Do Red-Eared Sliders Bite? Be Careful In These 6 Situations!

Apr 27, 2021

do red-eared sliders bite

Red-eared sliders are one of the most loved turtle species in the United States. And it’s not just their striking look that makes them popular – their sharp mind and mild temperament also have parts to play. But today, let’s find out how aggressive they can be. 

Do Red-Eared Sliders Bite? 

Anything with a mouth can bite – and red-eared sliders are no different. Do red-eared sliders bite? Of course. A red-eared slider’s bite can be painful and even damaging to children’s fingers. However, note that they don’t bite without a strong reason. In most cases, a bite is the result of mishandling. 

By nature, red-eared slider turtles aren’t too aggressive towards humans. They’re docile, solitary beings that like to be left alone. Only when they feel threatened, they try to bite or nip as a form of self-defense.

So, if you think your turtle is being aggressive, it’s best to leave it alone to relax. Actions like petting and carrying in the laps will only result in escalated anger and hurt fingers. 

Here’s a short video of a Red-Eared Slider biting a person’s finger:

Usually, turtles are inclined to bite when they’re stressed about the change in the environment. As you know, red-eared sliders are creatures of habit, even the slightest change in their setting can stress them out. 

We’ll address all the reasons turtles bite down below, but first, let’s answer another important question, shall we?

Do Red-Eared Sliders Bite Each Other? 

Yes, red-eared sliders often bite each other. But once again, there are several underpinning reasons behind this. They don’t go around biting anyone just for the sake of it, nor are they inherently very aggressive species. Dispute over food, territorial aggression, dominance, and mating ritual are some common reasons behind red-eared sliders biting each other

But what about fellow reptiles and aquatic beings? 

Do Red-Eared Sliders Bite Other Animals?

Goldfish

When kept in the same environment, red-eared sliders will attempt to bite other creatures they deem prey or a threat. And in fact, they often succeed at it – causing a few casualties on the way. Smaller fishes will easily get eaten, while big ones may end up with torn fins and ruptured gills. 

As for reptiles like lizards and snakes, keeping them together with red-eared sliders is out of the question. They all pose a threat to each other. 

And when it comes to other house pets like cats and dogs, red-eared sliders will not attack as long as their area isn’t encroached, and they aren’t mishandled. 

Just make sure to teach your furry pets to respect the turtle’s boundary.

Now that the answers to do red-eared sliders bite humans, fellow turtles, and other creatures are all a big, fat yes, let’s dive into the reasons to understand this behavior a bit better.

But first, 

Do Red-Eared Sliders Have Teeth? 

The answer might startle you. Red-eared sliders don’t have teeth. Instead, what they have are pointy ridges. And these ridges have sharp groves on their upper and lower jaws. Red-eared sliders chew food with the help of these ridges and also use them for attacks. 

Interestingly, when born, red-eared sliders have a single tooth called the egg tooth, which helps new hatchlings break open their eggs. However, this tooth falls off within an hour of being born and never grows back. 

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Why Did My Red-Eared Slider Bite Me?

Red-eared sliders aren’t natural aggressors but will bite you if prompted. While mishandling is the number one reason behind the snap, other equally viable motives are protecting eggs, defending themselves, stress, hunger, and invasion.

Let’s decode them one by one. 

Mishandling 

These turtles instantly know when someone’s being mean to them. If you’re being gentle, they can be quite receptive to your affection. But suppose you’re carrying it uncomfortably, touching the head and mouth area invasively or messing with the shell. In that case, there’s a good chance that you’ll learn a mildly painful life lesson. 

Just because your red-eared slider has never bitten you, don’t be lulled into thinking it won’t ever. 

Putting Finger Near the Mouth

Okay, if you put your finger near the mouth, you’re simply asking to be bitten. Turtles don’t associate such gestures with affection. They think it’s an invasion and feel threatened immediately. Another reason they might bite is by mistaking your finger for food. Either way, just don’t poke your finger in the mouth area. 

Be extra careful if your turtle is in a new environment. In this case, the stress level is already high. Even if you’re handling gently or your turtle is receptive to affection, you may end up with a bruised finger. 

Feeling Threatened 

Red-eared sliders are quick to attack when they are feeling threatened, like any other being. The number one cause for this feeling is a change in the environment. Be extra mindful when you’re bringing it home for the first time. Also, take precautions if you’re changing the tank’s setup or performing water changes. 

And lastly, a crammed atmosphere can also cause your turtle to feel this way. 

Hunger 

Red-eared slider eating
Red-eared slider eating

Like us, turtles can also get angry on an empty stomach. So, if you’ve ruled out all of the above reasons for the relentless biting, sit back and evaluate if you’re feeding it enough. And don’t just rely on commercial pellets. Make an effort to include green and leafy vegetables in the diet. 

