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Painted Turtle Vs Red-Eared Slider

The painted turtle and the red-eared slider have a lot in common.  For instance, both are endemic to North America and are very widespread. Both are also part of the Family Emydidae, and even their care requirements and sizes are fairly close to the same.

You can even keep these two turtles within the same enclosure if you like and they’ll actually get along!

With all these similarities, a closer look is definitely warranted to see how they compare. Which turtle is better? Today, in ‘Painted turtle vs red-eared slider’ we’ll explore this question in-depth, although when you get right down to it, the answer is really going to be up to you.

Let’s compare the two species so that you’ll have all the data and then you can see what YOU think!

Physical Appearance and Range

Painted Turtle’s Physical Appearance and Range

  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta
  • Average Adult Size: 4 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List, G5: Secure (NatureServe Status)
Painted Turtle
Close-up of a Western Painted Turtle in the wild
Painted Turtle Distribution
Painted Turtle Ranges by Species — Image courtesy of WikiCommons
  • Orange: Midland (C. p. marginata)
  • Red: Western (C. p. bellii)
  • Yellow: Eastern (C. p. picta)
  • Blue: Southern (C. dorsalis)

The painted turtle is named after the bright red and yellow markings on the plastron, as well as the limbs, neck, and head. The carapace (upper shell) is smooth and reaches a length of 3.5 to 9.8 inches (9 to 25 cm), while the shell is relatively flat and is greenish-brown to black.

Similar to other turtles within the family Emydidae, the females are much larger than the males. Additionally, males reach maturity quicker than females, with males maturing between the ages of 3 to 5 years, while females mature between the ages of 6 to 10.

There are four different species of painted turtles – the eastern-painted turtle, the western-painted turtle, the midland-painted turtle, and the southern-painted turtle (the species’ status as a subspecies is debated).

As you may have guessed, the subspecies are conveniently named after their geographic ranges.

The eastern painted turtle is endemic to the eastern areas depicted in the map above. The carapace length of this subspecies ranges from 5 to 7 inches (13 to 17 cm) and its carapace is black to olive green, sometimes with a stripe down the middle.

The midland painted turtle’s geographic range is depicted in orange on the map above, and just to the west of the eastern painted turtle’s territories. You’ll find midland painted turtles in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the United States, and in Canada, they’re in southern Quebec and Ontario.

They are quite large, with males reaching lengths of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm), while females will be 4 to 10 inches(10 to 25 cm).

The western painted turtle is endemic to the western areas of the map and these are the largest of the painted turtles, but not by much, as the females may reach a carapace length of 10.47 inches (26.6 cm). The scutes on the western painted turtle’s carapace form a distinctive mesh-like pattern that you can learn to recognize, just in case you’d like to be able to identify a western painted turtle at a glance!

Red-Eared Slider’s Physical Appearance and Range

  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific NameTrachemys scripta elegans
  • Average Adult Size: 7 inch to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List, T5: Secure (NatureServe Status)
Male Red-Eared Slider in a shallow tank
Male red-eared slider in a shallow tank
Range of Red-Eared Sliders in the United States
Red-Eared Slider range in the United States – Image courtesy of WikiCommons

The red-eared slider (also known as the red-eared terrapin) is endemic to North America, just like the painted turtle, and may be easily identified by the red stripe on either side of the head over their ears.

While the species’ geographic range is North America from northern Mexico to the midwestern United States, it is considered an invasive species. That’s because you can also find them in Europe, Asia, and across entire North America as far east as New York and as far west as California.

You can even find the red-eared slider in Hawaii. Say what you will about red-eared slides, but these turtles definitely know how to adapt!

They’re so good at adapting, actually, that they are considered among the most invasive species in the world!  You can find them on the list of 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species – a list compiled by the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The red-eared slider is moderately large to HUGE, capable of reaching a length of 16 inches! This is quite rare, however, as most male sliders will have an average carapace length of 7 inches at maturity, and most females will have a 10-inch carapace – with the females being larger a typical Emydidae trait.

Another Emydidae trait is that the males will reach maturity faster than the females. Males reach maturity between the ages of 2 to 5, while females get there between the ages of 5 to 8.

The coloration of the carapace is black, brown, gray, or yellowish-green, and it is rather oblong and quite flat.

Care Requirements

Painted Turtle’s Care Requirements

Even though there are subtle differences in the care requirements of both turtles, a lot of the basics are similar, and because of this and their good temperaments, painted turtles and red-eared sliders are often housed together in the same enclosure.

