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What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat?

So what do red-eared sliders eat? As it turns out, these turtles are omnivores, and eat just about anything!

In their native habitat, these semi-aquatic turtles are adaptable feeders. Young red-eared sliders, or small turtles, often prefer higher protein foods found in aquatic animals, while adult red-eared sliders gradually shift to a diet rich in vegetation.

In the wild, they eat foods that are readily available to them such as fish, tadpoles, amphibians, larvae, and even other reptiles.

They also feed on plants, including freshwater plants and nearby terrestrial plants. Needless to say, sliders aren’t picky eaters and will make the most of whatever is nearby.

Pet red-eared sliders also eat most foods offered to them. Regardless of this, it’s a good idea for pet owners to maintain a varied diet for their pet sliders, incorporating both animal protein and dark leafy greens to mimic the turtle’s natural feeding habits. This ensures that the pet isn’t fixated on one particular type of food.

Offering a variety of foods also ensures that it acquires the needed nutrients for a healthy life. Other factors like water temperature, the amount of water in the turtle tank, and the presence of UVB lighting are also essential in ensuring the health and rapid growth of these turtles.

Let’s take a closer look at what red-eared sliders eat so that you’ll have all the info that you need to help construct a diet for your red-eared sliders at home!

What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat

Diet in the Wild

Group of wild red-eared sliders sharing a branch in the water
Group of wild red-eared sliders sharing a branch in the water

In the wild, the diet of the red-eared slider depends on its age. Red-eared sliders, scientifically known as Trachemys scripta elegans, exhibit dietary changes as they grow from small turtles into larger adult turtles.

Juveniles and hatchlings are carnivorous while adults are more herbivorous – although a mix of animal and plant matter should be present at all ages.

Males reach maturity at ages 2 to 5, while females reach maturity at ages 5 to 8, and during this time their diet will be largely plants and the occasional animal matter.

Juveniles’ Diet

Juveniles are more carnivorous as they require a lot of nutrients to grow because juveniles lack the microflora needed to efficiently digest plants, although they will develop this as they mature.

During this stage, a diet rich in protein sources, like live fish or commercial turtle pellets, is important. Water changes and the use of mechanical filters help maintain clean water, crucial for the health of young red-eared sliders.

Until then, they are unable to digest the needed amount of nutrients if they rely mostly on a plant-based diet and this is likely due to the lengthy digestion (fermentation) process of plants in the juvenile turtle’s guts — it’s simply not efficient enough at this age.

Regardless of the necessity of animal matter, scarcity of animal prey does occur and juveniles may be forced to live mostly on plants. Feeding them a variety of items, including live prey items and fresh vegetables, is a good way to ensure they receive adequate nutrition.

While the juvenile may still be able to survive on a plant-based diet, reliance on one at this age leads to stunted growth.

Ideally, a juvenile’s diet is comprised of small amphibians, slugs, snails, freshwater sponges, clams, fish, tadpoles, crayfish, spiders, larvae, grasshoppers, beetles, and other reptiles. They are also known to eat carrion and plant material makes up a tiny portion of their diet.

The plant material in question consists mostly of algae, as well as aquatic and terrestrial plants.

Adults’ Diet

Adult red-eared sliders, typically housed in larger aquariums or turtle tanks with gallons of water, require a balanced diet. This includes commercial pellets, fresh fruit, and dark leafy greens like bok choy.

As the turtle ages, there is a shift from a carnivorous diet to an omnivorous diet. According to researchers, the food within the stomachs of adult sliders contains over 40 percent plant material. The increase in the consumption of plant material is down to the bloom of microflora in the digestive system (guts).

This microflora allows the mature turtle to quickly and efficiently break down plant matter so that it is nourishing to them when they simply could not digest it well enough before.

As a result, adults take advantage of this, mostly consuming plants (both aquatic and terrestrial) such as seeds, flowers, leaves, and stems, and they also feed on a lot of algae.

It’s important for pet owners to note that adult turtles still need a variety of protein sources. Offering live feeder fish or other larger prey can be a good rule of thumb.

As semi-aquatic reptiles and very opportunistic feeders, sliders can and do forage both on land and in the water and it’s a survival trait that has taken them far!

Ensuring the proper diet for red-eared sliders, also known as RES turtles or pet sliders, involves understanding their needs at different life stages.

Has your red-eared slider recently stopped eating? Find out why in our handy guide.

