Turtle, Red-eared Slider

Physical Characteristics

Red-eared slider adults have a dark brown to olive colored carapace (top shell), with a yellow, patterned plastron (belly shell). They typically have prominent red or maroon stripes along the side of the head, to the side of each eye. Sliders have a strong, sturdy and jagged beak that they use to eat plant matter and smaller aquatic animals.

Distinguishing males and females of the species is relatively easy. Male sliders are significantly smaller than females, growing to be only 8-10” in carapace (shell) length, and they have a longer tail and long front nails used in mating. Adult female sliders can grow to be as big as a large dinner plate, roughly 14-16” from tip to tip of the carapace, and they typically have a stubby tail and short front nails used for digging nests. All aquatic turtles have webbed feet to help make them fast and efficient swimmers.


Red-eared sliders are semi-aquatic, fresh water turtles found in many streams, creeks, lakes and wetlands throughout the United States. Geographically, the species originated from around the Mississippi River and south to the Gulf of Mexico. They prefer warmer climates, particularly the southeastern United States, typically in areas east of and below Colorado to Virginia and continuing south to Florida.

In the wild, they prefer habitats with calm, warm water, as well as logs or rocks for basking, suitable nesting areas, and plenty of vegetation to hide in and consume. Red-eared sliders are omnivorous, eating sub-aquatic vegetation, fruits, aquatic invertebrates, fishes, and amphibians like frogs and newts. Adult turtles eat sub-aquatic vegetation primarily, while around 40-50% of a juvenile turtles’ diet is comprised of animal protein. Young turtles prey mostly on small fish and amphibian eggs and tadpoles.

Social Behavior

Red-eared sliders are a solitary species, but they do “socialize” during mating season. Most turtles do not venture too far from their established fresh water habitat unless searching for a mate or nest site. In the wild, mating is seasonal, and in most areas, takes place between March and June. Males will reach sexual maturity at around 2-3 years of age, while the females reach sexual maturity at 5-7 years of age.

During courtship, the male turtle will swim in front of the female and wiggle his front fingernails at her to entice her into mating with him. If she accepts the male as a mate, then internal fertilization follows this dance. If conditions are right, then the female will dig a nest three to four weeks later, and lay a clutch of eggs (usually 5-20 eggs per clutch). Female sliders can lay two to three clutches in one season. Hatchling turtles must dig their way out of the nest, and immediately seek out nearby food and water on their own. Many young turtles do not survive this vulnerable stage of life.



Fascinating Facts

  • Red-eared sliders can live for over 50 years.
  • Hatchling turtles begin life not much bigger than a quarter, but adults of the species can grow bigger than a dinner plate!
  • No turtles have teeth – they have a hard beak, similar to that of a bird.
  • It is illegal in the United States for pet stores to sell any turtle that is less than four inches in length.


Status In The Wild

Red-eared sliders are not threatened or endangered anywhere. Unfortunately, due to captive pet turtles being released into non-native habitats, these turtles
are considered an invasive species in some areas around the country and the world, often out-competing native turtles for resources. However, red-eared
sliders in the wild can still be negatively impacted by human-caused habitat destruction and the draining of wetlands for development like many wetland

Waystation Residents

The Waystation is home to over a dozen red-eared sliders, mostly from private owners who no longer had adequate space to house them. They can be seen basking in the sun around our Duck Pond!