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How Long Can Red-Eared Sliders Go Without Water?

The red-eared slider is a semiaquatic reptile and as such, it needs an aquatic habitat to survive and thrive. If you have one as a pet, you’ll also need to avoid taking the turtle out of the water for long stretches of time. So, how long can red-eared sliders go without water and what does this mean for their owners?

For starters, it’s important to know that the red-eared slider cannot eat out of water. The liquid actually helps the turtle to swallow and digest their food. Additionally, the red-eared slider relies on water to maintain the correct body temperature and hydration levels – so they don’t get too hot, cold, or dry.

Normally, they can go without water for a few hours, although under the right conditions, the red-eared slider can be without water for days, weeks, or months. These conditions include low temperatures and high humidity levels.

With low temperatures, the red-eared slider will likely enter a state of brumation, a process reptiles use for survival that is similar to hibernation. During this process, the turtle’s body temperature and metabolism drop almost a halt, but even in this, the turtles should only be allowed to brumate in water.

Otherwise, they might become dehydrated and they won’t survive. With high humidity, of course, there will be extra moisture, and this keeps the turtle from drying quickly.

How Long Can Red-Eared Sliders Live Without Water?

Red-eared sliders spend at least 70% of their lives in water
Red-eared sliders spend at least 70% of their lives in water

A red-eared slider can live without water for anywhere from a few hours to several days. If the conditions are absolutely right, the turtle might even last several months outside of water.

In cool temperatures, the red-eared slider can stay out of water for days and still be active, although they may be a little slower than usual. Sliders may also be found outside of their freshwater habitat during the rainy season, when the weather is humid and cool.

When brumating, the red-eared slider may live without water for months but again, conditions such as humidity and temperature are the key to keeping it from dehydrating.

Why Is It Dangerous For A Red-Eared Slider To Be Out Of Water For Long Periods?

So, what exactly happens when the red-eared slider is out of water for a long time? Well, when they are out of water for a long time, they’ll begin to lose bodily water. A hydrated turtle will typically be around 68 – 78 percent water, and if temperatures are high, the turtle will quickly begin to dehydrate.

As dehydration progresses, the skin becomes dry or even flaky, the eyes may become sunken, and the turtle’s skin will become much less elastic. Activity also slows down and the turtle must rehydrate or the condition could quickly become fatal.

They’re simply not designed for long periods of time on land, so it’s important to keep this in mind when handing them and when designing their tank environment – they need lots of water to stay healthy!

To learn more about red-eared slider dehydration and its prevention, Repticare has a great article on the subject that you might find useful!

The Red-eared slider’s Habitats

Red eared slider out of water on shore rocks
A wild red-eared slider in his natural habitat

The red-eared slider is classified as a pond turtle (Emydidae). These are aquatic, although some classify them as semi-aquatic, as they also spend a significant amount of time out of water.

Pond turtles inhabit freshwater habitats such as ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, marshes, and swamps, and red-eared sliders in particular may even thrive in brackish water – Nature has made these creatures hardy and able to survive in many parts of the world.

The red-eared slider lives in slow-moving freshwater bodies such as streams, lagoons, lakes, swamps, ponds, and rivers and within these waterbodies, they inhabit shallow ends with depths of 0.6 to 0.9 meters (1.92 to 2.95 feet).

When found outside of the water, they inhabit humid terrestrial habitats such as semi-evergreen forests with a water source nearby and are also fond of muddy areas and moist sloughs.

These turtles spend several hours basking each day, which is simply the term for coming out of the water to dry themselves off in the sun. The turtle will bask on the banks and shores of the freshwater bodies they inhabit or on vegetation, rocks, and other objects that stick out of the water.

Similar to other pond turtles, the red-eared slider doesn’t inhabit marine environments.

While the red-eared slider can live without water for extended periods when brumating, it will otherwise require immersion in water to thrive and survive. Without access to this for too long, the turtle may become severely dehydrated and may not survive.

To learn a little more about creating your own red-eared slider habitat, check out our handy tank setup guide when you’re finished here!

Ensuring Your Red-eared Slider Is Comfortable And Healthy Out Of Water

As mentioned earlier, the red-eared slider is semi-aquatic, and as such requires a dry platform. In the wild, the red-eared slider basks for several hours each day, and aside from drying them, the UV radiation from the sun or their heat lamp (for indoor turtles) helps them to produce vitamin D3.

