Red-Eared Slider Habitat

Today we will explain how red-eared slider habitats look in the wild, as well as how to easily set up your own red-eared slider habitat at home for your pet turtle.

Red-eared slider natural habitat

red-eared slider natural habitat

A red-eared slider’s natural habitat consists of shallow to semi deep waters in ponds, streams, lakes, and even swamps. They will sometimes live in and around rivers, but they prefer still or slow moving water. While they are omnivores, they tend to eat mostly plants as they get older, which is why they live in heavy vegetation areas.

They prefer warm temperatures and originate from the southeastern United States. Red-eared sliders love to climb up onto rocks and branches on the water in order to soak in the sun and bask. This helps regulate their body temperature and helps their body produce calcium.

red eared sliders basking in wild habitat

Now that you are familiar with a red-eared slider’s habitat in the wild, let’s talk about how you can easily set one up at home.

Habitat for Red Eared Slider

The main things you need for a red-eared slider habitat is a tank, clean water, basking platform and light, and a substrate.

There are also other optional things you can add to your red-eared slider habitat including decorations, plants, and even other fish.

If you want to build your own red red eared slider habitat, you should check out my video below were I list out everything you need.


The most important aspect of a red-eared slider’s habitat is the tank. It is important that you have a tank that provides your turtle with plenty of room to swim around. This is essential for both their physical and mental health.

While young red-eared sliders can certainly live in smaller tanks such as 40 gallons, I suggest you get at least a 75 gallon tank. This is because your red-eared slider will grow quickly, and once they reach a length of 7-8 inches, a large tank is mandatory.

You can learn some more best practices in my article on the best red-eared slider tank.

Clean water

clean water in turtle habitat

Along with tank size, clean water is another very important aspect of a red-eared slider’s habitat. Since they spend the majority of their live in the water, it’s important that you have a strong filter that can keep the water clean.

You should get a filter that cycles through 3 times the amount of water you have in your tank. So, if you have a 75 gallon tank, you should get a filter that has a GPH (gallons per hour) of at least 225.

Another important aspect when it comes to the water is temperature. Red-eared sliders thrive best in habitats that have water temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees. Therefore, you should try to match this range in their tank habitat. You can use a water heater to help achieve the right temperature.

If your turtle’s habitat isn’t the right temperature, it can cause your red-eared slider to get sick.

Basking platform and light

red eared slider lighting

As mentioned earlier, red-eared sliders bask a lot in the wild, so it’s important to have a basking spot set up in their tank. There’s a bunch of different types of basking platforms, but the most important thing is that you get one that is big enough for your turtle to get on.

You also want to make sure there is a ramp that extends into the water that makes it easier for them to get on the platform. If your turtle is struggling to get on, you should check out my guide on my turtle cant get on basking dock.

Another important aspect of basking is the light. While the wattage of your light isn’t as important, you must have either both a UVA and UVB light, or a combo UVA/UVB light. The light should sit about 6-8 inches from the basking platform.

Ideally, your light should be able to make your basking platform around 95 degrees fahrenheight.


While some turtle enthusiasts don’t think a substrate is needed for a red-eared slider habitat, I disagree. The goal is to make your red-eared slider’s habitat as natural as possible, and having a tank without a substrate does not achieve this.

While the main substrate for red-eared sliders in the wild is mud/clay, I don’t recommend putting this in your tank because it will make your water murky. Instead, I suggest using sand or river rocks.

I personally like sand a little better because it is safer if your turtle ingests it. However, river rocks are easier to clean so they are a good option too.

Substrate helps keep your red-eared slider entertained because it gives them something to explore and dig through.

Now that you know the necessities for a red-eared slider’s habitat, let’s discuss some things that are nice to have.


decorations for red eared slider

While they’re not mandatory, I strongly suggest that you put some decorations in your red-eared slider’s tank. This could be driftwood, fish tank decorations, rocks etc. Not only do decorations give your tank a better aesthetic, but they also provide enrichment for you turtle because it gives them stuff to explore.

If your turtle doesn’t have any decorations, they will get bored more easily and could become stressed and restless. Overtime this could negatively impact their health. Bellow is a video where I add driftwood to my tank.


red eared slider next to plant

Plants are another nice to have in for your red-eared slider’s habitat. That being said, it can be pretty difficult to establish plants in the tank because red-eared slider’s love to eat them. I suggest experimenting with a couple different species of plants and see what sticks.

It is great if you can establish a couple plants in your tank because it will help emulate their natural habitat. Plants can also help keep the tank water clean.

If you aren’t successful with live plants, you can also try fake plants. Just make sure your turtle doesn’t eat them!

Other fish

other fish in habitat

Lastly, you can make the perfect habitat if you add fish to your red-eared slider’s tank. You can either add feeder fish, or fish tankmates. Feeder fish are typically small minnows that can be added to your tank for food.

Your red-eared slider will eagerly chase after them, especially if they are hungry. This can provide good entertainment for both you and your turtle.

If you want to add fish as tankmates, it’s important that you choose a species that your turtle won’t try to eat. You can learn more in my article on which fish can live with turtles.

Tankmates are great because they give your turtle company and help prevent it form being bored. If you want a red-eared slider, you should read my article on red-eared slider fun facts.


While it’s impossible completely replicate your red-eared slider’s natural habitat, if you follow the steps in this article, you can create a setup that will keep them happy and healthy. If you have the space, you might also want to consider an outdoor pond for your red-eared slider.

I hope this article helps, and best of luck with your turtle!