Red Eared Slider Terrapin - Also Known as RES

The RES originates from America where it lives in deep, mud lined ponds with few rocks. A turtles shell is made up of bone covered with a thin layer of skin, which gives the shell its colour.


The outer layer of skin is called a scute, is shed once or twice a year and not as tough as it looks. Scutes are easily scratched by minor trauma or prolonged immersion in warm water. Turtles slide off their basking area at high speed and the bigger the turtle, the harder it hits the water. In captivity they often land in shallow water, hitting a rock or tank bottom which can cause minute cracks in their scute.


Water gets into these cracks, leading to infection which is not visible under the scute and gradually spreads throughout the turtle. Its not unusual for it to take several years for the turtle to slowly die from the infection. This Ulcerative Shell Disease is preventable with the correct environment. (Information adapted from Mark Feldmans care sheet on the NZ Herp web site.)

Water Temperature

In the wild, the RES lives in deep water where, even in summer, its always cool a foot or two below the surface. Turtles are cold blooded so regulate their temperature from their environment, moving between sunning area and the layers of warm and cool water. Warm water causes their scutes to swell and soften, like fingernails in a hot bath.


When they bask in the sun, their scutes dry and firm back up. If their Water is too warm, they can't bask for long, because theyre already hot. So the scutes can't dry out, but continue to swell and soften leading to White Shell Disease. Warm water can also create a build-up of unshed scutes leading to deformity and irritation. A temp between 24 - 26c is needed for a hatchling.


After 1yr, slowly reduce temp (during summer only) to 20C. At approx 2 years of age, a healthy turtle won't need a heater in the summer but a temp around 22-24C is recommended over winter. Change temp slowly. If turtle stops eating or is too lethargic, its too cold, so increase the temperature. Prolonged temperature above 28 can lead to rapid, excessive growth and associated organ damage of the turtle.


Lighting & Basking 

Turtles spend half their lives basking in the sun to absorb warmth and UV. The UVB helps the turtle produce Vitamin D which it needs to absorb calcium, develop strong shells and function normally.


They need a reptile light AND a heat source such as an ordinary 40 watt bulb 12 hrs daily. The heat source encourages them out of the water to dry their scutes. Use a timer for convenience. Position lights 26 cm to 30 cm away from the turtle and always over the basking area. Often turtles are kept in a warm tank with UV lights sitting on top of a glass lid. The glass filters out nearly all the UV rendering it a waste of time.


The UVB rays need to be able to get directly onto the turtle with nothing blocking it. The perspex cover on the light must also be removed as blocks the UVB/A rays. Light bulbs need to be changed every 6 mths. Just because it is glowing, doesnt mean it has the necessary UVB/ UVA coming from it. (Lamp Specialist, Hornby has quality bulbs at wholesale prices). The bulb MUST specify "reptile" on it to ensure it has the correct UVB for turtles.


An ordinary UV is NOT Ok. If you have a mesh lid over your tank the grid must be larger than 1½ cm to allow the UV through. Sunlight streaming through a window onto your tank is NOT enough, as the UV rays your turtle needs are blocked by the glass.


Tank Size - See Ideal Tank Setup Page Here

Dont be fooled, turtles grow rapidly and a hatchling needs at least a 1 metre (3ft) long tank and maximum swimming space to stay strong and healthy. By about 6 to 12 months, you should have your turtle in at least a 120cm  (4ft) long  tank with a minimum width of 50 cm and at least 30 to 35cm water depth. Height of tank is important as you don't want the turtle climbing out from the platform and falling. 60cm is a good height. Dont have a lip or edge on basking area as it causes injury. Don't glue small stones to the basking area and ramp. Ramp needs to be deep into the water so turtle can easily climb out to bask and water level MUST be right up to the basking platform to prevent injury as the turtle dives off. An adult male can remain in the 120cm long tank, but a juvenile and all adult females should be adapted to living in a suitably fenced pond with a large area to wander and lay eggs.


Turtles need a minimum of 40 litres of water per 1cm of shell size, plus an extra 15-20% for basking area. The larger the tank, the happier the turtle. Also aquarium stones in tanks are one of the biggest killers of captive turtles. They explore their world by taste and can easily swallow small aquarium stones leading to impaction and death. Any stones in your tank should be larger then the turtles head so they cant swallow them.

Place an interesting piece of driftwood in the tank to provide security and interest. It won't harm the turtle and they will use it to scratch their shell and help shedding.




Lids on tanks are a disaster as they cause a build up of condensation which cause shell rot and pneumonia. If you need a protective cover, use a mesh with a gap of 1½ cm to allow UV in and condensation out.


Solid Rimu lids look nice, but are endangering the turtles health. Cut neat holes through the lid to allow air exchange and prevent your turtle from suffering. Remember never sit your Reptile light on top of glass.

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