Red-eared slider breeding is really quite simple and straightforward and can be accomplished by most turtle keepers!
Red-eared sliders which are recognizable by their red ears are popular pet turtles. Their scientific name also known as trinomial name is the “Trachemys scripta elegans”, and they have been successfully bred by hobbyists as well as commercial breeders. A fun fact about them is that red-eared sliders are actually classified as an invasive species.
Steps involved in the breeding process include acquiring male and female sliders who have reached sexual maturity. It’s also best to get more females than males to minimize aggressive behavior.
These steps are similar for yellow-bellied sliders as well.
Broken down into quick steps, breeding involves:
- Cooling the turtles
- Feeding them
- Creating a conducive breeding and nesting environment
- Allowing the sliders to breed and nest
- Caring for the eggs (and possibly incubating them)
- Caring for the hatchlings once they arrive
Of course, this process warrants a closer look, so let’s break it all down so that by the time we’re done, you’ll have all of the information that you need in order to breed your red-eared sliders!
Table of Contents
Red-Eared Slider Breeding Guide
Here are some materials you are going to need if you wish to successfully breed red-eared sliders.
- Nesting Box – This is a hide box with an opening where the female can lay eggs. Females prefer to nest in darkness, so this box encourages the turtle to nest. Basically, it’s an opaque box with an opening for the turtle and a removable lid so that you can check on it.
- Vermiculite – We recommend the Ferry-Morse Professional Grade Vermiculite or a similar vermiculite.
- Peat Moss – We recommend the Hoffman Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss or a comparable peat.
- Sphagnum Moss – We recommend the New Zealand Sphagnum Moss or a similar product.
- Reptile or Chicken Incubator
- Incubation box – This can be any moderately sized plastic box with a lid that. A plastic shoebox, plastic take-out containers from the deli, or a sweater box should do and the lid of the container should come off easily.
1. Determine the Sex of your turtles
Before you get started, you need to get a male and a female red-eared slider. If you are unsure about the sex of the red-eared slider, particularly identifying the female slider, there are several things to look out for. For instance, sexually mature females are noticeably larger than sexually mature males.
Males reach maturity at around 2 to 5 years old. At this age, their shell length should be about 7 inches (18 cm). Males will remain around this size for the rest of their lives.
Females reach maturity around 5 to 8 years of age and at this time, their upper shell length should be about 10 inches (25 cm). Females will remain around this size for the rest of their lives.
Plastron Shape Difference
The plastron of males is quite different from that of females. The Male’s plastron curves inwards and is concave. The Female’s plastron curves outwards, so it will be convex or flat.
Males generally have noticeably longer foreclaws than females which is a distinctive feature.
Males have longer, thicker tails than females. Female tails are short and thin.
Females also have larger hind legs.
2. Determine if the turtles are mature
As mentioned previously, male red-eared sliders reach maturity at around 2 to 5 years, and at this age their shell length should be about 7 inches (18 cm) which is also known as their carapace length. Females reach maturity at around 5 to 8 years, and so their shell length should be about 10 inches (25 cm).
Whether you are adopting or going to pet shops to get your turtle, it’s also recommended to wait at least a year before you start to breed it, so that your turtles are comfortable in their environment, rather than stressed. This is a good idea for all pet owners.
3. Make sure your turtles are healthy
Breeding is a stressful ordeal for turtles. To ensure that everything goes well, you’ll want to make sure that the turtle is in good health.
We recommend that you have the red-eared slider’s health checked by an experienced breeder or a licensed herpetology vet. There are also some general signs of health issues that you can look for, such as refusal to eat/changes in appetite, and lethargy, and there are some others that you can look for as well.
Signs of intestinal parasites, for instance, include loss of weight, loose and runny stools, and lethargy. Signs of shell rot include holes and sores on the shell as well as foul-smelling discharge from soft spots on the shell.