Differences in Diets

Interestingly enough, researchers have found differences between the diets of male and female red-eared sliders. Studies have shown that males eat more plant matter than females do. Females also feed more on freshwater invertebrates, including mollusks than males.

Females are more carnivorous as they have higher calcium needs — they need calcium to produce eggs, which they can do with or without a mate (they’ll just be unfertilized if no male is present).

Naturally, the geographic location of the adult slider also influences their diet. The diet of individuals located in neotropical areas consists of equal portions of plant matter and animal material.

The stomachs of sliders in Florida, by contrast, contained about 19 percent plant material and 89 percent animal material, while Tennessee red-eared sliders were quite the opposite, having mostly plant material in their bellies.

It can be concluded that the sliders in Florida are predominantly carnivorous while sliders in Tennessee are mostly herbivorous and above all, that the red-eared slider is highly adaptable to whatever environment they find themselves in!

Foods to Feed Your Pet Red-Eared Slider

Aquarium plants are like slider snack bars!
Aquarium plants are like slider snack bars!

Feeding your red-eared slider the right type of food is essential to their health. This includes monitoring water temperature with a water heater, ensuring adequate gallons of water for their habitat, and considering the use of UVB lighting for vitamin D synthesis.

Apart from the food items offered, you also have to consider the feeding schedule, as well as the amount of food offered. Since the turtle lives in captivity, you’ll also have to supplement its diet.

The age of the turtle determines the feeding schedule as well as the composition of the diet. As mentioned before, juveniles are more carnivorous and adults are more omnivorous. As such the diets of juveniles and hatchlings should contain more animal material.

Animal material should make up over 60 percent of the diet. Hatchlings may reject vegetables and vegetation. but even so, you should still offer them.

The best types of plants to offer are aquatic plants. These can be acquired at pet stores that sell aquatic pets. Adults should be offered an equal amount of animal material and plant material but if the adult turtle prefers plants then you should offer more plants, and vice versa – adjust the diet as needed.

You should only offer fruits as the occasional treat – never as an everyday staple. Fruits are high in sugar and thus unhealthy for the turtle in late amounts. If you do offer fruits, be sure to limit them to less than 10 percent of the turtle’s diet.

Another available food source is commercial turtle diets. These are premade food pellets you feed to the turtle which contain both plant material and animal material and they are specially formulated to provide essential nutrients for your turtles.

While natural foodstuffs such as leafy greens, fish, shrimps, and aquatic plants are the best foods to offer your pet, you can supplement their diet with commercial diets.

They are much easier to store and provide a hassle-free way to feed your pet, just be sure to use them to SUPPLEMENT the fresh stuff – not to replace it.

Commercial diets for pond turtles such as sliders are generally divided into two categories. These are baby/hatchling formulae for young sliders and regular diets for adults. Regular diets can also be offered to young turtles, but you must offer fresh foods as well, as there’s no guarantee they’ll like the pellets.

We’ll tell you some of our favorite commercial varieties later in this article (and you can scroll down now if you’d like to see them right away!). Regardless of the foods you decide to offer the turtle, just remember to mix it up. You don’t want your pet to become fixated on particular foods.

As mentioned, you will need to provide nutritional supplements as well to keep your turtles happy and healthy. If not properly fed, they may not get enough important nutrients such as vitamin D3 and calcium and may become ill as a result.

Deficiency of these nutrients can lead to serious diseases, such as metabolic bone disease which causes the abnormal growth of limbs and shells, and the effects of this disease are PERMANENT.

MBD may result in uneven limbs and a poorly developed shell. While commercial diets are generally supplemented with these nutrients, you should still offer some calcium and vitamin D3 supplements. After all, it’s always better to err on the side of safety where your turtle’s health is concerned!

Animal Material

Providing a mix of fresh and commercial food is key. For animal protein, offering a variety of sources like live feeder fish, wild-caught fish, and commercial turtle pellets helps in ensuring a balanced diet.

Live or even dried krill is a red-eared slider favorite!
Live or even dried krill is a red-eared slider favorite!

Hatchlings and juveniles require a LOT of protein. In the wild, they feed on small amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, freshwater sponges, clams, fish, tadpoles, crayfish, spiders, larvae, grasshoppers, beetles, and other reptiles.

