Red-eared sliders are an extremely popular species of pet turtle that are mostly aquatic. But, just how long can they go without water?
Red-eared sliders are considered a semi-aquatic species of turtle. “Semi-aquatic” means that they live most of their lives in the water. However, they aren’t in the water quite as much as say, a sea turtle.
Just how much time do they spend in the water? This is just anecdotal, but I would say based on my experience, they spend about 75% of their life in the water.
The other only time they aren’t in the water is to bask. Basking is when a turtle leaves the water and dries out its skin and shell under the sunshine.
How Long Can Red-Eared Sliders Live Without Water?
Considering that the only real-time red-eared sliders go out of the water is to bask and that this only typically lasts a few hours, then how long can they go without water?
Here’s the short and sweet answer.
A healthy, adult red-eared slider would almost certainly be able to live without water for a week at the very least. It would probably become dehydrated , however. Just how many weeks after that, is really anybody’s guess. It would probably survive longer in a really humid environment. My best guess is probably several months. Possibly even longer, but it would absolutely not be healthy.
Others have stated that red-eared sliders would probably die after a week or two without water, but I don’t think that is actually the case.
The exception to this is baby turtles, which have much higher water and food needs while young.
I say this because red-eared sliders brumate over the winter months. This is where they enter into a state of very low activity. The rate of their breathing drops dramatically and their metabolism slows way down.
During brumation, it’s not uncommon for red-eared sliders to not eat anything at all. For months!
Often times, sliders will brumate along the bottoms of ponds, lakes and slow-moving rivers, but not always. Some brumate where they can, such as under a pile of leaves. These turtles not only do not eat during this period but often remain out of the water as well.
Based on this, I think it’s fair to say that a red-eared slider would be able to live for a very long time without water. It would certainly be dehydrated, it wouldn’t be healthy and it couldn’t do this indefinitely, however.
Do Red-Eared Sliders Need To Be In The Water?
Because red-eared sliders are able to survive for quite a long time outside of the water, does that mean they need to be in the water in order to be healthy and vibrant?
The answer is, yes. Absolutely!
Red-eared sliders need to be in the water.
For starters, red-eared sliders lack saliva and need water to swallow their food. They can eat without water, it’s just a lot more difficult.
They also need to be in the water to stay hydrated and be as healthy as possible. Turtles such as red-eared sliders, painted turtles and map turtles, need to be in the water. That’s what they were designed for.
How Much Water Does A Red-Eared Slider Need?
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen red-eared sliders stuck in dry aquariums or containers with a small bowl of water.
Red-eared sliders need a lot, and I mean A LOT, more water than that!
How much water?
A good rule of thumb is 10 gallons of water for every inch of shell, measured vertically from top to bottom. Most red-eared sliders’ shells grow to 6 to 8 inches, so that’s 60 to 80 gallons of water. And believe me, some can get bigger than that!
Basically, you’ll need an aquarium full of water. 60 to 80 gallons is quite a bit of water, and this means you’ll need an aquarium that can fit it all.
In my opinion, try to get the biggest aquarium you can. And try to get an aquarium that is both wide AND deep. The more water a slider has, the more it will feel at home.
But please remember, red-eared sliders also need to be able to get out of the water, so you’ll need to provide a basking spot with a ramp of some kind. Without this, it’s possible your turtle will eventually tire out, and eventually drown.
Is It Okay To Use Tap Water For Turtles?
On that note, since it’s been established that you’re going to need A LOT of water for your red-eared slider, you might be wondering if you can just fill up your tank from your sink or faucet tap.
The quick answer is that yes, tap water is probably not going to lead to any type of health issues for your red-eared slider.
Most tap water has a pH of about 8.0, which is right in the upper range (6.5 to 8.0) of suitable pH levels for red-eared sliders. Unlike fish, turtles are much less susceptible to water temperature and water quality issues. However, it can still affect them.
That being said, I’m going to make an argument as to why you should NOT use tap water.
The first reason is that tap water usually contains chlorine or chloramines. Chlorine or chloramine-treated water can sting your turtle’s eyes. Now, to get rid of chlorine-treated tap water, you simply let it sit for 24 to 48 hours. The chlorine will eventually dissipate, and bam! You’ve got dechlorinated water!
You can’t do that with chloramine-treated water. Chloramine is chlorine bound to ammonia. Now, I’m not a chemistry expert, but from what I understand, it takes a lot longer for this type of water to dissipate.
The second reason is that tap water can destroy your filter’s natural bacteria build-up, and upset the overall water cycle and quality.
Most good filters come with biological media: bio balls, meshes, etc. What these things do is introduce beneficial bacteria into your aquarium’s water system. Your aquarium needs this bacteria in order to maintain a healthy nitrogen balance.
What this bacteria also does is help eliminate ammonia that builds up in your aquarium, which usually comes from turtle waste and uneaten food.
What Kind Of Water Do You Put In A Turtle Tank?
If you just run the tap water from your sink or faucet, you run a big chance of destroying any healthy bacteria that have built up over the last few weeks. This will likely reset your water cycle and could lead to cloudy water.
So, IF your community uses any kind of chlorine or chloramine-treated water, I recommend either using distilled water or use a dechlorinating agent on it first.
If you are using well water, on the other hand, you can probably just run it straight from the sink.
- A healthy adult red-eared slider would probably be able to survive for months without water. HOWEVER, it would not be healthy, and would certainly be quite dehydrated.
- Red-eared sliders NEED to be in the water in order to stay healthy, vibrant and robust.
- Try to get an aquarium that can fit at least 60 to 80 gallons, and is both deep and wide.
- Try to avoid using tap water if you can, as it can destroy beneficial bacteria in your turtle’s aquarium, as well as upset the water-quality.