Vitamin D3 is important for the growth and maintenance of the skeletal structure of the reptile, as it helps them to properly absorb calcium.

Finally, proper basking also allows the turtle to regulate its body temperature, so it’s important to make sure that they have a proper platform to bask on and that you’ve got the right conditions and equipment so that your turtle may live with much the same habits as they might have in the wild.

Let’s take a look at how that breaks down, so that you may create these optimal conditions for your own turtles!

Basking Platform

Red-eared slider basking
A young slider enjoying a little time in the sun

The basking platform is a dry platform above water that the turtle can relax on during the day and soak up some sunlight. When housed indoors, the turtle will have to make do with heat lamps and UV lamps, as actual sunlight tends to overheat the turtle’s tank.

In a nutshell, heaters and lamps give you more granular control, so that their environment is always predictably optimal for good turtle health.

The platform must be large enough for the turtle to bask on it comfortably and with more turtles, you’ll need a bigger platform. The  Zoo Med Turtle Dock (Large) is great for a single turtle. The  Zoo Med Turtle Dock (Extra Large) is great for two or more turtles.

If you have a large number of turtles, then you may want to house them in a pen. That way, they can bask on the banks of the pond they are housed in. Another basking platform to consider is the PENN-PLAX Reptology Turtle Basking Platform Ramp, as it’s quite accessible and does the job nicely!

If you’re DIY-inclined, you can also just make a basking area and we’ve got some steps you can use as instructions or inspiration!

Heat Lamp and UVB Lamp

Apart from a basking platform, you’ll need to provide your turtle with a heat lamp as well as a UVB lamp. Most red-eared slider keepers use mercury vapor lamps such as the REPTI ZOO Reptile Heat Lamp (100W), as these provide both heat and UVB light.

The main disadvantage of this option is that you cannot regulate the heat lamp outputs without indirectly interfering with the UVB radiation, so a good solution is a UVB lamp and heat lamp combo. That way, you can regulate the heat output of the heat lamp independently from the UVB output.

An excellent heating option is the BOEESPAT Ceramic Heat Emitter. As it is ceramic, it doesn’t produce any light, only heat. You can also install a thermostat that regulates the heat output so that you may better control the temperature of the basking platform and the rest of the enclosure.

This is important, as it ensures that the turtle doesn’t overheat.

Two excellent UVB lamps are the ReptiSun 10.0 UVB T5 HO Lamp and the  Reptisun 10.0 Mini Compact. These UVB lamps are fluorescent and produce very little heat, but lots of Ultraviolet-B-rich light.

UVB lamps/bulbs need to be replaced regularly, as the intensity of the UVB radiation outputted reduces over time. Replacing the UVB bulbs once every six months should help to ensure that they are always performing at their best.

Adding Water to the Red-eared Slider’s Enclosure

The right amount of water is a MUST for your red-eared sliders
The right amount of water is a MUST for your red-eared sliders

The ideal volume of water in the enclosure may be determined by the size of the red-eared slider. As a rule of thumb, for every inch of the turtle, you should provide 10 gallons of water.

A red-eared slider with a 7-inch carapace should have 70 (or more) gallons of water, but it should not be less than that. For every additional turtle, add 5 gallons instead of 10 and this will be adequate for keeping them comfortable.

So, by way of example, two 7-inch sliders should have about 105 gallons of water in their tank.

Water Conditions

Chemical Levels 

The water that you use needs to be free of impurities. Tap water is the most convenient water source to use, however, it contains chlorine and even chloramine and these chemicals aren’t good for the turtle’s health.

To ensure that there are no issues, you’ll need to purify their water. Other chemicals to be critical of include ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite, and you’ll also need to determine the pH level of the water.

The ideal conditions of the water should be as follows – chlorine, chloramine, and ammonia levels should be 0, the nitrate level needs to be below 40 ppm (parts per million), the nitrite level needs to be below 0.5 ppm, and the pH level of the water needs to be 6 to 8.

In order to ensure that the water used is suitable you can use an aquarium test kit and a tap water conditioner to correct the chemical imbalances.

