Baby turtles can be tricky to take care of. This is what you need to know about baby red-eared slider care.
What You Need to Know About Baby Red-eared Slider Care
In general, taking care of a baby red-eared slider is not radically different from taking care of an adult. The biggest difference is feeding frequency. Everything else, such as your aquarium size, basking spot setup and lighting doesn’t need to change.
That being said, a great deal of your success in raising a baby red-eared slider comes BEFORE you even bring it home.
Red-eared sliders are tough animals that are able to live, and even thrive, in dirty, unclean environments in the wild. However, before you commit to purchasing and taking on a baby slider, you need to make sure it is healthy first.
Otherwise, your turtle will likely cost you a few expensive trips to the vet.
Here is what to keep your eyes open for.
Buying A Red-Eared Slider Turtle
Keep these 4 things in mind when buying or obtaining your turtle.
First, look at the turtle’s shell. It doesn’t necessarily have to be bright, as some sliders’ shell colors can be dull or darker. However, it should have a “glossy” look to it.
If the shell has white markings or a “dust-like” white substance encased all around its shell, it could be a sign that the turtle has been sitting in hard-water for too long.
However, if the turtle’s shell is dull rather than radiant, it may be a sign that the turtle has not had access to adequate UV-B light.
Secondly, there shouldn’t be any exposed or broken parts on its shell. If there, this could be a sign of an impending infection or a more serious health problem.
Next, check its movement and its eyes. Does the turtle make slow or exaggerated movements? If so, this could be a sign of an infection or illness of some kind. Eyes that have an overall yellow or red tinge could also be a sign of serious illness.
Lastly, if at all possible, make sure that it is able to swim properly. If the turtle has a respiratory infection, it won’t be able to dive down into the water and instead will only be able to float.
Now, I’ve got to be honest. Raising a healthy red-eared slider requires some luck.
Here’s the thing. Even healthy, vibrant red-eared slider turtles are subject to sudden health problems and even death. Even if you do everything right, there will always be a few turtles that simply won’t be able to live out their full lives.
This has nothing to do with whether or not you are a good caretaker. It’s simply a reflection of nature.
Thus, it is crucial that you try to stack the deck in your odds as much as possible, by making sure that your red-eared slider baby is already healthy, to begin with.
What to Feed a Red-Eared Slider Baby
A baby red-eared slider’s appetite is voracious.
Your baby red-eared slider’s diet should be primarily protein-focused.
The absolute best way to make sure your baby red-eared slider gets enough nutrition is by using a good turtle pellet as its staple food. I recommend either Mazuri or Omega One for pellet food. For more information on both as well as why I recommend these two brands, check out my article here.
You can also use other meat and insect sources to supplement the pellets, such as:
- Gut-loaded crickets (crickets that have eaten carrots or other vegetables).
- Small fish
- Dried shrimp
- Other small insects
And what about meal frequency?
Baby red eared sliders should be fed every day. After reaching 6 months switch to every other day feedings.
You can estimate the approximate age of your baby red-eared slider by measuring its outer shell vertically straight down the middle. If it is under 2 inches in length, feed it every day. If it is anywhere from 2 inches to 3.5 inches, you can start feeding it pellets every other day.
Speaking of feedings. How much food should you be offering them?
Feed them enough food that would be roughly the size of their head. So, if you are giving them mealworms, or small fish, use however much would be about the size of their head. This is about a level tablespoon.
Another common strategy is to feed them as much as they can eat in 5-10 minutes. Don’t let them eat for more than 10 minutes, however, as this can lead to overfeeding.
What Do I Do If My Baby Red-Eared Slider Won’t Eat?
This is incredibly common, especially in the days right after getting a baby red-eared slider.
First things first. Don’t feed it vegetables or plants. It probably won’t eat them.
Virtually all turtles prefer protein-based foods as these foods are often few and far between in their natural environment. So, it’s highly unlikely your baby slider is going to be eating any vegetables that you give it, especially if you are also feeding it a protein-source.
This is completely normal.
As your slider ages, you’ll need to start balancing out its diet in favor of dark, leafy green vegetables. In fact, eventually, you’ll be feeding it a protein source just once or twice a week.
So, expect your slider to refuse or ignore vegetables and go for the protein.
But, what if your baby slider is also ignoring the protein?
The most common reason a baby red-eared slider refuses to eat is stress. This stress is almost always the result of being moved into a new aquarium or habitat. What usually happens is your baby turtle will retract into its shell for most of the day. Or it will just sit somewhere, motionless.
Keep offering it turtle pellets. After a few days it will start eating them.
Now, if a week goes by and your baby red-eared slider STILL isn’t eating, there may be something else at play.
Here’s my advice if your baby red-eared slider won’t eat.
- It may not be used to the food that you are giving it. Offer it a variety of different proteins, such as mealworms, worms, crickets, small fish, small shrimp, turtle pellets, etc. It may simply be a very picky eater.
- If your baby slider isn’t eating anything for days going into weeks, it may be sick. Check for signs of common illnesses. After you find the most likely culprit, treat accordingly.
- There may be something in or around its aquarium that causes it continual stress. Consider making alternations to your baby red-eared slider’s habitat, such as; moving it away from high-traffic areas, checking the temperature, UV light, etc.
- Give it time. If you’ve checked for signs of illness and checked the tank for anything which may be causing to stress, you may simply need to give your baby slider some more time. It should start eating something within a week.
- If after a week or so it is still not eating, try calling your local vet for further instruction.
Speaking of stress from its aquarium or habitat, what exactly will you need? Here’s the bare minimum.
How Do You Set-up A Baby Red-Eared Slider Tank?
