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Setting up a Red-Eared Slider Habitat

Setting up a Red-Eared Slider Habitat

When setting up a habitat for your red-eared slider, it is important to remember how they spend their time. The red-eared slider turtle is primarily aquatic and will fully emerge from the water to warm its body through basking on a solid surface. Setting up a habitat that mimics their natural environment will help ensure your aquatic turtle is set up for a quality life with you!

The Setup

The minimum size aquarium for a juvenile red-eared slider is a 40-gallon tank, you want to ensure they have as much room to swim as possible. A well accepted rule of thumb is, at minimum, 1 inch of turtle’s shell needs 10 gallons of water. You generally won’t be filling the tank up too much more than halfway in most scenarios, so keep that in mind when you are aquarium hunting!

  • Substrate – The most popular substrate would be larger rocks or pebbles. You need to ensure the substrate is bigger than what the turtle can put in their mouth to avoid chocking or impaction when they forage for the food that may sink.
  • Décor – Turtles are extremely curious, so you want to keep a few things in mind when picking out décor. You don’t want to overcrowd the swimming area; turtles need as much room as possible to swim. Avoid getting décor with an opening they can barely fit in as they could eventually become stuck. If you get live or fake plants, the turtle may try to eat or uproot them.
  • Basking Area – You need either a basking dock, driftwood, rock, or a surface in which the turtle can easily and completely leave the water, allowing them to warm and dry off.
  • Filtration – Turtles can be dirty, filtration is highly recommended to encourage water circulation throughout the aquarium as well as removal of harmful toxins from the water. A submersible (in-tank) filter is recommended opposed to a hang-on-back filter; they’re made to pull water more efficiently for the lower levels of water in the aquarium and you can adjust the height where the filter is fixated.
  • Screen Top with Clips – A screen top with clips will help secure the turtle in its habitat and mitigate the risk of it escaping and falling. The screen will also help with keeping the turtle from getting too close to the lighting fixture, potentially causing a burn.
  • FixturesUVA & UVB lamps and bulbs to help supply them with the lighting requirement to support a healthy growing turtle.

Lighting and Heat

There are two types of lighting you will need, UVA and UVB; together they mimic the benefits the sun would provide a reptile in nature.

  • UVB light is essential for the production of Vitamin D3 in reptiles, enabling them to absorb calcium and helping them maintain strong bones
  • UVA helps stimulate appetites, breeding and can promote natural behaviors

Nutrition & Supplements

Nutrition and supplementation are key components to your aquatic turtle’s health. In nature, a turtle would eat a variety of sources that contribute to a well-balanced diet for optimal health and development. Commercial aquatic turtle foods, paired with supplementation of the correct vitamins and minerals, help give your turtle a complete and balanced diet. It’s important to feed your turtle a diet specifically formulated for their species and their specific needs; supplements will help fill any of the small nutritional gaps to help your turtle live and happy and healthy life!


Water quality is a huge factor is keeping your aquatic turtle healthy; clean water can help mitigate the chances of different diseases and infections that could manifest with poor habitat conditions. Having a water test kit, water changing tools, proper filtration and aquatic turtle safe water conditioner are items that every aquatic turtle pet parent should arm themselves with. The best way to treat a sick turtle is to do everything possible to keep it from getting sick; with proper housing and nutrition, you and your aquatic turtle are set-up for success!