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What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat? Full Diet In The Wild And Captivity

Red-eared sliders mostly eat plant matter. They are omnivores, meaning they also take eat meat, primarily from small insects and fish. You can feed your pet red-eared slider pellets, insects, and leafy greens.

Red-eared sliders are a well-known turtle species for their popularity as pets and prevalence across North American habitats. 

These habitats are abundant in food sources, many of which red-eared sliders take advantage of.

But what exactly do they eat?

This article will discuss the basic red-eared slider diet, how to compare wild versus captivity, and offer a complete guide to feeding your pet slider.

What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat?

Red-eared sliders are omnivores. They eat a range of aquatic plants, algae, and small animals such as insects and fish. They eat commercial turtle food, live insects, and leafy vegetables as pets.

This widespread pet turtle species is an opportunistic omnivore, meaning they eat nearly everything accessible to them. 

To meet their basic nutritional requirements, the red-eared slider feeds on a range of aquatic plant matter and small animals in their ecosystem:

  • Fish
  • Frogs
  • Tadpole
  • Hatchling turtles
  • Insects

What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat In the Wild?

Wild red-eared sliders feed on plant material such as aquatic grass and algae and small animals such as insects, fish, and frogs. The specific species of their prey depends on their habitat.

Red-eared sliders are native to North America where they occur widely. Their diet in this natural habitat consists of plants and small animals that exist in the same ecosystem.

For sliders that have established invasive populations in non-native habitats, the basis of their diet is much the same. It is slightly different based on local species of prey and plants.[1]

What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat In the Wild

What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat In Captivity?

The diet of a captive red-eared slider offers them the same nutritional content as in the wild. For an adult slider, this is 50% vegetable matter, 25% commercial turtle pellets, and 25% protein.

This basic dietary formula gives red-eared slider owners a base to formulate a balanced diet for their turtle. 

With an appropriate habitat, a nourishing diet gives turtles the energy they need to function correctly and exercise natural behaviors.

Vegetable Matter

Plants make up half of an adult slider’s diet. Proper aquatic plants such as duckweed, water lilies, and water lettuce are the most nutritionally suitable as they appear in their wild diet.

There is a range of nutrient-dense vegetables that are sourced easily as turtle food:

  • Collard greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Broccoli (including leaves)
  • Kale
  • Carrot tops
  • Green beans
  • Swiss chard
  • Clover
  • Parsley

This range of leafy, green vegetables offer high nutritional content for low calories.[2]

Red-Eared Slider Care

Turtle Pellets

Commercially formulated turtle pellets are a dietary staple for captive red-eared sliders. They should make up 25% of their diet.

These pellets offer a balanced source of protein, vitamins, and minerals that may be lacking in other protein sources.

Choosing a pellet for your turtle depends on its size and age. Large pellets float in water, making them suited for bigger adult turtles. In contrast, small pellets often sink, making them more accessible to smaller juveniles. 

Protein

The remaining 25% of the slider’s diet comes from various protein sources. These foods should frequently rotate as over-feeding a particular food can lead to boredom and reduced appetite.

There are many options when it comes to choosing a protein source:

  • Feeder fish sourced from pet shops or bait stores
  • Tadpoles
  • Earthworms
  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Wax worms
  • Ghost shrimp
  • Krill

Purchase live fish or insects from a reputable source, not taken from the wild. Wild animals can carry parasites and infectious bacteria that can transfer to your red-eared slider.

The size of live food fed should be suitable for the size of the turtle. As a rule, never feed a turtle anything larger than the space between its eyes. Large food items can cause impaction in the digestive tract.[3]

Live feeding is beneficial for the mental health of a turtle as it encourages active hunting.

Red-Eared Slider Diet & Feeding

Supplements

Some supplementation to a red-eared sliders diet is beneficial in captivity. A reptile multivitamin with calcium and vitamin D3 added to the turtle’s food 2–3 times a week can boost their nutrition and ensure absorption of other dietary components.[4]

Adding a cuttlebone to a turtle’s tank can add an additional calcium source.

What Do Baby Red-Eared Sliders Eat?

Baby red-eared sliders are omnivores. They primarily eat animal matter as the protein supports their higher growth rates. Insects and small fish make up the majority of their diet.

The diet of a baby red-eared slider is similar to an adult. The diet items are the same, but the respective quantity differs. 

Hatchlings and juveniles are growing at rapid rates in their first year and continue to grow until they are five years old. Their bodies need higher levels of protein than adults to accommodate this growth.

A baby red-eared sliders diet consists of 75% protein and 25% plant matter.

In captivity, the protein portion is broken down into 50% animal proteins and 25% turtle pellets.

How Old Is My Red-Eared Slider?

Since the dietary requirements of a red-eared slider change based on their age and development, it’s essential to identify their age. Most owners knows their turtle’s age if purchased from a breeder, but others may have unknown origins.

Age Hatchling (>6 months) Juvenile (6 months–4 years) Adult (4+ years)
Shell length 2 inches 2–8 inches 8–12 inches[5]
Shell color Light green Dark green Dark green to brown or black

How Often Does a Red-Eared Slider Eat?

Juvenile red-eared sliders eat every day, with varying amounts of protein depending on their age and stage of development. An adult slider eats every 2–3 days. 

The amount this turtle species eats and how often depends on their metabolic requirements. Babies grow rapidly, so they need frequent feeding with high amounts of protein. 

