Red-eared sliders, also known as red-eared terrapins, are a subspecies of the slider turtle. Semi-aquatic, these terrapins are endemic to North America, commonly kept as pets, and they get their name from the brilliant red streaks that Nature has painted on the sides of their heads.
So, how long do red-eared sliders live? Well, Sliders live 30 years on average, although they have been known to reach the age of 40 years old and sometimes even a little more. They mature much earlier, however — at 2 to 5 years for males and 5 to 8 years for females.
The potential for old age is definitely there, but you must take good care of the red-eared slider if you want them to have a chance at reaching their ‘Chelonian Golden years’. Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need to know in order to help!
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Pet Red-Eared Sliders’ Lifespan
The average lifespan of pet red-eared sliders can be difficult to determine, as we simply have not collected enough data. This is ironic, as the red-eared slider is one of the most popular turtles in the pet trade.
The reason for this includes owners exaggerating about the age of their turtles, as well as the frequent release of the red-eared sliders into the wild after just a few years of ownership.
Regardless of this, it is believed that a pet red-eared slider can live up to approximately 41.3 years and according to the Porterville Recorder, there’s even a red-eared slider named ‘Magoo’ who is 65 years old and still going strong! It is safe to say, they have a definite potential for a long and happy life.
This is something to keep in mind before you acquire the red-eared slider as a pet as the care for — this animal requires a long-term commitment. Sadly, it is not uncommon for pet owners to release their pet turtle into the wild after a few years of ownership.
A hardy species, the red-eared slider can thrive in environmental conditions that would otherwise be unsuitable for most other turtles. This has led to them being considered an invasive species in many areas across the world, as their introduction can have an adverse effect on local ecosystems.
Wild Red-Eared Sliders’ Lifespan
Similar to captive-born red-eared sliders, the average lifespan of wild sliders can also be difficult to determine. The reason for insufficient information, in this case, is simply the logistical challenges of tracking wild animals that have naturally long lifespans.
However, we do have some data available, such as this report from Animal Diversity Web which estimates that the lifespan of a wild slider is 20 to 30 years. Should you see a red-eared slider in the wild, however, we would generally advise that you do not disturb them.
Wild sliders will be more susceptible to stress or even shock from the sudden change in surroundings, so if you wish to keep a red-eared slider as a pet, then captive-bred turtles will be the best option.
Estimating the Age of a Red-Eared Slider (Growth Rate)
Like most reptiles, the red-eared slider grows rapidly in the first few years of its life, after which its growth rate slows down to almost a halt. Similar to species within the family Emydidae (which includes most North American freshwater turtles), the females are typically larger than the males.
As subadults and juveniles, males and females are about the same size. Males reach maturity at ages 5 to 6, and they seldom grow any bigger after this point.
Females, on the other hand, continue to grow until the age of 8. Even after maturity, red-eared sliders will still increase in size, but their growth will be minimal — almost insignificant.
The size of the red-eared sliders can help you to determine the age of the species. Here’s a chart that details the average growth rate of red-eared sliders at various ages:
|Age (years)||Female’s average Shell Length||Females average Shell Length|
|1||1.6 inches (4 cm)||1.6 inches (4 cm)|
|2||2.4 inches (6 cm)||2.4 inches (6 cm)|
|3||4 inches (10 cm)||4 inches (10 cm)|
|4||4.5 inches (11.5 cm)||4.5 inches (11.5 cm)|
|5-6||6 inches (15 cm)||6 inches (15 cm)|
|6 to 8||6 inches (15 cm)||8.5 inches (21.6 cm)|
|Over 8||6 inches (15 cm)||9.5 inches (24.1 cm)|
What Is a Red-Eared Slider?
The red-eared slider is a freshwater turtle of the family Emydidae. This family, which includes pond turtles, is endemic mostly to North America. Emydids are also known as marsh turtles and terrapins.
While they get the ‘red-eared’ part of their name from their bright red head markings, the ‘slider’ part comes from their habit of quickly sliding off logs and rocks into the water when approached.