Signs of respiratory infections include swelling of the eyes, runny mouth and eyes, sneezing, wheezing, reduced appetite, lethargy, and excessive basking.
If you see any of these signs, your red-eared slider may be ill, and you MUST NOT attempt to breed them at this time — Only healthy individuals should be allowed to brumate or breed, as these processes are simply too dangerous otherwise.
4. Brumation/’Cooling’ the turtles
In the wild, red-eared sliders breed from March to July under the right environmental conditions. This is after they come out of brumation, which is a process similar to hibernation that reptiles do when it’s chilly outside. In captivity, this is something you’ll want to encourage, as brumation increases the chances that they will breed successfully.
If you wish to cool your red-eared slider, then timing is important, and it’s best to do so from January to February.
Gradually reduce the temperature within the enclosure to 50 to 60 degrees over a two-week time period. The temperature shouldn’t fall before 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintain this temperature for the next six to eight weeks.
To bring them out of brumation, simply reverse the process, gradually increasing the temperature back to normal over a period of 2 weeks. The target temperature at the end is a water temperature of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit and a basking site temperature of around 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you have an outdoor pond, you can allow nature to do the job, although even with turtles housed outside, you shouldn’t let the pond’s temperature drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, as this could potentially be fatal to your turtles.
Even during the cooling period, provide food just in case the turtle wants to eat. They most likely won’t — but you should have some food there on the off chance that they need a little extra energy.
A brumating turtle will be lethargic, so if your turtle looks sluggish then don’t worry – this is perfectly normal.
If you’d like to know more about brumation, check out ‘Do Red-eared Sliders Hibernate?’ and we’ll tell you all about it!
5. Feed the Red-Eared Sliders
After the cooling period, the turtle will have lost significant weight. Get them back to a healthy weight by offering a nutritious selection of foods. Don’t overfeed them — just provide sufficient amounts of healthy food and they’ll quickly get back into shape.
Mature sliders are generally predominantly herbivorous, so foods to offer include a mix of plants, live food, and commercial turtle food (pellets).
Some live food/protein to offer includes dubia roaches, crickets, centipedes, waxworms, beetles, grasshoppers, daphnia, superworms, grubs, caterpillars, bloodworms, lean beef, tadpoles, rosy red minnows, earthworms, sowbugs, silkworms, roaches, mealworms, slugs, and 93% lean hamburger.
You can also offer foods such as canned snails, boiled chicken, crustaceans, crayfish, freeze-dried shrimp or krill, live krills, pinky mice, live shrimps, mudpuppies, and small fish (such as bluegills, guppies, killifish, crappies, and mosquitofish).
Some aquatic plants to offer include water lilies, water lettuce, pondweed, hornwort, duckweed, arrowhead, and fairy moss.
Vegetables and flowers to offer include escarole, mustard greens, dandelion flowers and greens, romaine lettuce, turnip greens, and rose petals. You can also offer mushrooms and some turtles absolutely love them!
Some fruits to offer include apples, pears (not avocado), papaya, bananas, mangoes, melons, and berries (blackberries, mulberries, and blueberries), but offer these only occasionally – they have too much sugar to be anything more than a treat you provide once or twice a week.
Finally, offer commercial turtle diets such as Tetra ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks for Aquatic Turtles and Zoo Med Gourmet Aquatic Turtle Food should also be stocked to supplement your turtle’s diet.
Creating a Conducive Breeding and Nesting Environment
1. Ensure that you have more females than males
Male red-eared turtles can be aggressive during the breeding period and this behavior includes fighting over and harassing females. If you have fewer females, they will be less stressed, as they won’t have several males pursuing them all day.
This is important, as too many males stressing them out can negatively affect their health.
2. Place male and female turtles in the same space
There isn’t much you can do here. As long as the male and female red-eared sliders turtles are within the same environment, they should eventually breed. Breeding generally takes place from March to July. Just make sure that they aren’t crowded – the turtles should be able to move about unhindered.