If you want your baby red-eared slider to grow up healthy, it is crucial that the environment that it is placed in can meet all its needs.
There are a few things you will absolutely need for a suitable red-eared slider habitat:
- A large enough tank or tub.
- A UV-light and heat source.
- Water heater.
- Water filter to process and purify the water.
- A basking dock.
A lot of people simply assume that, since their turtle is a baby, they can simply forego some of these things and deal with them later. Don’t do this! In fact, it should be the opposite, the sooner you take care of your turtle’s needs, the less concern and worry you should have!
Let’s talk about tanks for a moment. The most important rule here is to get the biggest you can get. Bigger is always better!
Now, if you want to be exact about it, there is a very simple rule:
For every inch of turtle shell, you should provide 10 gallons of water.
Note; you don’t need to follow this guideline precisely. If you are off by a little, it’s not going to make a huge difference. From personal experience, I can tell you that a 55-gallon tank is going to be sufficient for a fully-grown RES.
That being said, bigger is still always better. The key point here is to NOT keep your slider in something really small. That’s just misery for an aquatic turtle like a red-eared slider.
Baby Red-Eared Slider Heat & Light Requirements
I have written a general guide on UVB lights for turtles where you can find more information, but here are a few quick guidelines:
- Your UV light should have both UV-A and UV-B light.
- You should steer clear of any UV lights with less than 5-10% UV-B output, as it won’t be strong enough.
- For your heat source, measure the basking area and put the heating lamp as far away or close to ensure the basking area is between 85 to 90 degrees.
For water heaters, I wrote up a quick go-to guide. Essentially, the gist of it is is that there are several types of water heaters, but the one you want (in all likelihood) will be a submersible water heat. They are inexpensive and work well.
For the basking area, I am a really big fan of the Turtle Topper. It’s a little bit more pricey than simply custom building your own dock (which I have done), but I simply love how it sits on the tank. It also gives your turtle a ton of extra room.
The downside to the Turtle Topper is that it won’t be big enough to fit more than 2 full-grown red-eared sliders. One or two can bask inside it easily but after that, it gets way too cramped.
Why Is My Baby Red-Eared Slider Not Basking?
A very common complaint or concern I hear from readers is when their new baby red-eared slider won’t bask.
This is actually very common and it is generally because of one of these 3 reasons (in order of most likely to occur):
- The baby slider isn’t basking because it is stressed or scared. Moving turtles into new environments causes quite a bit of stress for a turtle. It’s common for turtles to be inactive after habitat changes. It could also be scared. Sliders become very skittish when they bask because that is when they are most vulnerable to predators. And to a new baby red-eared slider, you look an awful lot like a predator!
- The temperature is too high or too low. This goes for both your water and basking temperature. If your water temperature is too high, your baby turtle might not feel the need to bask. Ditto if your basking area temperature is too low. And if it is too high it will just avoid it altogether. Keep your water temperature somewhere in the 70 to 80 degree Fahrenheit range and your basking temperature in the mid to high 80s.
- It can’t bask because it can’t get there! Lastly, sometimes you don’t see your baby red-eared slider bask because it either can’t get there or has too much trouble getting there. Always make sure your turtle’s basking spot is accessible. Test it. Make sure your turtle can easily climb up any ramps you have.
If you don’t see your baby red-eared slider basking, 99% of the time its going to be because of one of those reasons.
Now, let’s get back to what you need for your habitat.
Baby Red-Eared Slider Filter
Lastly, there is the filter. Your tank and your filter is probably going to be the two most expensive items you will ever have to buy for your turtle, so make sure you get it right the first time.
For filters, Penn Plax and Fluval are my go-to brands. I’m a bigger fan of Fluval, however, Penn Plax filters are usually a tad cheaper and are nearly as good in my opinion. Check out my guide here.
Some people opt to forego pricier filters like these and just get run of the mill, cheap mechanical filters.
Please don’t do this. Turtles are messy, and yes they don’t use filters out in nature, however, they also don’t sit in still water for weeks on end, like they would in a tank. Nitrate build-up in a tank can be very harmful to your turtle.
If you can provide all of these things for your turtle, you are basically doing everything you can to keep it healthy.
But, there is one more thing I wanted to mention. And that’s handling your baby turtle.
How To Handle A Red-Eared Slider Baby
In general, try not to pick up or play with your baby red-eared slider. Now, I know that red-eared sliders can seem personable and playful but avoid picking it up and touching it as much as possible.
This rule becomes ten-times more important if you have children!
For this, let’s just make a checklist and get right down to it.
- Always wash your hands after handling your turtle. Turtles are very dirty, full of germs, and carry salmonella.
- As much as you want to, don’t play with your turtle as you would a pet cat or other animal. Turtles generally do not like touched or held. This causes lots of stress and anxiety.
- If you do need to pick up your baby red-eared slider, do it by scooping it so that it is sitting on your hand. This will give him a sense of stability and it won’t kick its feet everywhere.
- As much as you want to, try not to rub its shell. Turtles do not like this. Their shell is an extension of their skeleton. Imagine if somebody was rubbing on your ribs. You wouldn’t like it either!
- Be careful when putting your hand in the tank. Red-eared sliders don’t have hurtful bites, but they do sometimes bite. This usually happens when they mistake your finger for food.
Here’s a quick summary of the key points here:
- Check any baby red-eared slider thoroughly before purchasing or obtaining it. Sick turtles can be expensive.
- Feed your baby turtle pellets daily. Once it reaches between 2 and 3.5 inches in (shell) length, switch to every other day feedings.
- To provide a proper habitat, you’ll need a large aquarium, a water filter, basking spot, UV-light, thermometer, and possibly a water heater.
- Avoid handling your baby red-eared slider as much as possible.