The Red-Eared Slider is a semi aquatic turtle, and requires a diet that is high in protein. The food we recommend for red eared slider turtles is the ReptoMin floating food. The ReptoMin floating pellet food contains no artificial colorants or preservatives and complete balanced nutrition for the proper growth of your pet turtles.
Food For Red Eared Sliders
Red-eared slider turtles are aquatic turtles that have been popular as pets for a long time. In fact, at one time they were even sold in dime stores. Red-eared sliders are resilient creatures and tolerate a range of conditions (such as various water temperatures, pH, and hardness). They are also comfortable with people and love to voraciously beg for food. So, what do red-eared slider turtles eat? Living in the wild, red-eared slider turtles feed on aquatic vegetation, little fish, and material that is decaying such as frogs and dead fish. The young turtles are mainly carnivorous and become more omnivorous as they grow into adults. As pets, red-eared sliders and other aquatic turtles can be fed daily as hatchlings and juveniles, reducing the feedings to every other day as adult turtles.
Food for Red-Eared Slider Turtles
Red-eared slider turtles eat a variety of items in the wild and while we can’t exactly mimic these foods exactly for our pets, we can provide them with some options.
Aquatic turtle pellets are a staple for your pet turtle but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of their diet. Always feed your turtle in water, limit the pellets to make up about 25% of the diet, and then make up the rest of the diet with the following items:
- Prey Items: Earthworms, crickets, waxworms, silkworms, aquatic snails, bloodworms, daphnia, shrimp, krill, and mealworms. For very small red-eared slider turtles, prey may have to be cut into smaller pieces. Larger and adult turtles can be offered larger items like tadpoles or feeder fish, though some experts warn that feeder fish may be carrying parasites, etc. and some fish (like goldfish) are too fatty to be fed regularly.1
- Leafy Greens: Collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, kale, and bok choy. Head (iceberg) lettuce should never be fed as it contains very little nutrition but dark green leaf lettuces (e.g. romaine) can be fed sparingly. Make sure you only feed items with appropriate calcium to phosphorous levels.
- Aquatic Plants: In both an aquarium and pond you can add aquatic plants on which turtles usually love to snack. Submerged plants like anacharis are often eaten by turtles, as are water hyacinth, water lettuce, duckweed, azolla (fairy moss), and frog-bit.
- Other Vegetables: Carrots (tops are fine too), squash, and green beans.
Red-Eared Slider Turtle Feeding Schedule
Some people choose to feed adult turtles once only every three days while others prefer to stick to smaller meals and continue feeding them daily. No matter which feeding schedule you choose, the important thing is not to overfeed your turtle, especially with items high in protein and fat since red-eared sliders and other aquatic turtles often have voracious appetites and will beg for food. Some owners describe their pet turtles doing a frantic swim as if trying to fly straight out of the water or staring at them like a dog begging for food.
However often you feed your turtle, be sure to monitor their body condition. If folds of skin are developing around a turtle’s legs, especially when they pull their legs into their shell, they are getting too fat and need to be fed smaller amounts, eat less often, or offer food with lower fat content. Remember that adult red-eared sliders are quite herbivorous so if your turtle seems overly hungry, try feeding more leafy greens and plant material rather than aquatic turtle pellets or prey food items.
The amount of food you feed depends a bit on your individual turtle. A good rule of thumb is to feed as much as your turtle will consume in 15 minutes. If you feed your turtle in a separate container, it is easier to monitor how much and how fast your turtle eats.
What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat
Red-eared slider turtles are omnivores, so they eat both plants and animals.
Adults mostly eat aquatic plants such as elodea, duckweed, water lettuce and water ferns. Adults eat so many plants they are considered herbivorous. They will only eat meat if it is readily available and there are no plants nearby. Sometimes adults will eat small fish, earthworms, redworms, insects, snails, slugs, tadpoles and frogs.
Baby red-eared sliders eat much more meat than adults. Meat gives younger species the extra protein that is needed to help them grow and develop their shell. Babies enjoy invertebrates, very small feeder fish (e.g. minnows) and worms.
As they age this species does not need as much protein.