If you have other turtles apart from red-eared sliders, then you should separate them during this time. Separate smaller species from larger species.
Male red-eared sliders can be quite aggressive during the breeding period and large turtles can seriously injure smaller ones, even killing them or permanently wounding them. After the males mate with the females, separate the two to prevent the males from constantly harassing them.
You can also simply create a mating tank. This is a 30-gallon tank with a few gallons of water which should have a relatively shallow water level, approximately 5 inches deep. Place the male and the female into this tank and let nature take its course.
3. The nesting area
You need to create a nesting area for the gravid females –even if you don’t intend to breed them. This is because the female will lay eggs whether they are fertilized or not, and if there is nowhere to lay them, they can become impacted inside the female and become dangerous to her health.
If the enclosure is large enough, you can allocate part of the enclosure as a nesting area. This part of the enclosure needs to have a shelter and soft substrate such as soil for your turtle to dig into when making a nest.
The shelter can be a large hide box in a corner within the enclosure or even an opaque plastic box with an opening and a lid so you can check on them.
The soil within the hide and around the general area should be soft and slightly moist. The depth of the soil/substrate should ideally be 6 to 12 inches. Have some logs and rocks around the nesting box.
The nesting area is easy to create within an outdoor pen, although if you house your red-eared slider within a 100-gallon aquarium or a smaller tank, then it can be tough to find the space.
In this case, you can create a separate nesting box. This should be a moderately sized box inside a 30-gallon tank or larger, with a nesting substrate inside the box (about 4 to 6 inches of slightly moist soil). Move the turtle into this box so that it can nest.
The interior of the box should be dark, as well, to further encourage nesting.
Cover the box with a lid and Ensure that there are air holes in the cover and the entire box is well-aerated. I advise that the nesting box is in a dark room. You can use potting soil or vermiculite and soil mix to provide a good substrate.
4. Laying the eggs
The gestation period of red-eared sliders is about two months after successfully breeding, and that’s when the female should lay her eggs. If she is unable to find a suitable nesting area, then she may retain them and this can be fatal, so a nesting box is a MUST whether you are breeding her or not.
Females will produce eggs even if they are not fertilized by the male, so we cannot stress the importance of the nesting box enough – be SURE to have one available during the breeding season once she’s old enough to reproduce!
When the gravid female is close to laying eggs, she will start digging around, sniffing around, and spending more time on land.
When you notice this, prepare the nesting area as outlined in the previous section, paying close attention to the gravid female so that you know when and where she lays the eggs. She could lay as little as 2 eggs, or as many as 20 – you won’t know until it happens so be sure to monitor her closely so you’ll know.
Incubating the Eggs
1. Acquire an incubator
This is an optional step, as some owners prefer not to incubate the eggs. but rather leave them wherever the female lays them. While they might be just fine, you should know that there are a few disadvantages to this.
For one thing, monitoring the temperature and moisture of the environment can be difficult. Another pitfall is that if one of the eggs gets infected with fungi and goes bad, you may not notice!
This is particularly problematic, as these fungi can spread and destroy ALL of the eggs, but even if all goes well and they do hatch, some hatchlings may also have trouble digging themselves out of the soil!
If you wish to keep the eggs where they are laid, normal summer room temperatures should be good enough. During hot days, move the eggs to a cool spot –the eggs should not be placed in direct sunlight and you must ensure that the substrate within which the eggs are laid remains moist.
A chicken or reptile incubator should do nicely to help control and manage the entire process. This allows you to regulate the temperature and monitor the eggs with ease and another perk to this, is that the temperature of the substrate determines the sex of the young turtles aka hatchlings!
At 78.8 degrees, all of the hatchlings will be males, but at 87.8 degrees, they’ll all be females. If your temperature is in between both of these numbers, then you’ll get a mix, so an incubator really makes a difference in a lot of factors and should be considered.