The trinomial nomenclature of the species is Trachemys scripta elegans. This makes it a subspecies of the species Trachemys script, which includes other pond sliders such as the yellow-bellied slider (T. s. scripta) and the Cumberland slider (T. s. troostii).
The species is endemic to the United States and northern Mexico. They are moderately sized, with most individuals growing to a carapace length of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm), although some rare specimens have been known to reach carapace lengths of over 16 inches (40 cm).
The carapace/ upper shell of these turtles is flattened and will sometimes have a keel that runs down the back. In adults, this keel is barely noticeable, but it is more pronounced in juveniles. The color of the carapace is leaf green while newly hatched (as hatchlings).
As the turtle ages, the carapace color changes from olive green to brown, and the plastron (lower shell) is yellowish with dark markings. The markings are mirrored on both sides of the plastron, as seen in the image below.
Males will be smaller than the females, with male sliders reaching a length of 6 inches (15 cm) and females reaching a length of 9.5 inches (24.1 cm).
Promoting Long Life In a Red-Eared Slider
To reach their maximum lifespans, it is vital that red-eared sliders have suitable habitats. Let’s take a look at some important factors that will help your red-eared slider to stay as happy and healthy as possible.
The red-eared slider is a semi-aquatic species, which simply means that they are chiefly aquatic, but they like to climb out and bask on the surface from time to time. As such, they require an aquarium.
To ensure that they have enough space, you’ll want to provide a minimum of 10 gallons of water for every inch of the turtle. For example, a 5-inch red-eared slider requires a 50-gallon tank.
You can be flexible with this rule, although it isn’t advisable to house a turtle in a small aquarium. Turtles produce more excrement than fish do, and a tank that’s too small can quickly become polluted. For an average red-headed slider, a 50 to 75-gallon tank is a good idea, but if you have a female or a pair of sliders, then a 100-gallon tank is an even better one!
Here are some further recommendations on the minimum size of the aquarium:
- The length of the aquarium should be five times the length of the turtle.
- The depth of the aquarium should be twice the length of the turtle.
- The width of the tank should be three times the length of the turtle.
The tank can be larger, but it should not be smaller than these recommended minimums. An excellent starter tank for one red-eared slider is this Tetra Glass Aquarium (55 gallons).
In addition to the tank, you will need to install a powerful filter. Turtles are messy — a LOT messier than fish. As such, it’s best to choose a filter that is powerful enough for a tank twice your current tank’s size. So, if you have a 50-gallon tank, then invest in a filter for a 100-gallon tank — this will help to keep the tank nice and clean.
An excellent filter is the Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter. This filter is marked for 100 to 150 gallons, so it should be just about perfect for adult red-eared sliders.
The Basking Spot
The tank also requires a basking spot. This is where the turtle will surface, dry off, and enjoy the heat lamp as it infuses them with vitamin D3 for strong bones and good health. You need to install a platform such as this Zoo Med Turtle Dock or something similar so that they’ll have a proper place to bask.
Lighting and Heating
Just like wild turtles, pet turtles require lighting and heating, and the most reliable solution is artificial heating and lighting. Basking in a proper lamp helps to provide vitamin D3 for your turtle, so this is definitely going to be a key factor in it’s ability to enjoy a full lifespan.
With lighting, you need a light source that provides UVA and UVB radiation, with the Reptisun T5 Ho Terrarium Hood with lamp and the Reptisun 10.0 UVB bulb being great examples of what you’re looking for. A mercury vapor bulb is another excellent choice for light, as it will outlast most bulbs.
Ceramic heat emitters do not produce light and pair nicely with UVA/UVB lamps. The Lucky Herp Ceramic Heat Emitter is a good example of one of these.
For heating, you need both an aquarium heater AND heat lamps. You should install the heat lamps directly over the basking area, and you should also have a thermometer and thermostat, so that you can gauge the heat from the water heater and the lamp at a glance.
This will help to ensure that optimal temperature for your turtles is achieved and also that your turtle’s tank is not under or overheated.
The Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater is a great choice for keeping your turtle’s water warm.
You’ll want to keep the water temperature at 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and keep the basking temperature at 85 to 95 degrees.
A stressed turtle won’t live long, so you need to give them an interesting, natural-looking environment to make them feel at home. To do this, pick out some accessories and decorations in the tank. Ideally, you want to give the turtle places to hide or to rest in private.
Rocks, plants, logs, driftwood, and ‘the such. ‘turtle caves’ are all available at your local pet store and online, just be sure not to overdo it – you want them to feel comfortable, but not crowded.
For more information on tank setup, be sure to check out our Red Eared Slider Turtle Tank Setup Guide – it’s got everything you need to customize a proper home for your sliders!
Habitats of Wild Sliders
In the wild, red-eared sliders may be found in both freshwater and brackish water habitats. These habitats have slow-flowing waters, soft bottoms, basking sites, and plenty of aquatic vegetation. In the absence of these, however, sliders can even thrive in polluted waters!
Water bodies they live in include streams, lagoons, swamps, rivers, lakes, and ponds, where you’ll find them swimming or basking in the shallows.
While the species is endemic to the midwestern United States and northern Mexico, they can be found across North America (including Hawaii) and in some other countries as well.
You can find them in Europe (Switzerland, Netherlands, Turkey, Austria, the Italian border of Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and southern France) and in Asia (Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, China, and Cambodia).
The popularity of the species means that they are kept as pets all over the world. Unfortunately, this also means that they are often released into the wild by pet owners who no longer wish to care for them.
The red-eared slider is an adaptable reptile and can thrive in a myriad of ecosystems, so they generally thrive but are considered an invasive species in many countries where they’ve been introduced to ecosystems where they did not exist before.
Common Red-Eared Slider Health Issues
Red-eared sliders are susceptible to a number of health issues which can have a serious impact on their longevity.
- Shell rot
- Respiratory infections
- Intestinal parasites
- Cystic calculi
- Metabolic bone disease
Let’s take a closer look at some of the health issues red-eared sliders face and what you need to know to help.
Symptoms of respiratory infection include sneezing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, gasping, loss of appetite, fatigue, excessive basking, and discharge from the eyes, mouth, and nose.
The main cause of respiratory infection is bacteria. Vitamin A deficiency oftentimes encourages the development of respiratory infections and is a common underlying cause of respiratory infections.
A respiratory infection is best treated by a qualified exotic/herp veterinarian since it is a serious bacterial infection. Treatment involves the administering of antibiotics through injections, nasal drops, or orally. The red-eared slider may require fluid therapy, force-feeding, and overall intensive care if the infection is severe.
Vitamin A deficiency comes from an improper diet. An overdose of vitamin A can help to treat this deficiency, although this should only be done with the supervision of a qualified vet if you do not have experience treating your turtles in this manner.
Parasites that affect turtles include nematodes, tapeworms, flukes, and flagellate organisms. Symptoms of these infections include dehydration, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, and passing of undigested food.
Parasitic infections are best treated by qualified herp vets. Dewormers are the drugs of choice for the treatment of parasitic infections, while Nematodes are treated with antiparasitic drugs such as fenbendazole. With tapeworms, the most common medicine used for treatment is praziquantel.
Drugs commonly administered to treat flukes include fenbendazole and praziquantel.
Treating the turtle yourself is a bad idea, since a herp vet needs to examine the turtle and prescribe the drug, as well as the correct dosage. This is very important, as the Incorrect dosage can be fatal.
Severe injuries can also significantly shorten the lifespan of a turtle and some can even be fatal. Injuries such as dog attacks commonly lead to the death of the turtle. Serious injuries such as cracked shells and severe lacerations can occur as well and are best treated by qualified vets.
Bruises and minor injuries, however, can be treated at home with an iodine solution.
To prevent severe injuries, keep the turtle away from animals that might inadvertently harm it, such as dogs and cats. Additionally, always supervise interactions between the turtle and small children, as they can pick up the turtle, accidentally drop it, or even sit on it!
