Whether you wish to breed sliders or not, you need to know how to create a nesting box for a red-eared slider. This provides the female a place to nest if you wish to breed the turtle. If not, however, you’ll still need to provide a place for her to lay unfertilized eggs.
This prevents egg retention and the health problems associated with it. In the wild, red-eared sliders nest a few yards from the water body they inhabit. Within an enclosure, you need to prepare a nesting box for the turtle. This nesting box will create and environment conducive to nesting.
The inside of the box is usually dark and it must have a damp — but not wet — substrate which is easy to dig.
Even if you house your turtle in an outdoor pen, we still recommend constructing a nesting box where gravid females can nest. As long as the conditions for nesting are met, the gravid female WILL utilize it, and this can help to avoid health issues down the line.
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Reasons to Construct a Nesting Box
You need a nesting box if you have an adult female red-eared slider. It doesn’t matter if you plan to breed the turtle or not, as even females that have not been bred can lay eggs. These eggs aren’t fertilized, however, and cannot develop into hatchlings.
Regardless of this, the female still needs to lay these eggs, as failure to do so can result in egg retention and this condition is potentially fatal!
The nesting box provides the gravid female a place to lay her eggs and this protects her health by preventing her from retaining those eggs. Egg retention can lead to severe health consequences –especially if the eggs calcify within the turtle!
That’s because the calcified eggshell is brittle and can cause internal fractures. Ruptured eggs can also cause egg-yolk peritonitis, which happens when the egg contents are deposited within the turtle’s body. The yolk can then become infected with bacteria such as E coli.
While treatable, egg yolk peritonitis can be life-threatening, so it’s imperative that the female has a nesting box in which to deposit her unfertilized eggs!
Identifying Gravid (Pregnant) Red-Eared Sliders
When a red-eared slider is gravid and ready to nest, there will be changes in her behavior. Gravid females are generally more active and frantic! You may see them clawing at the sides of their tanks and they will usually make digging motions with their back limbs.
As the time for nesting draws close, the eggs will show through the abdominal area. If you lift up the turtle, you should actually be able to feel the eggs! Gravid females also generally experience reduced appetite, so don’t be surprised if she doesn’t eat as much as usual.
If you notice these signs then it’s a good idea to have a nesting box or site ready!
Materials Needed for a Nesting Box
- Topsoil, Vermiculite (I recommend the Ferry-Morse Professional Grade Vermiculite), Peat Moss (I recommend the Hoffman Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss), or Sphagnum Moss ( I recommend the New Zealand Sphagnum Moss)
- A 25-gallon container preferably a plastic container.
- A spray bottle (optional)
Creating The Nesting Box
If the turtle is housed within a large outdoor enclosure or pen, you can section part of the enclosure for nesting. This nesting area should have the same substrate as the one used for a nesting box. Even in an outdoor pen, this is something that you’ll want to have for the female turtle.
This can be a hide with an opening located in the nesting area, so that they have a dark place to nest.
If your slider is kept within a tank such as an aquarium or an above-ground tank, then you will need to create a nesting box. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- This box should contain a substrate conducive to nesting. You can use well-drained topsoil or a mix of topsoil and vermiculite. You can also use a mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and sphagnum moss. The ideal substrate should be great at retaining moisture. Toronto Zoo has an excellent article on substrates and their properties that you check out for more info!
- Fill the container with the mix. The soil should be about 5 inches deep. Some breeders recommend 1 foot deep, but if your box cannot accommodate this, then just be sure to make it a minimum of 5 inches.
- Soak the substrate mix in water and then squeeze out all the excess. Alternatively, you can mist the substrate with a spray bottle. This will ensure that the substrate has the moisture needed to make it an area conducive to nesting. You want it to be damp, but not wet.
- Now that the box is ready, you’ll need a lid. The lid that comes with the plastic box should be okay, as long as it’s opaque so that the female feels safe laying eggs there. If the lid is not opaque, then you can make do with cardboard in a pinch!
Using the Nesting Box
If the turtle’s habitat is an outdoor pen, then she will use the nesting box/area when she is ready, but if the turtle is housed in a tank, then you will need to transfer her to the nesting box yourself.
- When ready, place the gravid turtle in the nesting box. Cover about 3/4 of the box so the inside of it is dark. The box should also be placed in a relatively dark room, as this ensures that the turtle feels secure.
- After about an hour to two, check on the turtle, and move it back to its enclosure. Keep trying this daily until the turtle nests. If the turtle is gravid, she should nest unless there is a physical condition preventing her from doing so.
Things That Can Go Wrong
As mentioned earlier, one thing that can go wrong is egg retention — also known as egg dystocia. This usually happens when a suitable nesting area is not provided, but even with one, gravid females may sometimes retain eggs. This may be due to physical conditions and not environmental ones.