When offering food to a captive hatchling or juvenile, you’ll want to make sure that it’s small enough to be easily swallowed, and foods we recommend include the following:

  • Lean beef
  • Krills
  • Freeze-dried shrimp or krill
  • Fish such as bluegills, guppies, killifish, crappies, and mosquitofish
  • Crustaceans
  • Crayfish
  • Boiled chicken
  • Canned snails
  • 93% lean hamburger
  • Tadpoles
  • Snails
  • Small fish (except catfish or carp)
  • Slugs
  • Shrimps
  • Pinkie mice
  • Mudpuppies
Insects

Hatchlings and juveniles also love insects, so you can certainly offer them, and they are highly nutritious. They are also, however, high in phosphorus and this can hinder the absorption of calcium. Dusting them with calcium and vitamin D3 or similar supplements can help to make up for the high phosphorus levels.

Here are some insects that you can feed to your sliders:

  • Grubs
  • Rosy red minnows
  • Earthworms
  • Dubia roaches
  • Crickets
  • Centipedes
  • Caterpillars
  • Bloodworms
  • Waxworms
  • Superworms
  • Sowbugs
  • Silkworms
  • Roaches
  • Mealworms
  • Pinky mice
  • Daphnia

Plant Material

Including dark leafy greens and other vegetables is a good idea for a well-rounded diet. These can include bok choy, mustard greens, and other fresh vegetables.

Regardless of their age, all sliders need plants. For adults, they usually make up the lion’s share of their diets. Plants offered can be hays/grass, aquatic vegetation, vegetables, especially leafy greens, and fruits. Just keep the fruits to a minimum, as they are too high in sugar to be a daily part of your turtle’s diet.

Aquatic Vegetation/Plants

These are the best plants to offer, as they occur in the slider’s natural habitat. If you can find them in large quantities, auatic plants should make up the largest portion of an adult slider’s diet. Otherwise, mix some leafy greens with their pellets and live food and this should help them get their vitamins.

While mostly carnivorous, even juveniles and babies can and will feed on aquatic plants, so be sure to include that option in their tanks. Here are some good plants that you can give them:

  • Duckweed
  • Water lilies
  • Waterweed
  • Water lettuce
  • Hornwort
  • Pondweed
  • Spike rush
  • Water hyacinth
  • Arrowhead
  • Frogbit
  • Anacharis
  • Azolla (fairy moss)
Hay/Grass

You can also offer hay and grass. Hay and grass may be easier to obtain and can be used in place of aquatic vegetation and plants. Some good varieties include:

  • Alfalfa hay
  • Timothy hay
  • Orchard grass hay
  • Bermuda grass
  • Wheatgrass
Leafy Greens & Vegetables

Leafy greens are high in calcium and fiber and they are also low in sugar. As far as recommendations on these, plants that are dark green tend to be high in calcium, so you should offer these more. Avoid light green lettuces such as iceberg lettuce, as they are low in nutrients and mostly water.

Here are some of the best vegetables to offer:

  • Red Leaf Lettuce
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Dandelions Flowers
  • Mustard
  • Mustard Greens
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Turnip Greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Escarole

Avoid cabbage, kale, and spinach as these are high in phosphorus.

Fruits

Turtles love fruit, but you should only offer it sparingly. Fruits are unhealthy for turtles, as they are high in sugar, and thus should make up no more than 10 percent of the turtle’s diet. Most fruits are suitable for consumption, but if you are unsure, simply try one of these:

  • Apples
  • Raspberries
  • Pears
  • Papaya
  • Mulberries
  • Banana
  • Honeydew melon
  • Cantaloupes
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries

Commercial Diets

For many pet owners, commercial pellets designed for red-eared sliders offer a convenient and balanced option, especially when supplemented with fresh foods.

Commercial foods, such as turtle pellets, have long shelf lives and are quite compact, so they’re easy to stock and store. Red-eared sliders also readily accept them and they have an excellent nutritional profile.

For hatchlings, we recommend hatchling/baby formula, as this is specially made for them, and adults and subadults can eat standard commercial diets. Here are some great examples that your turtle should love:

Supplements

Vitamin D3 and calcium is a must for your red-eared sliders.
Vitamin D3 and calcium is a must for your red-eared sliders.

Many veterinarians suggest supplementing your turtle’s diet with supplements. These include multivitamins, as well as calcium and vitamin D3 supplements.

Offer multivitamins once a week and calcium supplements (such as cuttlebone) twice a week, and this will help to ensure that your turtles have the required nutrients to be healthy.

