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Yellow-Bellied Slider vs Red-Eared Slider: The Difference

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The main difference between yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders is appearance and distribution. The two are subspecies of the pond slider species so are otherwise very similar in their diet, habitat, and behavior.

If you’re looking to add a turtle to your family, you may be wondering what the difference is between the yellow-bellied slider and the red-eared slider. 

Both are popular pet turtles, but there are some key differences that you should be aware of before making your decision.

In this article, we’ll compare the two types of turtles side by side, covering everything from their appearance to their personality traits. By the end, you’ll know exactly which type of turtle is right for you and your family.

Yellow-Bellied Slider vs Red-Eared Slider: An Overview

Yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders are subspecies of the pond slider (Trachemys scripta). They are similar in many ways, differing only in appearance and natural range. Red-eared sliders are more prevalent as pets.

The primary difference between them is their appearance and distribution. 

The red-eared slider is mainly found in the eastern United States, while yellow-bellied sliders live in the Midwest and the southern United States. 

Both subspecies have a greenish-gray carapace (upper shell), but red-eared sliders typically have a reddish-tan stripe running along the side of their heads (from their eyes to their necks). Yellow-bellied sliders may also have some orange markings on their throats.

Yellow-Bellied SliderRed-Eared Slider
Size (in inches)7–127–12
DietOmnivoreOmnivore
Natural RangeSouth-east United StatesMid-south United States
Lifespan20–40 years20–40 years

Differences Between Yellow-Bellied Sliders and Red-Eared Sliders

There are three main differences between yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders 

  1. Scientific classification
  2. Appearance 
  3. Natural Range

Scientific classification

The yellow-bellied slider and the red-eared slider are closely related. They are both the same species, the pond slider. 

This species has three subspecies which include these two turtles and the Cumberland slider.

Yellow-bellied sliderRed-eared sliderCumberland slider
GenusTrachemysTrachemysTrachemys
SpeciesT. scriptaT. scriptaT. scripta
SubspeciesT. s. scriptaT. s. elegansT. s. troostii 

Appearance

Yellow-bellied sliders have a dark green or brown shell with yellow stripes running down their sides. Their belly is usually yellow, which earned them their common name. They also have a distinct yellow splotch on their cheek.

In contrast, red-eared sliders have a bright red stripe behind each ear, and their shells are generally darker in color (usually green or black). 

Other than these slight differences, the two subspecies closely resemble each other. They have the same size, shape, and shell design.

Yellow-Bellied Slider Appearance

Natural Range

The yellow-bellied slider has a smaller natural range than the red-eared slider. They are found from northern Florida up the south-eastern states until Virginia.[1]

The red-eared sliders naturally occur in a cluster of mid-south states, down to northern Mexico. They naturally intersect with yellow-bellied sliders where the two ranges meet in Alabama through to Georgia.

They also occur simultaneously in states where the red-eared slider is an invasive population, such as Florida. This subspecies is widely distributed across the states and the globe, establishing invasive populations. 

This unnatural distribution has emerged from their popularity as pets and subsequent escapes or releases.[2]

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Similarities Between Yellow-Bellied Sliders and Red-Eared Sliders

Yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders share many similarities due to being subspecies of the pond slider. They share the same

  • Size
  • Diet
  • Habitat
  • Behavior

Size

The yellow-bellied slider and the red-eared slider are both 8 to 12 inches long. They are considered small turtles.

They exhibit sexual dimorphism in their size, with males averaging 6–9 inches and females growing larger at 8–12 inches.

Related: Pet Turtles That Stay Small Forever

Pet Turtles That Stay Small Forever

Diet

Yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders are both omnivores. They eat both plants and animals.[3] 

Their diet consists of a variety of different animals:

  • Insects
  • Worms
  • Snails
  • Fish
  • Aquatic plants

The young of each subspecies are primarily carnivorous as protein supports their rapid growth rates. Adults mostly eat vegetation, supplemented with animal proteins.