Too much protein in adults can cause an issue known as shell pyramiding, which is when the shell becomes more triangular in shape.
Red-eared sliders hunt by either sitting motionless, waiting for a fish to swim by and then snatching it, or by chasing and snapping up any bugs that land in the water. Adults will also swim along the bottom of ponds or lakes and eat aquatic plants or algae.
Hunting and foraging for food uses up a lot of energy, so they normally eat multiple times a day.
Turtles in the wild will eat whenever they can. However, pet sliders should only be fed every two to three days because they do not have to hunt.
Red-Eared Slider Diet
Feeding red-eared sliders a balanced diet is vital for their health.
Many turtles will stop eating out of boredom if they are fed the same diet. Providing a variety of foods in their diet is key to keeping a healthy appetite.
Adult red-eared sliders can be fed:
- Dark leafy greens: romaine lettuce, kale, dandelion greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, or swiss chard.
- Vegetables: bell pepper or carrots.
- Feeder fish: goldfish, guppies or minnows.
- Insects, earthworms, slugs, snails or tadpoles.
Feeder fish are good enrichment for turtles as they will have to chase it down to catch it, but they can also contain parasites. If you decide to feed feeder fish then buy them from a local pet store. You should never feed wild-caught prey.
In addition to a healthy diet, your turtle will also need a calcium supplement.
A powdered calcium supplement that also contains vitamin D3 is the best. This calcium supplement will help prevent diseases and shell deformities. Another option is to throw in a cuttlebone once or twice a week.
It is important to know that a red-eared slider’s diet changes as they age. Baby red-eared sliders need a diet that is higher in meat and protein. Babies should be offered some vegetables, but the majority of their diet should be carnivorous.
As your red-eared slider ages you can begin offering less feeder fish or insects and replace it with a variety of vegetables or aquatic plants.
Baby Red-Eared Feeding Schedule
Baby red-ears need to be fed much more frequently than adults. They also need a diet high in protein. Babies should be fed every day as they need a tremendous amount of energy to grow at the proper rate.
Make sure you offer a red-eared slider diet that consists of:
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Aquatic Plants
- Feeder Fish
- Feeder Insects
- Commercial Turtle Pellets
An equal mix of protein-rich food items, dark leafy greens, and vegetables is ideal for a baby red-eared slider.
Their diet should be 30% plant based and 70% meat.
Any vegetables you feed should first be boiled and chopped into pieces small enough to fit into the turtle’s mouth. Let your turtle have a 15 minute feeding session. After the feeding session, just remove anything that hasn’t been eaten to keep the water clean.
What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat?
What do red-eared sliders and other pond sliders eat? These turtles are opportunistic omnivores, which means that they can eat a variety of animal- and plant-based foods, depending on what’s most abundant in their area.
As pets, however, red-eared sliders do best with the following feeding schedule and ratios:
Red-eared sliders younger than 1 year:
- 50% protein / 50% vegetables
- protein food daily
- vegetable food daily
- turtle pellets every other day
It is not unusual for young turtles to be reluctant to eat vegetables, but you will still need to offer them.
Red-eared sliders older than 1 year:
- 25% protein / 75% vegetables
- protein food 1-2x/week
- vegetable food daily
- turtle pellets 2-3x/week
Pond sliders don’t have salivary glands, so they can only eat in the water, not on land. So, you will need to sprinkle or drop the food into the water when it’s mealtime.
- A single portion of protein should be as much as your turtle can eat in 5-10 minutes, depending on how quickly they eat.
- A single portion of vegetables should be roughly the same size as the turtle’s shell.
- A single portion of pellets should be about the same size as your turtle’s head.
Some people recommend feeding red-eared sliders in a separate container full of water to reduce mess, but as with other reptiles, moving to feed is stressful for the turtle and generally not a good idea. Just because it’s convenient for the human doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for the turtle.
PRO TIP! Use an aquarium fish net to remove debris from the water after feeding time is over. This helps keep your tank clean and helps keep your turtle healthy.
Variety is the key to good nutrition, so make sure to offer as many different types of foods in your turtle’s diet as possible! Feeding the same thing to your turtle every week (especially pertaining to protein sources and vegetables) is likely to cause nutritional imbalance and potential illness.