Juvenile sliders rarely overeat. Offer them as much as they can consume in 15 minutes twice daily. Lengthy periods without food can be detrimental to their growth and development.

Adult red-eared sliders need to eat less frequently. Every 2–3 days is sufficient for them to sustain themselves. It is also acceptable to continue to feed them daily with smaller portions.

The amount of food a turtle needs varies between individuals. Feed them as much as they can eat within 15 minutes and monitor their body condition. 

Reduce the amount if they become overweight. You will be able to tell by the bulging of skin around the legs and neck.

Related: Why Is My Red-Eared Slider Not Eating?

How Often Does a Red-Eared Slider Eat

Red-Eared Slider Feeding Schedule

Age Diet composition Frequency of feeding
Hatchling (>6 months) 50% protein25% turtle pellets25% vegetables Daily
Juvenile (6 months–4 years) 25-50% protein25% turtle pellets25-50% vegetables Daily, protein only every second day, transition to higher vegetable component
Adult (4+ years) 50% vegetables25% turtle pellets25% protein  3 times per week

Red-Eared Slider Feeding Tips

Remove all uneaten food waste from the tank within 15–20 minutes after feeding. Doing so reduces the risk of your turtle overeating or harmful bacteria growing on old food. 

Some owners prefer to temporarily move their turtle to a separate feeding tank to minimize spoiling their main tank’s water. 

This tactic also monitors how much and how quickly your turtle eats.

Red-eared sliders are opportunistic feeders, so they eat as much as possible, unsure when they will eat next. For this reason, pet sliders always seem hungry. They often respond to their owners by flapping at the water’s surface and frantically reaching for food.

Don’t mistake this opportunistic behavior for true hunger, as you may overfeed your turtle and contribute to unhealthy weight gain. If you increase their feeds to satiate them, increase the vegetable portion as it is lower in calories.

Red-Eared Slider Feeding Tips

How Do Red-Eared Sliders Find Food?

Red-eared sliders are opportunistic omnivores. They forage and hunt in their habitat for convenient food items to find food. 

The habitat of red-eared sliders varies in food availability. Turtles eat whenever the opportunity presents itself. They do this to ensure their survival. They do not have the luxury of being picky about when or what they eat.

Red-eared sliders will graze on seasonality vegetation in aquatic habitats and hunt nearby small animals such as fish and insects. The abundance of prey animals varies throughout the year depending on the species’ reproductive cycle.

Food availability tends to be greatest in the warmer spring and summer months. These reliable food sources and warm temperatures for thermoregulation signal red-eared sliders to actively locate food.

Related: What Fish Can Red-Eared Sliders live With?

FAQs

Can Red-Eared Sliders Eat Carrots?

Yes, red-eared sliders can eat carrots. Carrots can provide turtles with valuable nutrients as part of a balanced diet. Shred or cut into small pieces before feeding to your turtle. The leafy tops of carrots are also an excellent food source.

Can Red-Eared Sliders Eat Lettuce?

Red-eared sliders will happily eat lettuce. Avoid iceberg lettuce as it lacks nutritional value. Romaine lettuce is the best choice to be fed to a turtle as it contains more valuable vitamins and minerals.

What Type Of Fish Do Red-Eared Slider Turtles Eat?

In the wild, red-eared sliders will eat any type of fish they can find. In captivity, do not feed them any fish sourced from the wild due to the high risk of parasitic infections. Feeder fish sourced from pet stores or bait shops are best for sliders. Avoid oily fish such as mackerel and smelt due to their high fat content.

Can Red-Eared Slider Turtles Eat Worms?

Worms are a great source of protein for red-eared sliders. Worms for feeding include waxworms, earthworms, silkworms, mealworms, and blood worms. You can find these worms at most pet stores. It’s not recommended to source worms from your garden as they may contain pesticides and parasites.

How Long Can a Red-Eared Slider Go Without Food?

Healthy adult red-eared sliders can go for months without food. To survive, they slow down their metabolic rate and lower activity levels. The body survives on reserves, so a malnourished or underweight turtle may not last as long without eating.

Baby red-eared sliders may only last a few days to a week without food. A steady food source is essential to their growth. A higher metabolic rate fuels this development that needs food as an energy source.

Can Red-Eared Sliders Eat Fruit?

Fruit is okay for red-eared sliders in small, infrequent amounts. Fruits can offer some nutritional value but are also higher in sugar than vegetables. While you may offer some fruit as an occasional treat, they should not be a part of a slider’s regular diet.

Can Red-Eared Sliders Eat Eggs?

Red-eared sliders can eat hard-boiled eggs as an occasional form of protein. Raw eggs are not suitable as they can contain salmonella, which turtles are prone to contract.[6] Eggs’ protein and fat levels can cause shell pyramiding if fed excessively, so it should only be a rare treat.

Can Red-Eared Sliders Eat Bread?

No, bread is not a suitable food item for a red-eared slider. This turtle species do not consume many carbohydrates or sugar in their regular diet. They lack the enzymes needed to digest “human foods” such as bread properly. Bread can fill them up but offer little nutritional value, leading to malnutrition and deficiencies if fed regularly.

About Sophie Herlihy (Zoologist)

Sophie Herlihy, a trained zoologist, is a lover of true misfit animals. With a specialty in insects, birds, and rodents, she helps the Misfit Animals craft factual and valuable informational pieces on various animals.