Okay so my brother has just abandoned his red-eared slider, and I have no idea what to do with a turtle. How much water does it need? How much land? How often/what should it be fed? Help?



Oh jeeze, I’m sorry your brother dumped this situation on you! Remember that it’s totally valid to try to find a new home if you can, especially if it turns out that you have to totally revamp the turtle’s living conditions & can’t afford it or something. Turtles can be expensive to set up properly if your brother didn’t already have it done. 

I swore I had more RES sources that I saved when I was doing more reading for future purposes, but I can’t find them now & may have lost them with my old hard drive. But I have this site saved, from @the-awkward-turt recommending it – 

So that should help a lot to get you started! Good luck and if I can help with anything else, feel free to send another ask and I’ll do my best. 🙂 Even if it’s just with tagging & seeing if anyone else who knows more can weigh in.

Hey Anon!

Please also feel free to contact me if you have questions beyond what the articles on Austin’s Turtle Page can answer.

Here’s my Hierarchy of Turtle Needs for situations like this, where you might not be able to get/afford everything the turtle needs right off the bat.

Level 1: Things the Turtle Absolutely Needs to Stay Healthy and Not Die

Water area to live in (dechlorinated water is preferred but not required): a plastic tub, Rubbermaid bin, stock tank, or aquarium will work well for this. Eventually, you will need to filter this water but until you are able to get a filter you can just change 100% of the water every day. 

-Basking area: a place for the turtle to pull themselves out of the water and dry the top and bottom shell completely. You can buy floating basking docks at pet stores (make sure it’s the right size so it won’t sink under the turtle’s weight), but you can also stack rocks, driftwood, etc to accomplish this if you can’t get one (just make sure it won’t fall and crush the turtle)

-Heat lamp/bulb: This needs to be over the basking area and ideally should get the surface to around 90-92 degrees. They sell reptile-specific heat lamps and bulbs at pet stores, but a household lamp and bulb placed close enough will do in a pinch (you want an older, non-energy-efficient lightbulb as the more energy efficient/LED ones don’t put off as much heat).

Food: Ideally you want to start with a high-quality turtle pellet (ZooMed’s aquatic turtle foods are good and available at most pet stores: don’t use Reptomin unless it’s the only option). If you absolutely cannot get turtle pellets right away then turtles will eat cooked or canned fish (just make sure it’s canned in water, not oil) and fine chopped veggies and greens (though they can be picky about eating these). Turtles only need to eat every other day or 3x a week and only about as much as would fit in their head if it were hollow (but can have greens on free feed). Don’t worry if the turtle doesn’t eat for several days when you bring it home; moving homes is stressful for a reptile.

Level 2: Things That Will Make Your Life Easier/Prevent Long-Term Issues

-UVB lamp/bulb: This also needs to go over the basking area and is different from the heat lamp. Mercury vapor bulbs put out both UVB and heat, but they are expensive and with any other bulb you will need two. The UVB bulb needs to be replaced every 6 months as the UVB output will decrease. Although a turtle can go longer without UVB than without heat, they still absolutely need UVB to avoid developing serious and eventually deadly conditions.

-Filter: Get a filter that is rated for 2-3x the volume of water in your tank since turtles are far messier than fish. It never hurts to overfilter with turtles (unless the filter is so strong it’s turning your tank into a jacuzzi). Once you have a filter set up and cycled (go read about cycling fish tanks) you need to definitely start dechlorinating the water that goes in the tank because otherwise the chlorine will harm the good bacteria that clean the water. You can also start doing 20-40% water changes once per week now instead of 100% every day. You do not need a turtle specific filter: the ones made for fish will work just as well and are often better quality/bigger (the turtle filter thing is basically a gimmick).

-Bigger enclosure: If your temporary enclosure was quite small now is the time to start working towards a properly sized one. Turtles need approximately 10 gallons of swimming space for every inch of shell length. So a turlte with a 6 inch shell would need a 60 gallon tank. As an adult your red eared slider will probably need something in the 70-100 gallon range, but you can work up to if if you don’t have space/money on hand at the moment. Stock tanks and large Rubbermaid bins are a great cheap alternative. You can also check out Craigslist and other resale places for good deals.

Level 3: Things that will make the tank pretty and the turtle happy

-Tank decor: Driftwood, rocks, etc. Just make sure they are aquarium safe and that your turtle isn’t eating them/biting chunks off. Turtles like to explore with their mouths.

-Substrate: You do not need substrate and a bare-bottom tank is easier to clean. But if you decide to do substrate (which turtles often love to dig in) then I recommend washed Play Sand (which you can get super cheap from Home Depot).

-Supplements like cuttlebone for extra calcium (and to chew on for fun) and enrichment (puzzle feeders, balls, etc).

I wrote this pretty quick without proofreading so I apologize for any mistakes. Hope that helped!