In the wild, red-eared sliders and other pond sliders are known to eat a variety of invertebrates, crustaceans, small fish, tadpoles, frogs, and birds. They even have been observed scavenging on dead carcasses! For pet pond sliders, however, here is a good list of appropriate animal-based foods to reference. It is best to provide whole feeders rather than pieces of meat, as animal parts are not nutritionally complete.
- chicks (frozen) (treat only) (very messy)
- crayfish (pre-killed only)
- dubia roaches
- freeze-dried shrimp or krill
- fresh shrimp
- frogs (captive bred only)
- frozen bloodworms
- pinky or hopper mice (frozen) (treat only)
- quail (frozen) (treat only) (very messy)
- snails (canned or captive-bred only)
- tadpoles (captive bred only)
- tubifex worms
Avoid feeding wild insects to your turtle, unless they were caught in a chemical-free area and you know exactly what it is and whether it is safe to feed. DO NOT FEED processed meats or fireflies to your turtle!
You can also give live fish to your red-eared slider. However, some are safer to feed than others:
Safe feeder fish
- mosquito fish
Generally speaking, livebearing types of fish are going to be a safe bet. Avoid offering pieces of fish rather than the whole fish, as pieces are not nutritionally complete.
Unsafe feeder fish
- spottail shiner
- rosy red minnows
- emerald shiner
- white suckers
These fish contain thiaminase, which breaks down and inactivates vitamin B1. If fed in large doses or over a prolonged period of time, it can cause severe vitamin B1 deficiency, which can be fatal if untreated. That being said, they are okay to use every once in a while as a treat.
In the wild, red-eared sliders and other pond sliders are known to eat algae and the leaves, stems, roots, fruits, and seeds of both aquatic and terrestrial plants. In fact, they eat so much vegetation as adults that they are considered primarily herbivorous!
As pets, you probably don’t want them mowing down the live plants in your tank, so here are some alternatives to keep them satisfied. Make sure to bookmark this page on your phone or screenshot so you can reference it while at the grocery store. The key to balanced nutrition is VARIETY, so make sure not to use the same old thing every time!
- collard greens (“spring greens” in the UK)
- dandelion greens + flowers
- green beans
- green leaf lettuce
- hibiscus greens + flowers
- red leaf lettuce
- romaine lettuce
- spotted deadnettle
- swiss chard
- turnip greens
- white clover
Fruit can be offered as an occasional treat:
- apple (skinned)
DO NOT FEED THE FOLLOWING FOODS!
- bean sprouts
- hot peppers
If you want to feed your turtle plants gathered from outside, wash them and make sure they weren’t exposed to herbicide or pesticide. For more information about safe plants, vegetables, and fruits for your turtle, refer to The Tortoise Table and Beautiful Dragons for information about safe plants.
If you are unsure about the identity of a potentially edible plant from outside, DON’T give it to your turtle — it could be poisonous! In other words, when in doubt, don’t feed it to your turtle.
Typically the best way to give supplements to a pet reptile is to sprinkle a supplement powder on its food. But since red-eared sliders eat in the water, supplement powders don’t work. Turtle pellets are an alternative method to help make sure that your aquatic turtle is getting enough vitamins and minerals.
These are the most trusted brands of turtle pellets. Although these are often advertised as a turtle food, pellets should make up no more than 25% of your red-eared slider’s diet.
For best results, use a rotation of multiple different commercial formulas from the above list to create more variety in your turtle’s diet! This helps promote more balanced nutrition and also provides a source of sensory enrichment.
Pro tip: Use a pill container to measure out pellets throughout the week!
“Cuttlebones” aren’t actually bones at all — they’re a block of calcium carbonate made to resemble the flattened oval skeleton of a cuttlefish. Real cuttlefish bones used to be used in the hobby, but these are no longer available due to concerns about parasites.
Turtles seem to have an instinct that drives them to start biting hard objects when their bodies need calcium. Providing a cuttlebone in their enclosure fulfills that need and helps prevent calcium deficiency problems such as MBD. Chewing on cuttlebones also helps keep your turtle’s beak trimmed!