Some supplements to offer include Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Banquet Block, Repti Calcium with Vitamin D3, and Dr.Turtle Slow-Release Calcium Block.

You can also ask your veterinarian and get some excellent recommendations that way, so the next time you visit, be sure to broach the subject!

Foods to Avoid

Not all foods are healthy. Some can actually hinder calcium absorption, while others might be high in fat and may contain goitrogens. Some foods may contain thiaminase and with live food like fish, some may be too bony and can harm your turtles, or simply too fast and the turtle will have a tough time chasing them.

Here are some fish to avoid:

  • Boney fish such as cockatoo cichlid, bichir, and angelfish
  • Fast fish such as zebrafish, tiger barb, and neon tetra
  • Fish containing thiaminases such as fathead minnows, bullhead catfish, spottail shinners, carp, gizzard shad, and goldfish
  • Fish high in fat such as kribensis cichlids, goldfish, rosy barbs

Some vegetables to avoid include:

  • Avocado
  • Bok-choi
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Radishes
  • Soybeans

Avoid offering human foods. Some of these include:

  • Fatty meats
  • Sweet foods such as taffy, candies, & chocolates
  • Dairy
  • Pastries
  • Cookies
  • Biscuits
  • Grains
  • Bread
  • Cakes
  • Pasta
  • Processed foods such as sausages and corned beef

Some plants to avoid (leaves, stems, and roots) include:

  • Poison ivy
  • Tobacco leaves
  • Potato leaves, roots, and stems
  • Tomato stems, leaves, and roots
  • And avocado leaves, seeds, and skin

How to Feed the Red-Eared Slider

Proper care for red-eared sliders also involves understanding the best way to feed them. This includes considerations like the size of the food relative to the turtle’s shell length, and the use of a water filter to maintain clean water.

In this section, we’ve collected a few tips and tricks on how you should feed your red-eared slider in order to ensure that they eat well and subsequently, get the nutrition that they need. Let’s take a look!

Offer the Right Foods

The foods that you offer should be nutritious and provide the turtle with the required nutrients and the foods provided in the previous section are all excellent choices. Pick some from the lists with the goal of offering a mix of nutritious leafy greens, aquatic plants, commercial diet, and animal material.

For instance, duckweed, water lilies, and Azolla (fairy moss) are three examples of great plants to offer the turtle, and from there you could pick some approved veggies, pellets, and live food that they can catch.

The Food Size Matters

Commercial diets advertised as hatchling formulas are small in size and this is by design – it’s easier for them to eat! The food offered should be sized so that the turtle can eat it without difficulty. Offer juveniles and hatchlings small pellets and offer adults large pellets.

You’ll also notice that the larger pellets float, while the small pellets sink. The floating attracts adults, while the small pellets sinking to the floor of the tank make it easier for the juveniles and hatchlings to eat. 

When picking a commercial diet, pick one that offers the required nutrition for a red-eared slider — any of the options in our previous section should be ideal.

The Right Amount of Food to Offer 

Adults

Knowing the right amount can be slightly confusing at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it. The pellet portion (commercial diet) to offer should be an amount that is slightly smaller than the turtle’s head, excluding their neck.

If the turtle does not eat all the pellets offered, reduce the amount a little until you find the ‘sweet spot’, and the same rule applies to animal material such as fish, shrimps, and worms.

With aquatic plants, offer 1 to 3 pieces of aquatic plants or if you can’t find those, leafy greens will work in a pinch. If the turtle is finishing off its food quickly, then increase the amount offered by 1 or 2 pieces. If the turtle is unable to finish the proteins and plants offered, then slightly reduce the volume.

Over time, you’ll find the perfect amount and you can adjust as your turtle gets older, as you’ll be able to tell when they’re hungry once you’ve gotten to know them better!

Hatchlings and Juveniles

For hatchlings and juveniles, the portion of pellets offered should be slightly smaller than the head. Also, offer 1 or 2 pieces of protein such as 2 mealworms or 2 guppies, and a piece or two of aquatic plant or leafy green as well.

Juveniles and hatchlings may show little interest in plants, but offer them anyway. They’ll eventually try them and you need to give them the option, as their diet and nutritional requirements will slowly change over time.

Feeding Schedule

Red-eared slider feeding schedules should run like clockwork

Adults

Adults should be fed once every two days, and their diet can consist of pellets or fresh foods, although a mix of both is always the best. If you are offering one or the other, on days, you do not offer commercial diets, offer plant material and proteins such as aquatic plants or leafy greens and this will be fine.

