Sink or Swim: Can Red Eared Sliders Drown?

Red-eared sliders can stay submerged underwater for extended periods. Many pet owners get concerned if their pet turtle can drown underwater. This article will discuss how long can red-eared turtles stay underwater and the signs that they are drowning.

Yes, a red-eared slider can drown underwater. Like other turtles, red-eared sliders also have lungs that they use to breathe. Your pet turtle can drown if they stay submerged underwater for extended periods.

How Long Can a Red-eared Slider Stay Underwater?

red-eared sliders underwater

Red-eared sliders can spend a lot of time underwater despite being terrestrial animals. They can hold their breath for quite a long time thanks to their special adaption to aquatic life. You should know how long a red-eared slider can hold its breath underwater to prevent them from downing.

A red-eared slider can swim underwater for 20 to 30 minutes on average. Many pet owners have reported their pet turtles stayed underwater for as long as two hours. The amount of time they can stay submerged underwater depends on various factors such as age, size, and health.

Red-eared sliders have developed several techniques to stay submerged underwater for extended periods. They can lower their heart rate to use less oxygen, allowing them to hold their breath for longer periods. Your pet slider can even extract oxygen from the water through a tissue named cloaca.

How Do Red-Eared Sliders Manage to Stay Underwater for So Long?

can red eared sliders drown

Red-eared sliders are known for surviving underwater for extended periods just like painted turtles. They have developed several techniques which are essential for their survival. Here are a few ways red-eared sliders manage to stay underwater for so long.

Breathing Underwater

Just like all turtles, red-eared sliders use their lungs to breathe oxygen. Through evolution, they can even exchange gases underwater through a process called aquatic respiration. A red-eared slider has adapted its body so it can extract oxygen from water.

Red-eared sliders also have blood vessels in their mouth and throat and use them to perform buccopharyngeal respiration. These blood vessels allow your pet to absorb oxygen from water using their mouth and throat.

Editor’s Note
This respiration technique is mostly used by turtles when they are sleeping underwater or escaping a predator. Buccopharyngeal respiration also helps the red-eared slider to conserve its energy.

A red-eared slider can also breathe underwater using its cloaca. Cloaca is located at the base of the tail and helps your pet turtle to breathe underwater. The cloaca is home to many organs such as the urinary, reproductive, and digestive systems. This organ also contains a respiratory system known as the bursa. The bursa is a large vascular structure that helps the turtle extract oxygen from water.

Red-eared Sliders Metabolic Rate

Metabolic rate is another factor that allows red-eared sliders to stay underwater for extended periods. Red-eared sliders have a low metabolic rate, which allows them to conserve more energy and go extended periods without breathing. Your pet turtle can even slow down its heart when resting or sleeping.

During their active hour, the metabolic rate increases, and they need to breathe more regularly. An average red-eared slider can hold its breath for about 45 minutes underwater. This is done so the turtle can survive in nature and explore the aquatic life without any interruptions

The Purpose Of Cloaca In Red-eared Sliders

Cloaca is an essential organ in the survival of a red-eared slider. A red-eared slider can absorb oxygen underwater due to the presence of Cloaca. It also houses a huge variety of organs such as the respiratory, reproductive, and digestive systems.

A female red-eared slider also uses a cloaca to lay its eggs. It also serves as a reproductive organ for males and allows them to deposit sperm during mating. It also helps a red-eared slider to remove waste from its body by serving as an excretory organ.

Hence, helping your pet turtle to remove harmful toxins from the body. Cloaca plays a vital role in the overall health and well-being of a red-eared slider.

Why Red-eared Sliders Spends So Much Time Underwater?

red-eared slider underwater

Red-eared sliders have an amazing ability to stay underwater for extended periods. But why do these turtles stay underwater for so much time? Here are a few reasons why a red-eared slider spends so much time underwater.

Aquatic Creatures

Red-eared sliders are aquatic creatures and naturally spend their whole lives near or under a water body. Your pet turtle is adapted to an aquatic lifestyle and thus can stay underwater for an exceptionally long duration. A red-eared slider is a slider subspecies, and its whole body is designed to allow them to swim and float underwater.

Water Provides Essential Needs

One of the major reasons for red-eared sliders to stay underwater is that they require water for many essential needs. Your pet slider will drink a lot of water while swimming to regulate its body temperature and helps maintain the health of its skin and shell. 

The red-eared slider also needs to spend so much time underwater to hunt food. These turtles are omnivorous by nature and eat a meat-based diet. Your pet turtles’ diet mostly consists of aquatic animals and plants such as small insects and fish. To acquire this food in their natural habitat, they need to spend extended periods submerged in water.

Protection and Security

Staying underwater for extended periods also provides protection and security to your red-eared slider. A red-eared slider is less vulnerable to predator attacks if they are submerged underwater.