Depending on the size of your turtle, it may be best to put the cuttlebone into your turtle’s tank whole or to chop it into chunks. But don’t just toss the cuttlebone into your red-eared slider’s enclosure without properly preparing it first:
Storebought cuttlebones have a hard plastic backing that can make your turtle very sick if it gets accidentally ingested. So you need to remove that plastic. You can do this by sawing it off with a serrated knife (be careful!), prying it off with a butter knife, or peeling it off with a vegetable peeler after soaking it in hot water. You will have removed all of the plastic when you can dent the plastic side of the cuttlebone with a fingernail.
Should you move your red-eared slider for feeding?
Many people recommend using a separate, designated feeding container as a method of keeping their turtles’ water cleaner. But is this actually good practice?
Answer: it depends on your turtle.
If your turtle doesn’t seem bothered by it, this can be a good way to keep your turtle’s water a bit cleaner, clearer, and less likely to accumulate waste. It is more labor-intensive, though, and completely optional.
However, if your turtle is significantly stressed by handling, it’s best to simply feed them inside their “home” enclosure.
How to feed your turtle outside of its enclosure: You will need to a plastic tub (preferably opaque), fill it with enough water to cover your turtle’s back, then add your turtle to feed. Water is required — red-eared sliders can’t swallow properly without it! When your turtle is done eating, place your turtle back in its enclosure, empty the feeding tub, and disinfect it with F10SC, Rescue, or Clean Break veterinary disinfectant. If you emptied the tub into a sink or bathtub, make sure to disinfect that as well.
What Do Red-Eared Slider Turtles Eat in the Wild & as Pets?
Turtles make fantastic pets. They’re easy to care for, aren’t likely to maul you to death, and are downright adorable (in their own way, of course).
However, many people only look at the positives when considering whether to adopt a turtle, and they overlook a few important negatives. The biggest of these is the fact that many people have no idea how to properly care for a turtle.
That includes knowing what to feed them. Here, we look at the proper diet for one of the most popular species of turtle, the red-eared slider, so you can give them the right food from the moment that you bring them home.
Where Do Red-Eared Sliders Live?
These turtles originate in the southeastern United States, with a heavy distribution around the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico.
They prefer warm climates and typically inhabit ponds and other bodies of water where the water is largely placid. This enables them to quickly climb out of the water if danger approaches or they need to raise their body temperature, as they’re not strong enough swimmers to battle rapid currents that effectively.
While the southeast might be their native habitat, it’s far from the only place that they can currently be found — and humans are largely to blame for that. The species is often kept as a pet, and unfortunately, not all pet owners are responsible.
Many people have gotten tired of keeping red-eared sliders as pets and released them in places where they are not native; as a result, these turtles are currently considered one of the most invasive species on the planet.
Even when they’re inhabiting places that they don’t belong, though, these animals will seek out slow-moving bodies of water. They’re becoming increasingly numerous in urban aquatic areas, owing again to the fact that negligent owners will release them into the wild near their home.
What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat?
Red-eared sliders are omnivores, but in the wild, they tend to feed primarily on plants. They tend to eat more meat when they’re juveniles, but as they grow older, they transition to a plant-heavy diet.
They’re opportunistic predators, though, and will eat just about anything smaller than them that they can catch. This includes small fish, crickets, worms, snails, tadpoles, and more. They’ve also been known to scavenge on the corpses of frogs and other aquatic animals.
In captivity, it’s generally recommended to primarily feed them commercial turtle food. These foods are specifically designed to give your pet all the nutrients that they need to stay healthy, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally depriving your turtle of essential vitamins and minerals.
You can supplement this food with things like leafy green vegetables, crickets, mealworms, crickets, or even freeze-dried shrimp. However, these foods should be viewed as treats and given sparingly, rather than relied on as an essential part of the turtle’s diet.
These animals will eat just about anything, so be careful about what you drop in their tank. They have no self-preservation skills and will happily munch on things that are toxic to them, like fried foods, so it’s up to you to ensure that they don’t eat anything that will kill them.
Is There Anything That Eats Red-Eared Sliders?
