all the time. Unlike before, she has not been accepting and it usually ends in a fight. I have seen both of them throw the first punch.

    In an earlier post, you allude that changes is conditions might induce breeding attempts. Is there any way to short-circuit this? Is there any hope that these turtles that have lived together for 20 years will peacefully coexist again?

    • avatar

      Hello Jeff, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. Well, you’ve hit on an interesting but difficult dilemma. That’s a good record for sliders, by the way – near to the published longevity.
      Better lighting, diet, more water etc. can indeed spark mating behavior – unfortunately, in male sliders this can extend nearly year-round, unlike many turtles (which is one reason they are so well-established worldwide). But with any turtle species, it’s nearly impossible to house males with females once hormones kick in. A ½ acre exhibit I worked with proved too small for a pair of Af. Spurred tortoises,; female sliders in a 50 x 10 foot pond I maintained got by only because it was heavily planted and they were able to hide.

      Unfortunately, manipulating conditions so as to “turn off” the male’s ardor would not likely be successful – too fine a line between good/poor care, and also, once started, male sliders seem to breed even under bad conditions. I’m going through that right now with turtles of different species – the mere presence of any female seems enough to stimulate the male. I think you’ll need to separate them – you can try re-introductions as cool weather arrives, especially if you keep the tank at room temperature, but this does not always work.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  18. avatar

    Thanks Frank. That’s the answer I didn’t want to hear but I appreciate you writing back.

    It’s hard to believe that they have been with me so long. They haven’t had an easy life. I am a little worried that all the habitat upgrades might be rocking the boat too much. Is there any danger in changing to a bigger tank when they have been the same size , in the same small tank, for 15 years?

    Thanks again,

    Jeff

    • avatar

      Hello Jeff, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your note, my pleasure.

      Well, you’ve done something right…they are ultimate survivors, though – established in places as diverse as South Africa and Japan (I saw them in temple ponds in Kyoto – males chasing females, of course!). No danger with upgrades except radical changes in diet can cause problems. There are ways to maintain them in easy-to-clean plastic tubs..if you’d like to try that in order to temporarily house male, pleas let me know.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

  19. avatar

    Hi
    One last question . I found a blue tub 55x25x12 similar to the zoo med tub 39x12x16 the tub is the same design concept as the zoo med tub. what type of filter would best help me keep the water clean and what type of water heater could I get for it. My house tends to be on the cold side.Can I also use the zoo med all in one lamp that provides all the lights instead of purchasing differ lights? In the summer I could put a larger pond tub outdoors for her with a custom made screen cover to prevent predators from getting in would that work? I’m trying to exhaust all alternatives before considering releasing her to central park turtle pond. Who do you contact to release turtles to Central Park? Would she be able to survive the winter there and is the pond free of predators?

  20. avatar

    Barb here with an update. First I want to,thank you for finding me all of these different options. My husband wants to keep the turtle so he traded in the 30 gallon tank for a 75 gallon tank. I have to decide whether to use a Viquarium terrarium and aquarium all in one that has a complete filtration system that is housed beneath a multi level platform or the Fluval U 40 underwater filter.
    I brought the Fluval after reading an good online review about it but then I I met a red slider owner in the local,Petco store and his turtle is nearly a huge as mine he has owned several red ears for more than 15 years he recommended the Viquarium all in one. so I am leaning towards,that one. I also added a calcium turtle to the tank based upon this kind strangers advice and I have a separate feeding 40 gallon tote bucket that I fill,with water and put her basking rock in to feed her outdoors in natural,sunlight. right now we are feeding her goldfish, green leafy veggies, carrots, tomatoes and strawberry to supplement the turtle sticks.
    I have a clamp on UVA UVB light but i want to exchange that bulb for the zoo med power sun UVA UVB and heat lamp all in one bulb. I plan to eventually buy a large turtle tub for indoor outdoor use as she gets bigger.

    • avatar

      Hi Barb,

      My pleasure, thanks for the feedback.

      Don’t rush to buy a new filter…try the Fluval; water quality is best managed by feeding outside the tank and doing frequent partial water changes. By doing that, you should be able to use the fluval.

      Some will eat calcium blocks, others not. small whole fishes and sundried shrimp are excellent Ca sources. Long term use of goldfish has been linked to fatal liver/kidney disease in mata mata turtles; no research on other species, but zoos no longer use regularly; minnows and shiners are a better option, goldfish fine on occasion. All sorts of greens (other than spinach, cabbage…linked to stone formation) are fine; fruit best as a treat. Canned snails often favored.

      Please see diet notes in this article as well.

      The ZooMed bulb is a good choice. Watch splashing, as it will shatter.

      Re your earlier post; this heater is “turtle resistant”, handles up to 30 gallons, pre-set to maintain 78F; if you wish to lower water temps in winter, you can use a traditional submersible fish heater that allows for temperature regulation. enclose within a piece of PVC if turtle bites at or moves heater about.

      Main predator concern in most places is raccoons…very adept at getting into enclosures, so be sure cover is well-secured; otherwise, outdoor housing is best option. Can also bring in at night if covering i difficult,…but in my nuisance wildlife trapping days, i ran across a number of raccoons that “adjusted” to daytime schedules…resilient little beasts! Pl let me know if you need any info, enjoy, Frank

  21. avatar

    hello, I have a quick question and hope someone can help me. I have a western pond turtle that I rescued from the road. he is a male. and a friend of mine is giving me a female red eared slider. I was wondering if they will get along in the same habitat or do I need to keep them separated?

    • avatar

      Hello Kelly,

      No way to predict, unfortunately; they have the same basic needs, but you’d need a 100 gallon tank or pool to provide enough space for 2 adults. They may fight..Also, hard to keep pairs together..males often harass females with constant mating attempts..the 2 species are similar enough that male may try to mate with slider. Sliders tend to be much more resilient to disease, etc..micro-orgs that do not cause much trouble could prove very serious to Western Pond;Best, frank

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.

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