They can swim away from the threat quickly and thus resort to staying underwater. This is an essential component of survival for young sliders as they are prone to be attacked by many birds and mammals.

5 Signs a Red-eared Slider Is Drowning

While red-eared sliders have an exceptional ability to stay underwater they can still drown. You should know when your pet turtle is drowning so you can retrieve them safely. Here are five signs that a red-eared slider is drowning.

Sign #1 – Lethargy and Weakness

Lethargy and weakness is the first visible sign that your red-eared slider is drowning. If your pet slider is feeling lethargic, it will have a problem keeping its head above water and will slowly start to drown. You should keep a note of their behavior when they are swimming underwater this will help provide any additional care to your pet whenever needed.

If you find your red-eared slider struggling to swim to the surface provide it with additional help. It is crucial to provide additional attention to your pet if they are struggling as it might prevent them from drowning.

Sign #2 – Gasping for Air

Red-eared sliders need to come above water to breathe air. If you find your pet struggling to breathe or reach the surface of the water, it might be drowning. Gasping for air is a common sign that your pet turtle is unable to breathe and requires immediate attention. A red-eared turtle will open their mouth widely and gasp for air, this is generally a sign that they are drowning.

Sign #3 – Not Eating or Basking

Red-eared sliders need to bask regularly to maintain their body temperature. They also need basking to dry off their shells which can prevent shell rot or shell peeling. If your pet turtle is not basking it might not have the energy to come to the surface of the water. This is a sign that they are drowning and need additional help.

Your pet slider will also stop eating as they are feeling weak and lethargic. If your pet turtle is facing a loss in appetite, you should monitor their behavior closely and make sure they are not drowning while swimming underwater.

Sign #4 – Sinking

Red-eared sliders are buoyant creatures and are not able to sink underwater. If your pet turtle is sinking at the bottom of the tank, it means that they are drowning. A red-eared slider can also sleep underwater, which is not a thing to be worried about. Sinking happens when your pet slider is struggling to come to the surface to breathe. Notice their behavior closely and provide immediate attention in case they are drowning.

Sign #5 – Abnormal Swimming Behavior

If a red-eared slider is beginning to drown it will have an abnormal swimming behavior. If your pet slider is struggling to come to shore, swimming lopsided, and not able to keep its head out of the water, it is a sign that they are drowning.

How to Set up a Red-Eared Sliders Enclosure So It Doesn’t Drown?

Red-eared sliders are aquatic creatures who spend most of their lives underwater. Many pet owners have concerns about drowning while setting up an enclosure for their turtles. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to set up a red-eared slider enclosure so it does not drown.

Step #1 – Choose the Right Size Tank

Red-eared sliders need a lot of space to swim around. You need to choose the right size of tank for your pet so it can live comfortably in its enclosure. For a single red-eared slider, a tank of 55 gallons should be enough for housing more pet turtles you will need a bigger tank.

Step #2 – Provide a Basking Area

red-eared sliders basking

Basking areas are important for a red-eared slider to dry off its shells and maintain its body temperature. Your pet turtles use natural sunlight for temperature regulation which is essential for their health. The basking area should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You can set up a basking area by piling a bunch of rocks above the water level. A basking platform can also be purchased so that your pet can rest comfortably.

Step #3 – Install a Water Filter

Red-eared sliders are messy animals, you will need to install a premium-quality water filter so the water does not get contaminated. Contaminated water can cause health issues for your turtle and should be avoided. Canister filters are recommended for a red-eared slider as they clean all the waste residue effectively.

Step #4 – Add Plants and Hiding Spots

Adding plants and hiding spots is essential for your red-eared sliders. Live plants help reduce water toxicity levels and provide a natural habitat for your pet turtle. Hiding spots also help your turtle relax and calm down if they are undergoing any stress.

Step #5 – Monitor the Water Level

You should always monitor the water level inside the tank, the water should be deep enough for your red-eared slider to swim in. It is also important to make sure that the water inside the enclosure is not deep enough that it can cause drowning. The water level should be two-thirds of the height of your pet slider.


Can a red-eared slider sleep underwater?

Yes, red-eared sliders can sleep underwater. You will see your pet sleep at the bottom of the tank or float on the surface of the water. A red-eared slider can do this by slowing its heart rate when resting or sleeping underwater.

How long can red-eared sliders stay underwater without breathing?

A red-eared slider can stay underwater for about 20-30 minutes. Although, the time spent submerged in water also depends on your pet’s age, size, and health.

Final Thoughts

Red-eared sliders have an exceptional ability to stay for long periods underwater. But it is important to look out for crucial signs if they are safe or drowning. In case they show any signs of drowning, provide them with immediate attention. You should also provide your pet slider with the right environment and enclosure size to prevent this from happening.

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