2. Make an incubation box for the eggs
This nest box will go into the incubator. This box for the nest should be plastic. as this will be easy to clean thoroughly before use. Avoid wood – it can encourage the growth of fungi. Metal or glass is also a poor choice, as it can easily overheat and kill the eggs.
A plastic shoebox, plastic take-out containers from the deli, or sweater box should do. Any plastic box should do, although you want to choose something opaque to make sure the female feels comfortable.
You should also choose a container with a lid, and the lid should come off easily so that you won’t be shaking the eggs when you remove it.
Next drill some small holes in the lid, so that it is well-aerated. Ideally, the holes should be about a quarter of an inch in diameter and if you make about 10 of these, then this should be just about perfect.
The nesting material should be a moist potting mix and we recommend a mix of one part sphagnum moss, one part peat moss, and one part vermiculite. You can also just use the vermiculite if you don’t have the other two, but the mix is best if you can do it.
Soak the mix in water and squeeze out excess water, so that the mix retains moisture and won’t quickly dry out. You want it to be damp but not wet, and the bedding should be about 2 inches deep.
3. Incubate the eggs
When you pick up the eggs, do so VERY carefully. Do not turn them over, as that may kill the embryo. Red-eared slider’s eggs are very fragile and damage easily, so it’s important to handle them with extreme care.
Start your incubation preparation by making small indentions in the soil substrate mix. Gently move the eggs from the nesting area into the box, placing the eggs into the intentions, and once they’re in place, carefully close the lid. The box should be positioned within the incubator so that it will warm up.
You can use a magic marker or a water-based felt-tipped marker to mark the eggs so you don’t overturn them – just put a dot on the top, center to remind you not to turn them. You can try to gently separate eggs that are stuck together, but if you can’t do this easily, then leave them alone.
Temperatures within the incubator
The temperature within the incubator determines the sex of the turtle.
If you want male hatchlings incubate the eggs at a temperature of 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the majority of young red-eared sliders will be males, although it’s still possible that there may be a female or two in there.
At 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the majority of hatchlings will be females, although you might still get 1 or 2 males. At around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, there will be an equal number of females and males.
At higher temperatures, the eggs incubate faster, but be careful — if the temperatures are too low or too high, the eggs will die. We recommend checking the temperature regularly to ensure that nothing goes awry.
4. Checking on the Eggs
After moving the eggs into the incubator, check on them every few days (about once a week). Simply remove the lid and take a peek – do not touch the eggs or handle them. Right now, we’re just checking for bad eggs or mold/fungi.
If you see them, simply remove bad eggs and throw them out as soon as possible, but early fungi may be treated or even prevented. Use a cotton swab or a paintbrush dipped in a solution of one part water and one part antiseptic mouthwash to gently remove fungi that may be developing on the eggs.
The eggs will start to hatch after 50 to 120 days and you should check them more often after the first 45. The average incubation period is 80 to 85 days, so ideally you’ll be seeing hatchlings fairly soon!
Caring for the Hatchlings
Hatchlings use what is known as an egg tooth to cut their way out of their shells. This egg tooth falls off soon after and doesn’t grow back. When it’s time to hatch, the red-eared slider can take up to a day to emerge and you shouldn’t need to help them out of their shells – just be patient.
Once the turtles have fully emerged from their shells, discard all of the empty pieces of shells.
Newly hatched red-eared sliders will have a small yolk sac that hangs from their bellies and you want to leave this alone. It will fall off by itself once your slider no longer needs it and removing it could kill them!
Once it falls off, the hatchling will have a split in its plastron but don’t worry about that either — this is perfectly normal and that split will heal over time.
To care for the baby turtles new hatchlings should be moved into a separate container of their own and you can fit a dozen hatchlings in a 20-gallon container. The container should have a dry area and a shallow water area and that dry area is vital — they cannot be placed in water alone, as they could drown.