Physical conditions such as difficulty swimming and walking (lack of mobility of the hind limbs) may result in the female being unable to lay eggs. A turtle that shows these signs should be examined by a qualified exotic (or reptile) veterinarian as soon as possible!
When a female is well along, you may be able to feel the eggs around the body cavity, just above the back limbs. When palpating for the eggs, be very gentle as you do not want to inadvertently cause an egg to fracture.
Egg retention is a serious condition, one that has to be tended to as soon as possible — You should not delay! Have a qualified exotic veterinarian examine the turtle and they will evaluate her condition and may take X-rays to further identify the extent of the problem.
X-rays can also determine the number of eggs within the female, as well as their size and condition.
Egg retention can be treated with an oxytocin and calcium treatment and this is usually effective. The calcium treatment comes first and then the administering of oxytocin induces egg laying. Once administered, the turtle should lay eggs for about 1-4 hours.
Place the turtle inside the nesting box immediately after the oxycontin is administered.
A condition that may also develop from egg retention is egg yolk peritonitis. This occurs when the egg ruptures inside the turtle. A symptom of this condition is the expulsion of foul-smelling fluid, so if you notice this then you’ll need to take the female to the veterinarian right away.
The vet will remove the eggs and flush the cavity clean of any material. Since the foul smell is indicative of a bacterial infection, treatment with antibiotics will follow, and this treatment also helps to prevent further infection.
Just be sure to be gentle with the turtle when going to the veterinarian so that you do not further stress her.
Due to the severe health risks of egg retention, providing your slider with a nesting box is a MUST to help ensure that the health risks are minimized.
Frequently Asked Questions
What substrate should you use for the nesting box?
The substrate used should be soft/easy to dig, and be good at retaining moisture. You can use a mix of topsoil, vermiculite, peat moss, and sphagnum moss.
You can use just vermiculite, as well, or just topsoil. Topsoil, a mix of topsoil and vermiculite, or a mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and sphagnum moss are the best substrates for the nesting box.
How do you set up a tank for a red-eared slider?
The ideal tank for a red-eared slider will depend on its size. For every inch of length, you should set aside 10 gallons of water. Thus, a 5-inch red-eared slider should be housed in a tank with 50 gallons of water. For every additional turtle. add half a gallon for every inch of body length.
For instance, for two 5-inch sliders, the tank needs to hold at least 75 gallons of water – just keep in mind how fast your red-eared slider will grow so that they don’t outgrow the tank too soon!
How do you create a DIY turtle nesting box?
You can make a nesting box with a 25-gallon opaque plastic container with an opaque cover. Fill the container with a suitable substrate, one which is soft/easy to dig, and it should be good at retaining moisture. You can use a mix of topsoil, vermiculite, peat moss, and sphagnum moss.
Topsoil, vermiculite, a mix of topsoil and vermiculite, or a mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and sphagnum moss are some of the best substrates that you can use for the nesting box.
Soak the substrate in water and then squeeze out the excess liquid. Alternatively, you can mist the substrate with a spray bottle. This should ensure that the substrate has the moisture needed to make it an ideal nesting area from the turtle’s point of view. The substrate should be damp but not wet.
When ready, place the turtle within the enclosure and cover about 3/4 of the box so that the inside is dark. It would be best if you also placed it in a relatively dark room, as this ensures that the turtle will feel safe enough to lay her eggs.
When do red-eared sliders nest?
Red-eared sliders generally nest from March to July. In captivity, the timetable may be off, so it’s best to watch for signs that the turtle is gravid.
Whether or not you choose to breed red-eared sliders, if you have a female then you will need to provide her a nesting site. This helps reduce the chances of the turtle suffering from egg retention. Even if the female doesn’t mate, she WILL need to lay eggs.
If you don’t keep the turtles in an outdoor pen/pond, then building a nesting box is definitely a must and it should contain a nesting substrate so that it will be conducive to the turtle digging and laying her eggs.
Failure to provide a nesting box/site can lead to egg retention — which can be fatal — and it can also lead to egg yolk peritonitis. This condition occurs when an egg ruptures within the body cavity, and the yolk within the turtle may then lead to a potentially fatal bacterial infection if left untreated.
A qualified vet should be able to treat any turtle suffering from egg yolk peritonitis, but prevention is always the best policy, so be sure to make a proper nesting box to help reduce the risks.
Before you go, if you are new to the world of red-eared sliders, then be sure to check out our Ultimate Red Eared Slider Care Guide – it’s an in-depth introduction that can give you a proper foundation for raising one or more red-slider turtles with confidence!