One of the reasons that the red-eared slider has become such a successful invasive species is that they don’t have much in the way of natural predators. Their hard shells protect them from most potential threats, and they have a savage bite that deters anyone who gets too close.
However, that protection only comes once the turtle is mature. Young red-eared sliders have various predators, including skunks, birds, snakes, raccoons, otters, coyotes, and frogs. The only animals that pose a threat to adult red-eared sliders are alligators and crocodiles, but they often can’t be bothered to eat these crunchy little snacks.
The biggest natural threat posed to these turtles comes from humans. Humans hunt them for various reasons, with one of the biggest being an effort to control their numbers in non-native areas.
They also kill large numbers of these turtles accidentally; boat propellors and car tires have both taken out a massive number of red-eared sliders.
Ironically, it’s feared that humans have had such a negative impact on the red-eared slider’s native habitat that they may actually be threatened in those areas, even as they flourish in environments in which they don’t belong.
The Role That Red-Eared Sliders Play in Their Ecosystem
In their native habitats, red-eared sliders play various important roles that help maintain the health of the ecosystem.
As scavengers, they help clear out the bodies of dead fish, frogs, and other aquatic species, and their hunting habits also help keep native fish and insect populations in check.
When feeding on plants, they help prevent certain aquatic grasses from becoming too prolific, and their bowel movements help redistribute seeds in areas with weak currents.
One of their most important ecological roles is that of prey for other animals, however. Many species rely on juvenile red-eared sliders or turtle eggs for food, and the absence of these turtles would have a devastating effect on the food chain of their native habitats.
Why Are Red-Eared Sliders Considered Such a Dangerous Invasive Species?
While red-eared sliders are undoubtedly cute, in many parts of the world, they’re seen as a complete menace rather than as an adorable pet.
There are many reasons that these turtles can devastate non-native ecosystems, including their lack of natural predators, long lifespans, and ability to out-compete smaller turtle species. All these things enable them to quickly dominate new ecosystems, upsetting the delicate balance of life found therein.
In some places, such as Bermuda, these turtles can even hunt native fish species into near-extinction. This can have far-reaching impacts on the local ecosystem because these fish feed on other fish and insects, and without those predators around, their numbers quickly spiral out of control.
Not all the carnage inflicted by these turtles is their fault, however. Many turtles that are bred in captivity for use as pets are given antibiotics while they’re raised, and when these turtles escape or are released into the wild, those antibiotics can interfere with the natural distribution of bacteria in those waterways, with potentially devastating results.
The reason these turtles are given antibiotics is that they’ve long been a source of Salmonella contaminations. Even if those antibiotics don’t leach into the turtles’ new habitats, they can bring large colonies of harmful bacteria with them that can kill animals that haven’t evolved to deal with the danger. What’s worse, many of these bacterial outbreaks are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics — again, because of how the turtles were treated when in captivity.
Are Red-Eared Sliders Dangerous to Humans?
The fact that these animals are so often kept as pets should be an indication that no, they’re not dangerous to humans — at least not through direct, traditional methods. That said, they do pack a nasty bite, so keep your fingers clear of their little beaks.
However, there are certain ways in which they pose a massive risk to humanity, albeit indirectly.
The first is the fact that when they enter a new habitat, some of the species that they crowd out of the ecosystem are those that perform jobs like mosquito control, for example (which red-eared sliders do not help with). Once these animals are gone or severely diminished, mosquito populations can explode, and that can lead to a corresponding explosion of disease in humans.
The other massive risk that they pose comes from the Salmonella that they so often carry. You can get sick from handling them, and attempts to treat them have led to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of the bacteria, which is bad news for you if you do get sick.
A Dangerous Animal in a Cute Little Shell
Red-eared sliders are wonderful little companions — they don’t eat much, never need walks, and won’t judge you when you talk out loud to yourself. However, it’s important that these pets stay pets, because if they get loose in new environments, they can cause ecological havoc.
If you feel like adding one of these little reptiles to your menagerie, feel free — you’re unlikely to regret it. Just be careful to keep them inside your house, or else you could do more harm to the environment than you ever thought possible.