The JNW Aquarium & Fish Tank Test Strips and  API Freshwater Master Test Kit are excellent examples of test kits and the  API TAP Water Conditioner is a great water conditioner for the red-eared slider’s tank.

Filtration

The water within the tank also needs to be filtered. This keeps it from getting too dirty and you’ll need it – red-eared sliders are far messier than fish! While you can keep small fish in an aquarium without a filter, a red-eared slider will definitely require a powerful filter.

In fact, the filter needs to be marked for twice the capacity of water within the turtle’s tank. For instance, if the water within the tank is 50 gallons, then you’ll need to acquire a filter pump marked for 100 gallons.  There are several types of filter pumps out there that you may use.

The most common ones are canister filters – with these, the filtration unit is placed outside the tank. Then there are hand-on-back filters, where the filtration unit is attached to the back of the bank. Finally, you might choose a submersible filter, where the filtration unit is placed inside the tank.

Each of these filters has its advantages and disadvantages. The submersible filter reduces the water capacity of the tank as it takes up space inside the tank. The canister filter takes up space outside the tank of the tank and the hang-on-back filter takes up space behind the tank.

You’ll also need to double-check that the filter you choose will be compatible with the tank you use.

For 55 gallons of water (or less), the Penn Plax Cascade CCF3UL Canister Filter works great, and for 55 gallons up to 200, the  Penn-Plax Cascade 1500 Canister Filter has got you covered.

If you prefer a hang-on-back filter pump, the Marineland Penguin Power Filter is an excellent option, and if you want a submersible filter, then we’d recommend the  Marineland Magnum Polishing Internal Canister Filter.

Temperature

Digital infrared thermometer
Check your enclosure temperature regularly to keep your turtles safe and happy!

Since the red-eared slider spends most of its time in the water, the temperature has to be just right. It should NEVER fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, as this will cause the turtle to become inactive. The optimal temperature of the water should be about 75 degrees to 80 degrees.

Hatchlings and juveniles should be in waters with temperatures closer to 80 degrees.

Water temperature is important for a number of reasons, one of which is that if the water is too warm, this will prevent the turtle from basking and this can eventually impact their health.

The best way to ensure that the temperature is within the right range is by simply measuring it with a thermometer. A lot of aquarium heaters also come with thermostats to ensure that the water temperature doesn’t get too high or too low, so this is something to consider when you’re selecting one.

Some good aquarium heater examples include the Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater and the Fluval E300 Advanced Electronic Heater – they are inexpensive and do a great job keeping your turtle’s water warm.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can a red-eared slider be dry?

Red-eared slider turtles can be dry for a few hours under normal conditions, but you should only take them out for a few minutes at a time.

In the wild, they have been known to remain out of water for extended periods of time — even several months in the right conditions – but as they are aquatic animals, they need to always have access to water to stay hydrated.

Do red-eared sliders need water all the time?

Red-eared sliders are aquatic, so they must have water in their tank – it’s where they eat and where they spend most of their time. That said, you DO need a basking area outside of the water, where your slider can stand under the UV lamp.

This will only take up a little space, however, as the majority of the tank should be water.

Can you feed red-eared sliders out of water?

Red-eared sliders MUST be fed in the water, as they cannot properly eat or swallow outside of it. If you watch them eat, you’ll notice that they grasp and gobble up their food with their heads partially or fully underwater, and the liquid helps them to properly swallow their food.

Conclusion

The red-eared slider needs water to survive and they’ll spend an estimated 70% of their lives in water. Their favorite habitats include freshwater locales, such as ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, marshes, swamps, and even places with brackish water that might kill other turtles.

Every day, the red-eared slider will come out of the water to bask for a few hours, and this is normal behavior. It helps them to dry a little and to absorb UVB radiation into their skin to trigger the production of vitamin D3 –which is crucial for properly absorbing calcium for their bones.

The turtle may also brumate out of water and in this special case, they might survive for a few months outside of the water, but this is one of the few scenarios where this may occur. Under normal conditions, the red-eared slider can be out for water for a few to several hours.

So, just remember to only take your turtle out for a few minutes at a time and to regulate their temperature as precisely as you can. These animals are aquatic (or semi-aquatic, depending on who you ask), so water always needs to be the biggest part of their day!

For more information on ensuring that your turtle has enough water and a fantastic habitat, check out our guide on creating an indoor oasis for your turtles here!

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