Tank

Let’s start with the tank. As an aquatic reptile, the painted turtle requires an aquatic enclosure and an aquarium will do the job nicely. They can also be housed in rubber containers, such as Rubbermaid Commercial Structural Foam Stock Tank.

While the Rubbermaid is a fine example, any rubber container will do as far as it is large enough and non-toxic, although many prefer an aquarium so that they may watch the turtle as it goes about its daily routine.

As a rule of thumb, you should have 10 gallons of water for every inch of the turtle’s shell. This is the volume of water inside the tank, NOT the overall capacity it. For a 4-inch painted turtle, that means you’ll need about 40 gallons of water.

You can provide more water if the turtle is mature or a little less, but you want to be in that ballpark so that your turtle will be comfortable and not stressed.

Since some adults can reach a carapace length of 10 inches, you may need to provide 100 gallons of water eventually, so choose an enclosure with this in mind.

An aquarium that can hold 100 gallons of water can be quite expensive, but you can circumvent this by making use of large plastic containers such as inflatable pools, kiddie pools, and even a pond liner — just get creative and check out DIY enclosures online to get some good ideas.

Basking Platform

Midland Painted Turtle basking on a log
Midland Painted Turtle basking on a log

The turtle requires a dry dock or other platform on which it may bask, which is simply to say that they like to surface during the day to soak up a little sun and dry off. During this time, the UV rays from the sun or your reptile lamp help to produce vitamin D3 in the body so that they may absorb calcium more efficiently and develop strong bones.

The painted turtle definitely likes to bask on dry land, so to facilitate this, you need to install a floating platform or another kind of elevated spot that is out of the water. The turtle should be able to easily climb onto it when they need it, so that they may bask whenever they like.

Lighting and Heating

You cannot place the turtle tank outside since, as the water within the enclosure may overheat. The solution here is easy – you’ll need to place the tank indoors and install a heat lamp over it. The heat lamp should remain on during the day and off during the night, just as they would in the wild.

In addition to the heat lamp over the water, you also need to install an aquarium heater.

The heat lamp should provide the basking platform with temperatures of 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 40 degrees Celsius). The water temperature, by contrast, should be 70 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 24 degrees Celsius) for adults and about 79 degrees Fahrenheit for juveniles.

Painted turtles also require UV light to be healthy. Install UV lights that provide UVB as well as UVA radiation. This light needs to be on for about 10 to 14 hours each day so that the day and night cycles resemble the same found in Nature.

An excellent aquarium heater is the Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater. As for a UV lamp, we recommend checking out the Reptisun 10.0 UVB bulb and Reptisun T5 Ho Terrarium Hood with lamp.

Water Filtration

Painted turtles are messy and their water requires more filtration than fish do, so you will need to install a powerful filter. Selecting the right one is easy — simply choose one that is designed for a tank twice the size of the turtle’s enclosure and that should easily keep up with the mess!

Hiding Spots

You need to provide hiding spots within the enclosure, as this makes it more like their natural habitat and gives your turtles private places to go where they’ll feel safe or may simply enjoy when they want to be alone.

You can do this by populating the enclosure with aquatic plants, floating logs, and underwater hideouts, and this is one of the most fun parts of building your enclosure.

Diet

The diet of the painted turtle is quite similar to that of the red-eared slider, except that juvenile painted turtles are more herbivorous while juvenile sliders are more carnivorous.

If you are housing adults, then you should offer mostly plant material, but for hatchlings and juveniles you should offer equal portions of plant and animal material.

Food items to offer the painted turtle include animal protein such as crayfish, crustaceans, fish, shrimp, krill, canned snails, pinkie mice, slugs, and tadpoles; insects such as waxworms, superworms, sowbugs, silkworms, crickets, centipedes, and caterpillars.

Plant materials include duckweed, waterweed, hornwort, spike rush, arrowhead, anacharis, timothy hay, red leaf lettuce, collard greens, dandelion, squash, turnip greens, and parsley; and commercial diets such as Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Dry Food, Hatchling Formula, Fluker’s Aquatic Turtle Diet, Tetra ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks, and Zoo Med Gourmet Aquatic Turtle Food.

To learn more about Painted Turtle Care, be sure to check out our Painted Turtle Care Guide!

Red-Eared Slider’s Care Requirements

Now, we’ve said that the care requirements of these two species are similar enough that you can easily house them together, so now we’ll take a closer look at the Red-Eared Slider’s requirements and you can see what we mean!