Adjust the portions offered as needed — If the turtle finishes its meal quickly, increase the portions, and if there are leftovers, reduce the portions.

Hatchlings and Juveniles

Red-eared sliders reach maturity between the ages of 5 to 7, although males typically mature between 5 and 6 years old, while females mature between 7 to 8. At this time, an adult male is around 6 inches in carapace length and an adult female is about 8.5 to 9.5 inches in carapace length.

With hatchlings and juveniles, feeding is pretty straightforward – until they mature, feed them daily.

Feeding Area

To keep the turtle’s tank clean, you can feed them in a separate tank. This ensures that the main habitat is free of any waste or food particles and the feeding tank should be large enough for your turtle to easily swim around in while eating — not crowded.

The feeding tank doesn’t need to be fancy. You won’t require heating or filtration, as the turtle would be in there for a short period of time, but the water DOES need to be at least room temperature – if it’s too cold, your turtle won’t be comfortable and may not eat.

The ideal temperature for feeding is around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius).

It’s not a must to feed the turtle in a separate tank, but it does make your life easier. Turtles are very messy and adding food chunks in with their usual amount of waste can really tax your filter. Speaking of which, you want a filter that is twice as strong as it needs to be.

For instance, a 100-gallon rated filter is ideal for a 50-gallon tank, so that it can keep up with your turtle’s waste production. Also, change the water in the tank twice a month.

You’ll also want to keep in mind that red-eared sliders are pond turtles and can only swallow their food underwater – so don’t stick it on their basking spot, with the exception of insects that they’ll drag into the water.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do red-eared sliders eat crickets?

Yes, these turtles are not just limited to crickets. Their diet can include a variety of live prey items, showcasing their adaptability as feeders.

Red-eared sliders love crickets and many other different insects, so be sure to try different ones from our list to keep their diet interesting. Your turtle will appreciate it!

Apart from shrimp, fish, crickets, worms, and centipedes what else can my red-eared slider eat?

Red-Eared Sliders aren’t picky eaters and will eat most foods that you offer them, but it is best to offer high-quality foods such as specially formulated commercial diets, in addition to vegetables and aquatic plants.

Commercial diets designed specifically for aquatic turtles provide the required nutrients for proper growth and good health, so you’ll always want to have this on hand to supplement their fresh and live foods.

What should I feed my slider if it isn’t eating?

If your slider isn’t eating, try simply offering it different foods. Some of their favorites include worms and centipedes. If it refuses to eat these foods, then try crickets and see if they like them better.

If your turtle still won’t eat after 24 hours, however, then you should get a qualified herp vet involved to ensure that they haven’t fallen ill.

How long do red-eared slider turtles live?

Red-eared sliders are long-lived reptiles and in the wild, they can live for 20 to 30 years. In captivity, they usually live about 30 years, but 40 years is not unheard of – they are quite hardy, provided that you take excellent care of them.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a proper diet for red-eared sliders, whether they are young or adult turtles, involves a mix of animal protein, fresh vegetables, and commercial pellets. Understanding their needs as one of North America’s most popular semi-aquatic turtles is essential.

In the wild, they eat both plants and animal material, with the animal material including small amphibians, slugs, snails, freshwater sponges, clams, fish, tadpoles, crayfish, spiders, larvae, grasshoppers, beetles, and other reptiles. They also eat carrion!

In the wild, the plants they eat include aquatic and terrestrial varieties and they enjoy seeds, flowers, leaves, and stems. They also feed on a lot of algae.

Since they aren’t picky eaters, pet red-eared sliders generally accept whatever food is offered to them. This doesn’t mean you should feed them whatever you have lying around — offering a healthy diet is essential to the growth and health of the turtle.

Offer pet red-eared slider commercial diets as they include all the needed nutrients. In addition to this, offers proteins such as insects, worms, fish, shrimp, and krill, and make sure that they have access to edible plants.

These include aquatic plants like water lilies and duckweed; dark leafy vegetables; and fruits should make up 10 percent or less of the turtle’s diet if you are offering them. Provided that you give your turtle a good mix of fresh and commercial foods, you’ll be giving them the best chance at long, healthy lives!

Is your turtle eating so much that they’ve become obese? Find out what you can do to help them get fit again!

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