Red-Eared Slider Diet & Feeding

Habitat

Slider turtles are semi-aquatic creatures that prefer to live in slow-moving or still water, such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and creeks. They can also inhabit brackish (slightly salty) environments near the ocean. 

Slider turtles are incredibly adaptable and can survive in a variety of habitats. They generally prefer habitats with abundant food and shallow water.

They have adapted to suit these environments with smooth, streamlined shells which help them move quickly through the water. They also have webbed feet and a long neck and tail to swim and dive well.

Red-Eared Slider Appearance and Size

Behavior

Sliders are most active during daylight hours. They bask on tree stumps and logs, but they also spend a lot of time in the water. Sliders can be aggressive towards each other, so it is important to provide plenty of space for them in an aquarium.

Red-eared sliders are known to be especially aggressive towards other aquarium species. It is important to consider this when choosing a slider as a pet.

Related: 12 Types of Pet Turtles: Which Species is Best for You?

Yellow-Bellied Slider Behavior

Can Yellow-Bellied Sliders and Red-Eared Sliders Live Together?

Red-eared sliders and yellow-bellied sliders can live together as long as they have a tank with a minimum of 150 gallons. House individuals of the same sex and similar age to prevent aggression.

Turtles of the slider species are solitary, only interacting for reproductive purposes, whether courtship between a male and female or aggression between two males.

They can exist happily when housed alone but can live together in the correct habitat. 

Consider the following when keeping two sliders together:

  • A tank size of a minimum of 150 gallons, plus an extra 50 per turtle.
  • Keep a tank divider or spare tank on hand for separation if required
  • Keep individuals of similar size to reduce domination and aggression
  • Plenty of hides, furnishing, and cover plants
  • Feed them separately
  • Keep turtles of the same sex to prevent cross-breeding
  • Quarantine new turtles to prevent bringing in new diseases

Due to their solitary nature, two turtles forced in the proximity of each other can undergo undue stress. If housed together, the environment should enable them to get away from each other. 

A large tank densely planted with abundant hides and basking areas is vital.

Can Yellow-Bellied Sliders and Red-Eared Sliders Live Together

Each turtle needs a separate area for their behaviors, so tank equipment is doubled. Two basking lamps ensure that each turtle gets UV exposure without one individual dominating the other.

Feed them separately, away from the primary tank, as one turtle becomes more dominant, keeping the other from food sources.

While they can live together, it requires a lot of extra care and observation to ensure both turtles can behave normally without being socially suppressed or kept from essential resources.

Can Yellow-Bellied Sliders and Red-Eared Sliders Breed?

Yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders are the same species so they are genetically compatible to breed. They overlap geographically, so natural hybridization occurs in the wild.

In zoology, the area where two distinct subspecies overlap geographically is called an intergrade.

For red-eared sliders and yellow-bellied sliders, this intergrade is in Alabama, Georgia, and the most western point of Florida. The two subspecies cross over and naturally breed to create hybrids in these areas. 

If the two subspecies are kept together in captivity (one of each gender), they may mate and potentially produce offspring. These natural behaviors occur effortlessly in the correct habitat.

The only surefire way to prevent breeding is to keep males and females apart.

While it can occur naturally in the wild, it’s generally frowned upon to breed these two subspecies together, and in many areas, breeding is restricted by law.

The invasive red-eared sliders in Florida already threaten the native yellow-bellied sliders. Breeding them can contribute to the diminishing populations until yellow-bellied sliders no longer exist.

Final Thoughts

Yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders are closely related subspecies of the pond slider. The third subspecies, the Cumberland slider, is much less common.

Both these subspecies are popular within the pet trade, but the pond slider is the most prevalent, and their pet status has affected ecosystems across the globe.

Despite being related, the red-eared slider has affected the yellow-bellied slider population from invasive establishments within Florida. Interbreeding of these subspecies has diluted the yellow-bellied sliders’ genes and puts their population at risk.

When keeping turtles as pets, owners must manage their breeding to not crossbreed between species or subspecies.

Other Comparisons

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.

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