Tank

Red-eared sliders can get very large. As such, their enclosure needs to be large, as well. Similar to painted turtles, the slider is aquatic and thus requires an aquatic enclosure such as an aquarium. As a rule of thumb, provide 10 gallons of water for every inch of the turtle’s shell.

This works for all freshwater turtles, so it’s a nifty little rule to file away and keep!

Just remember that this is the volume of water in the tank, NOT the overall capacity. By way of example, for a 4-inch red-eared slider, you’ll need to provide about 40 gallons of water and you can provide more water if the turtle is mature, or a little less.

Since some adult females can reach a carapace length of more than 10 inches in rare instances, you may need to exceed a 100-gallon enclosure at some point in time, so be sure to keep this in mind for the future.

You can learn more about setting up a red-eared slider tank in our Red-Eared Slider Tank Setup Guide!

Basking Platform

Red-Eared Slider Climbing up to bask
Red-Eared Slider Climbing up to bask

Similar to painted turtles, red-eared sliders also require basking platforms and these turtles spend a LOT of time basking to raise their vitamin D3 levels and to dry off. On that note, you’ll need to install an effective UV lamp.

Lighting and Heating

Red-eared sliders require warm enclosures and since you cannot place the tank outside, you’ll need to provide artificial lighting and heating.

Temperatures in the basking area should be 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit and you can warm this up with a heat lamp. The water temperature should be 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, courtesy of your water heater.

The red-eared slider also requires UV light to be healthy, so you must Install UV lights that provide UVB as well as UVA radiation. These lights will need to be on for about 10 to 14 hours each day so that they have a reliable day and night cycle.

An excellent aquatic heater is the Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater and for UV lamps, the Reptisun 10.0 UVB bulb and Reptisun T5 Ho Terrarium Hood with lamp come highly recommended.

Finally, for a heat lamp, you can look at the Lucky Herp Ceramic Heat Emitter for a great example of what you’re looking for.

Water Filtration

The painted turtle isn’t the only messy turtle — the red-eared slider definitely falls in this category, too. To keep the tank as clean as possible, you should install a filter that is twice as strong as what you need. For instance, a 40 gallon tank should have a filter rated for 80 gallons.

A great water filter to install in your tank is the Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter.

Hiding Spots

You need to provide hiding spots within the enclosure in order for your slider to feel safe and comfortable within its new home. If you have several animals within the enclosure, these hiding spots will also allow the inhabitants to avoid each other, but even if you have a lone turtle you should have hiding places.

You can do this quite easily by simply populating the enclosure with aquatic plants, floating logs, and underwater hideouts – have a little fun with it, just be careful not to make the tank too crowded!

Diet

Red-eared sliders are omnivorous and they’ll accept the same foods as the painted turtle, although as juveniles their diets will be very different. While painted juveniles like more plants, slider juveniles make up the bulk of their diets with protein — sometimes as much as 90%!

Some juveniles may even refuse to eat plant material, although you should still have it there as an option. The food items that red-eared sliders eat mirror the diets of painted turtles.

Food items to offer the red-eared slider include animal protein such as crayfish, crustaceans, fish, shrimp, krill, canned snails, pinkie mice, slugs, and tadpoles; insects such as waxworms, superworms, sowbugs silkworms, crickets, centipedes, and caterpillars.

For vegetation, plants such as duckweed, waterweed, hornwort, spike rush, arrowhead, anacharis, timothy hay, red lead lettuce, collard greens, dandelion, squash, turnip greens, and parsley are good.

Commercial diets such as Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Dry Food, Hatchling Formula, Fluker’s Aquatic Turtle Diet, Tetra ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks, and Zoo Med Gourmet Aquatic Turtle Food are also a great way to ensure that they are getting proper nutrition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you keep a red-eared slider and a painted turtle together?

Red-eared sliders and painted turtles can be kept in the same enclosure, but a few measures need to be taken in order to ensure that both species are happy with the arrangement. Since the care requirements of the painted turtle and the red-eared sliders are similar, the changes required are minimal.

You’ll want to make sure that the enclosure is very large so that both turtles have ample space and may avoid each other easily whenever they feel the urge. Additionally, you should provide adequate hiding locations — this makes the turtles feel safer and gives them a place to go if they feel stressed.

Although relatively peaceful, red-eared sliders can be aggressive, especially during the breeding season. If this happens and one turtle is TOO aggressive, then you may need to move it to its own enclosure for the safety of the others.

How do you tell if a turtle is a painted turtle?