Other turtles within the enclosure can also fight, especially when it’s time to mate, and objects within the tank can also injure turtles if they are not carefully chosen. Make sure that your tank accessories have no sharp edges/points in order to avoid this.
Metabolic Bone Disease / Irregular Shell Growth
This is generally caused by malnutrition or lack of exposure to UVA/UVB light. While the effect of this disease isn’t reversible, early treatment can ensure that it doesn’t advance. Symptoms include an asymmetrical shell, a bumpy shell, and a soft shell.
The limbs of the turtle may also look odd — some limbs may be significantly shorter than others.
Metabolic bone disease is best treated by a qualified herp vet. The diet of the turtle also has to be corrected and you may need to make changes to environmental factors in the tank if your vet so advises.
VCA Hospitals has an excellent article on aquatic turtle diseases that you can read here if you would like to learn more!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do red-eared sliders live as pets?
While not the longest-living reptiles in the world, red-eared sliders still have pretty long lifespans. The average lifespan of a slider in captivity is 30 to 40 years, but they have been known to live up to 41.3 years and one slider named ‘Magoo’ is currently 65 years of age!
This may not even be the upper limit of this reptile’s lifespan – we simply don’t have enough data to know!
Determining the maximum lifespan of red-eared sliders can be difficult. Once a red-eared slider reaches maturity, it becomes very tough to estimate its age. The age of subadults and juveniles, by contrast, is pretty easy to estimate by using the size of the turtle.
Determining the age of an adult can be done, but it’s more of a rough estimate that you get from counting the ‘scutes’ or scales on the turtle’s shell.
How long do red-eared sliders live in the wild?
According to the records available, the lifespan of a wild slider is 20 to 30 years.
With that said, there is little information on the maximum lifespan of wild turtles, as survival studies are challenging due to predators in the wild and the inherently long lifespans of these turtles.
Can a red-eared slider live for 50 years?
While it is possible for a red-eared slider to live up to 50 years, there is no verified record of a red-eared slider reaching the age of 50 years. The oldest slider on record reached an age of 41.3 years.
Before getting a slider as a pet, you should know that they are long-lived reptiles capable of living up to 40 years. Caring for a slider requires a long-term commitment. Many owners have been known to release their pet slider into the wild.
This is wrong as it has led to red-eared sliders becoming invasive species all over the world. Invasive species such as sliders can be harmful to the local ecosystem.
How long can a red-eared slider live without food?
When brumating, red-eared sliders can live without food for several months. Brumation is similar to hibernation in mammals. It is a long period of inactivity that red-eared sliders initiate when temperatures are low. During brumation, the reptile remains inactive and doesn’t feed.
When not brumating, red-eared sliders eat once a day to once every two to three days. This feeding schedule depends on the age of the individual. Subadults and juveniles eat much more frequently than adults do.
If your pet slider refuses to eat, this could be a symptom of health problems including respiratory infections and vitamin A deficiencies and it is best to visit a qualified herp vet right away to determine the root cause of the issue.
Red-eared sliders have long lifespans and are known to reach an age of 41 years in captivity and 30 years in the wild. Due to this longevity, owning one requires a long-term commitment that should not be taken lightly.
People have been known to release their pet turtles into the wild and this has led to the red-eared sliders becoming an invasive species across North America and the world as a whole.
In Europe, the turtle is considered an invasive species in Switzerland, Netherlands, Turkey, Austria, the Italian border of Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and southern France. In Asia, it is also considered an invasive species in Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, China, and Cambodia.
Back in North America, specifically in Hawaii, it also has an ‘invasive species’ status, so please don’t contribute to this if you’re not ready for a pet that can live DECADES – a red-eared slider is a serious commitment!
That said, if you want your pet slider to live a long life, then provide it with the right environmental conditions, such as an adequately sized tank with a powerful filter, a basking spot, adequate heating and lighting, and the right diet.
With a little luck and a lot of love, you can look forward to many happy years together!