How to select a tank for my pet Red Eared Slider?

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Answered by: Chris, An Expert in the Pick an Exotic Category
Today, the pet trade offers inexperienced and sometimes unqualified people access to animals that require special maintenance and attention. Turtles are one such pet, especially Red Eared Sliders. These semi-aquatic reptiles are practically synonymous with the term 'pet turtle'.

Many people are under-informed and unprepared for the demands of rearing RES in captivity. In a lot of ways, reptiles are hardy animals, but when taken out of the wild, they make fragile pets. Without providing very specific husbandry, unwitting owners can hurt or even kill their pets. It is no secret that the pet trade flourishes off of the impetuousness of impulse buyers. For example, maybe your kids want a puppy, but you know that you're going to end up being the one who takes care of it and you don't have any spare time to devote to a puppy. But a turtle? Put it in water, drop some pellets in? It's like a pet goldfish only a little more interesting.

Pet stores encourage this ignorance. The actual financial demands of rearing a turtle are far higher than the costs that initially present themselves. For example, at the very basic level, a pet turtle needs one essential thing: a place to live, a tank. That sounds fairly simple at first, but the needs of these reptiles are far more complex than the average owner realizes at first.

For example, let's say you have just purchased a pet turtle. Because infant turtles can carry salmonella, the FDA prohibits any merchant from selling pet turtles with a shell length less than 4 inches. Even though there are exceptions to this rules and myriad ways of getting a smaller turtle, we'll assume that you are trying to be responsible from the get-go and you’re the proud new owner of a pet turtle.

First things first: a place for your new pet to live. Despite all logic, there is a rumor that perpetuates to this day to which new pet owners succumb. This myth purports that a pet turtle's tank will limit its growth. In other words, if you buy a small aquarium, your turtle will stop growing once it reaches a comfortable size in this aquarium and will not grow any larger than its habitat can support. There is absolutely NO truth to this myth. Regardless of the size of its enclosure, your pet turtle will continue to grow until it reaches its full adult size--anywhere between 10 and 14 inches long, depending on gender; the average length being about 12 inches.

Despite what pet stores would have you believe, you will one day need a tank big enough for a full grown turtle. Believe it or not, few stores even sell tanks this large. The general rule of thumb demands that you provide 10 gallons of habitat for every inch of shell length. Your 4-inch turtle will need, at the absolute minimum, a 40 gallon aquarium--not the convenient 20 gallon tank the salesperson tries to push on you.

Furthermore, the prevailing logic among turtle enthusiasts is that pet turtles require a water depth approximately 2 to 2.5 times the length of their shell. The depth of water for your 4 inch turtle’s tank will need to be between 8 and 10 inches. There is a trend in pet stores to sell turtle habitats that are shallow, only several inches deep. This is fine for some species of turtle, like painted turtles, but not for Red Eared Sliders. As the most ubiquitous species in the pet turtle trade, manufacturers’ products do not come close to reflecting their needs. Remember, any indoor habitat should mimic the animal's natural habitat as closely is possible. In the wild, RES divide their time between swimming and basking. When they swim, they need room to swim. Do not confine your pet into a habitat.

Manufacturers do not make tanks that are an even 40 gallons. Generally, you will only find 38 gallon tanks or 45 gallon tanks. Let's say you splurge for the 45 gallon tank, the most common dimensions for this volume are roughly 3 feet long, by 1 foot wide, by 2 feet high. A single gallon of water weighs something around 8.34lbs. A 45 gallon tank filled with water will weigh around 440lbs including the weight of the glass. You probably don't have a lot of spare furniture lying around that will provide equal support to 440lbs of water encased in glass. Unless you're comfortable with having a turtle tank on the floor, you've got to buy a stand for your tank.

Now, consider that the average rate of growth for a Red Eared Slider. Every year, your turtle's shell will be one inch longer. After one year, that 45 gallon tank will no longer suffice. Instead of constantly upgrading the size of your aquarium, buy the largest tank you can afford when you get the turtle. You will spend less money in the long run if you splurge on a big tank. The pet stores don't care if you buy a new tank every year, that's profit for them. Every time you upgrade the size of your tank, you will also have to upgrade the stand that supports your tank, the filter the can't keep up with the volume of water, the heater that needs to keep all of this water at an even temperature, the specialized UV light bulb and light fixture.

It's a demanding endeavor and should not be taken lightly. Raising Red Eared Sliders can be a rewarding experience, and even these animals will learn to recognize you and regard you as their caretakers. Like most things, you have to be willing to put in the effort to reap the rewards of caring for these animals.

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