The easiest way to identify a painted turtle is to look for the reddish and yellowish markings on the tail, limbs, and neck. These bright markings give the turtle its common name (as they look like they were painted on), and once you’ve seen them a couple of times they’re quite easy to remember.

The carapace of the turtle is dark olive-brown or olive and it is also oval and smooth, with reddish-orange or yellowish borders. The underside (plastron) is pale yellow and similar to the carapace, it also has reddish-orange markings.

There are four different types of painted turtles but if you see one in the wild, their geographic range usually gives their identity away, but there are other telltale things that you can look for.

The scutes of the carapace of the western painted turtle, for instance, form a mesh-like pattern, while the scutes of the other painted turtles form a rectangular net-like design.

The eastern painted turtle has a carapace length ranging from 5 to 7 inches (13 to 17 cm) and the color of it is black to olive green, possibly with a stripe down the middle.

The midland painted turtle is found in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the United States and southern Quebec and Ontario in Canada, and they are also quite large — reaching lengths between 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25 cm).

The western-painted turtle is endemic to the western portion of the geographic range and also the largest of the painted turtles, with the carapace length sometimes reaching close to 10.5 inches.

How can you tell if a slider turtle is red-eared?

The red-eared slider has a telltale red stripe on either side of the head, so they are one of the easiest species to identify. Once you’ve seen one, you’ll be able to easily spot them again at pet stores, zooz, or even out in the wild.

What turtles are similar to red-eared sliders?

Aside from painted turtles, pond sliders (Trachemys scripta) are similar to the red-eared slider, with the yellow-bellied slider (T. s. scripta) and the cumberland slider (T. s. troostii) being good examples.

Other similar turtles include map turtles (Graptemys), cooters (Pseudemys), chicken turtles (Deirochelys reticularia), and terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin).

What is the difference between a painted turtle and a yellow-bellied slider?

The painted turtle and the yellow-bellied slider belong to different genera and species. The yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) has a yellow plastron similar to the painted turtle, but it lacks the bright reddish and bright yellow markings on the plastron.

The carapace of the yellow-bellied slider is also rough while the carapace of the painted turtle is relatively smooth.

Can two painted turtles live together?

Juvenile painted turtles generally do well with cohabitation, but adult males can sometimes be territorial and even aggressive, especially during the mating season.

Unfortunately, there is no definite way to determine in advance how the males will behave once they are mature, but there are a few things you can do to help minimize the chances of conflict or aggressive behavior.

Ensure that the tank is large enough for two painted turtles. Ideally, the tank size should be between 80 to 150 gallons, depending on the size of the turtles you are housing. As a rule of thumb,  provide 10 gallons of water for every inch of the turtle’s shell.

For every additional turtle provide 5 gallons of water for every inch of the turtle’s shell. By way of example, if both adults are 5 inches in carapace length, then the amount of water in the tank should be 75 gallons.

This should give each turtle enough space to avoid each other if the need arises. Also, you should provide hiding options for the turtles — aquatic plants, floating logs, fake caves — you get the idea!

These allow the turtles to avoid each other and subsequently, they’ll feel and actually be much safer cohabitating with hidey-holes that they can use when necessary.

Conclusion

As you can see, painted turtles and red-eared sliders are similar in many ways. Both are endemic to North America, they’re both close to the same size, and they have very similar care requirements. As far as which is better, that’s really just a matter of personal preference – they’re both fantastic, beautiful turtles.

As far as their names, the painted turtle gets its common name from the vivid red and yellow markings on the plastron, carapace, and on its limbs, neck, and head, which look like they’ve been painted on the turtle. The red-eared slider, by contrast, gets its common name from the red markings on its ears.

In fact, they’re similar enough that you can even keep the two species within the same enclosure but you’ll need to keep in mind that if one of them DOES become aggressive, then you’ll likely need to separate them for safety.

Just be sure to give them plenty of room in the enclosure, along with hiding spots, and with a little luck your turtles will get along like gangbusters!

(sources: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Chrysemys_picta/, https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.104105/Trachemys_scripta, https://animals.mom.com/can-multiple-plecostomus-put-same-tank-11126.html, https://www.thesprucepets.com/painted-turtles-1238355#toc-housing-painted-turtles, https://reptifiles.com/painted-turtle-care-sheet/, https://reptilesmagazine.com/painted-turtle-care-sheet/, https://wildadirondacks.org/adirondack-reptiles-painted-turtle-chrysemys-picta.html)

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