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Red-eared sliders and painted turtles are very popular pets, but is one better than the other? It’s the red-eared slider vs. painted turtle duel!

As the most popular pet species in the world, red-eared sliders have a lot going for them. They are quite hardy, in that they can survive in sub-optimal conditions easily. They appear friendly to humans as they love to beg for food. They are also quite easy on the eyes.

Although painted turtles aren’t as popular as their red-eared slider cousins, they more than makeup for it. They come in four sub-species, each which looks slightly different than the other, so there is noticeable variation in their appearance. And like sliders, they enjoy begging for food and are exquisite to observe.

But which is the best turtle for you?

Now, I know this is totally subjective. It’s my opinion. But it’s one based on my experience of owning both of these turtles for many, many years.

My quick answer is that all things considered, if you’re a beginner and you have absolutely no preference for one over the other, I would recommend the painted turtle slightly more than the red-eared slider. Allow me to explain why.

Painted Turtle vs. Red-eared Slider

Here’s how to tell the difference between a painted turtle and a red-eared slider.

Painted Turtle vs. Red-Eared Slider Pinterest
Can you tell which is which?

Red-eared sliders have a red streak that begins at the end of both their eyes and runs down their neck. Painted turtles don’t. However, if you were to look at their top shell and trace it down until it folds underneath into their body, you’d see bright very colors, often reds. That’s a telltale sign that you’re looking at a painted turtle.

There are a few other differences, but another one is size.

Red-Eared Sliders

Adult males often grow to 7 to 9″

Adult females often grow to 10 to 12″

Painted Turtles

Adult males grow from 3.5 to 7″ (depending on sub-species)

Adult females grow from 5.5 to 10″ (depending on sub-species)

This size difference is REASON 1 why I’m going to suggest a painted turtle over a red-eared slider in many cases.

Hear me out.

Both red-eared sliders and painted turtles:

  • Are hardy. This means that they can live in sub-optimal conditions. It also means that they can, unfortunately, take quite a bit of maltreatment from their owners.
  • Appear friendly to humans. Both of these turtles love begging for food, and often have no hesitation trying to eat it right out of your hands!
  • They are also semi-aquatic species great for beginners.

Which Type Of Turtle Is Best To Have As A Pet?

A bigger turtle means a bigger enclosure.

And a bigger enclosure is more difficult to maintain.

It’s more expensive, takes longer to clean, takes a more powerful filter, takes up more space in your house. Everything.

The common rule-of-thumb for how big of an aquarium you need for a semi-aquatic turtle is this:

10 gallons of water for every 1 inch of the shell, measured from top to bottom.

And as female sliders can get quite large, often 10 to 12″ on average, that means you are looking at an aquarium that is at a minimum, 100 gallons. And that’s just for one turtle. Two? You’re gonna need an even bigger aquarium!

If you plan on putting a Red-Eared Slider with a Painted Turtle, I would recommend getting this 150 gallon tank.

Southern painted turtles, the smallest of the painted turtle sub-species, are on average 3.5 to 5″ big for males and 5.5 to 7″ big for females. Meaning, you’d just need a 70-gallon tank.

The second reason is that painted turtles tend to eat slightly more protein than red-eared sliders. Both species start as carnivores as hatchlings, then become more and more omnivorous as they mature. When they are adults, the bulk of their diet is made up of plants.

However, painted turtles tend to consume a little bit more protein than red-eared sliders even into adulthood.

That being said, this is completely my subjective opinion. If you are willing to bear the extra cost of the increased size of their housing, red-eared sliders are amazing pet turtles to own.

Can Red-eared Sliders and Painted Turtles Live Together?

It can often be quite difficult to put several turtles in the same aquarium, pond or habitat.

One of the biggest factors in your success or failure when pairing up turtles is the size of your enclosure. More turtles mean you need a bigger tank. And a bigger tank needs a more powerful filter and more frequent tank cleanings.

That being said, provided you have a larger aquarium or pond, you CAN put a red-eared slider and a painted turtle together. BUT, you have to follow several rules:

  • Try to make sure that your painted turtle and red-eared slider are of comparable sizes. Significantly larger turtles will dominate smaller turtles, eat most of the food and will sometimes bully them. Thus, it’s probably not a good idea to pair a female RES with a male southern painted turtle.
  • You might want to avoid mixing males and females. Males can be very aggressive around females, constantly harassing them. Even sometimes attacking them. Male RES’s, in particular, can be quite aggressive and territorial relative to females and painted turtles. Be very careful here.
  • Try not to add in a wild-caught painted or red-eared slider into your habitat. For starters, a wild-caught turtle is much more likely to have parasites or other diseases. Secondly, it may be much more aggressive than a turtle that was raised in captivity.
  • You’ll need to do much more frequent observing. You can have everything set up correctly. A giant aquarium. Lots of basking space. And you’ll still have turtles that fight or injure each other.

Can Painted Turtles Mate With Red-eared Sliders?

The quick answer is that yes, a painted turtle probably can mate with a red-eared slider. In fact, it might just happen from time to time in areas where both species live, such as parts of the American Southeast and Northeast.

However, it is not common at all, both in the wild and among pet turtle enthusiasts. Furthermore, I have not personally seen an example of a painted turtle red-eared slider mix! I’m sure somewhere out there, there’s got to be at least one though.

In general, different species do not cross-breed with each other, even in captivity. Because of this, it’s incredibly difficult to get them to breed, even if you want them to. Moreover, hybrids, while interesting, often do not produce genetically-viable offspring. Meaning, their children are infertile.

Lastly, the pet turtle community at large generally frowns upon this practice. Very, very few people actively search for and buy mixed-hybrid turtles, which really limits their potential market.


  • Both painted turtles and red-eared sliders make GREAT pets for beginners.
  • The painted turtle vs. red-eared slider. In my opinion, the red-eared slider would be slightly more problematic for beginners simply because of the strain on your aquarium size it would present.
  • Red-eared sliders and painted turtles can live together, but even if you match up everything right (their size, gender, and age), it really is still up to luck if they get along.
  • Red-eared sliders and painted turtles probably can mate, but for all practical purposes, you’ll probably never see one!