2. Caring for the hatchlings
The enclosure needs access to UV lighting and a basking light. Additionally, ensure that the water within the enclosure is clean by including a powerful filter, we prefer canister filters. In the absence of a filter, you can also change the water every two days, but matching filtration is best if you can do it.
If you are unsure about filtration, then have a look at this guide to find the best filter for your tank setup.
The water in a hatchling’s enclosure has to be clean, otherwise, the hatchlings are at risk of developing eye infections that could blind or even kill them.
Feed the hatchlings daily, offering commercial diets such as Zoo Med Hatchling Dry Food. Many breeders have successfully cared for hatchlings using a commercial turtle diet and there are hatchling-specific formulas out there that are perfect for these little turtles.
Other foods to offer include chopped crickets, mealworms, earthworms, dubia roaches, and other insects. They will also accept bodied chicken, fish, grubs, and most other types of protein. You should also offer some dark leafy greens such as escarole, collard green, and romaine lettuce.
Edible aquatic plants such as pondweed, water weed, water hyacinth, and water lilies are also great to have in their enclosure to nibble on. One final note about feeding – the food offered to the hatchlings should be chopped into small, manageable pieces so that they may safely and comfortably eat it.
New to caring for red-eared sliders? We’ve got a helpful care guide full of tips to make sure that you’ve got all your bases covered.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can red-eared sliders lay eggs in water?
If a proper nesting area isn’t created for a gravid female, then she may lay eggs in water. These eggs will sink and will NOT hatch underwater. Laying eggs in water is not good for your turtles, however, and this is a symptom of possible egg retention which can lead to serious complications and even death.
As such, it is essential to provide a proper nesting area so the slider doesn’t lay eggs in water. Even if you do not intend to breed her, a female turtle can still lay unfertilized eggs, so a nesting box is an absolute must-have.
What is the red-eared slider’s breeding age?
The breeding age of males is 2 to 5 years and a shell length of 7 inches (18 cm). The breeding age of females is 5 to 8 years and a shell length of 10 inches (25 cm).
The age isn’t everything, though — the shell size is also important in determining if the turtle is large enough to breed. This is particularly true of females that have to carry the eggs. The entire breeding process is quite physically stressful, so it is essential that the turtle is large enough before you attempt to breed it.
Where are red-eared slider turtles native to?
The red-eared slider is native to eastern North America around the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The range extends from Colorado to Florida and Colorado to Virginia.
Due to the pet trade and owners releasing them into the wild, however, they are considered an invasive species and found in many parts all over the world.
How long do red-eared slider eggs take to hatch?
While the average incubation time is 80 to 85 days, the eggs of a red-eared slider can take anywhere from 60 to 120 days to hatch. The incubation length is largely determined by the incubation temperature.
The higher the temperature, the shorter the incubation length, and don’t forget that the temperature also determines the sex of the hatchlings. If you want male hatchlings incubate the eggs at a temperature of 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
At this temperature, the majority of hatchlings will be males, although there may be a few females in there. At 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit, a majority of hatchlings will be females. At around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, there will be a fairly equal mix of both genders.
Red-eared sliders are popular pet turtles for a reason. They are hardy, easy to care for, and relatively sociable compared to other turtles. The relative ease in breeding them also makes red-eared sliders quite the popular pet.
If you wish to breed any aquatic turtle, we recommend that you have some experience with caring for aquatic reptiles/amphibians, as this will make the breeding steps much easier to follow and you’ll be better equipped to tell if anything is going wrong.
A summary of the process including identifying the sex of the turtles, identifying the maturity of the turtles, cooling/brumating the turtle, prepping the turtles by feeding them well, creating the breeding and nesting area, allowing the turtles to breed and nest, caring for the eggs, and finally caring for the hatchlings once they arrive.
While that sounds like a lot at first, once you’ve bred your turtles then you’ll see for yourself — give your turtles what they need, and Nature will step in and take good care of the rest!