Juveniles should be fed once every day, but once your turtle reaches adulthood at the age of 7, you can tone it down to 4-5 times a week. 

Stress 

Although turtles aren’t capable of feeling and expressing a wide range of emotions, they can easily get stressed. The stress can stem from several reasons like hunger, territorial aggression, mishandling, or mating frustration. But either way, leave your turtle alone when stressed.

Retracting, hissing, and panting are some obvious signs of tension. So, also make sure to look for subtle ones like lethargy and lack of appetite. 

Stress may seem temporary, but it can have a long-term impact on your turtle’s wellbeing. Don’t forget to get to the bottom of it and address the reason.

Protecting Eggs And Hatchlings 

When compared to sea turtles, red-eared sliders are a bit more defensive about their eggs and hatchlings. So if you try to offer unsolicited love to the little babies, you’re in for a nasty surprise. If the mother turtle is uncomfortable with your presence, she’ll first hiss and pant to tell you to go away. 

If you still persist and meddle with the young ones, she’ll be forced to attack you. Not her fault at all.

Why Do Red-Eared Sliders Bite Other Turtles?

Aggression among turtles is normal. So if you are keeping yours with another turtle, a faceoff once in a while is inevitable. The most common reason behind this is a dispute about the territory and a quest to establish dominance. Other likely possibilities are limited basking spots and mating frustration. 

I’ve explained all pointers in detail below:

Small Space 

A red-eared slider can grow up to 12 inches. Thus, the recommended tank size is 75 to 125 gallons. If you’re keeping your one more turtle in the same tank, I’ll recommend choosing from the bigger spectrum. Turtles are instinctively territorial beings – and lack of space can cause some serious anger issues. 

Limited Basking Space 

Red-eared sliders need to bask anywhere between 2 to 8 hours every day, depending on the temperature. So when they don’t have ample basking space, they’re bound to get angry. To avoid aggressive encounters, you need to ensure two separate basking stations for both turtles – preferably at opposing sides of the tanks.

A basking ramp like this from Zilla is affordable and super handy. I especially love its natural look that seamlessly blends with a turtle’s habitat.

Mating Frustration 

A problem that transcends all 8.7 million species in the natural world – mating frustration. When two males compete over a female turtle’s attention, there’ll naturally be a tense environment in the tank for all parties involved. Likewise, males will be hostile towards females when attempting to mate. 

The first reason can cause serious biting and injuries, whereas snaps to woo females are often harmless. 

However, if your female turtle isn’t interested, the situation may get pretty hostile here as well. 

If there’s a properly established hierarchy in place, the tension around mating season can somewhat ease off. 

Quest For Dominance 

A hierarchical dominance system established through fighting is not uncommon in red-eared slider turtles. Thus, if you’re housing more than one turtle in the same tank, there’ll be plenty of fights before a hierarchy is established. 

That being said, if you don’t have previous experience, I’d suggest not to house two males together. The aggression may never subside. 

On the other hand, two female turtles can go on and live with each other without much drama. 

How to Stop Your Red-Eared Slider Turtle from Being Aggressive? 

Red-eared sliders are incredibly stubborn creatures – but they can also learn from past experiences. That’s why it’s not entirely impossible to train and spark behavioral changes. However, this will require a ton of patience.

Meanwhile, you can apply tips like appropriate spacing, feeding in different areas, and creating female-heavy habitats to stop your red-eared slider from being aggressive. 

Let’s analyze all points clearly. 

Enough Spacing

Whether your red-eared slider lives alone or in a solitary tank, it needs plenty of space to move around comfortably. The rule of thumb is 10 gallons for an inch. And these turtles can grow up to 12 inches. So, do the math. When there’s ample space to move around and explore, your turtle will feel relaxed and secure. 

Turtles take around 5-8 years to grow to their full potential. So, if you’re getting a small tank for juveniles, you might have to upgrade the tank when they grow old.

Here’s one from my wish list – 120-gallon beauty by SC Aquariums. 

If you think the price tag is too hefty, you can opt to go for two separate, smaller tanks. But unfortunately, that again means double the number of equipment, time, and effort. 

Also, if you have a pond, it’s easier to get carried away and get multiple turtles. But if the overpopulation problem kicks in, it’s super difficult and costly to upgrade the pond. So, be careful when deciding. 

Create Female-Heavy Habitat 

Whether it’s reptiles, fishes, or mammals, a female-heavy habitat is usually more peaceful. So, if you’re facing an aggression problem in your tank, creating such a habitat might do the trick. While male turtles love to fight over everything, females won’t be agitated as long as the living conditions are right.

If the male-to-female ratio is high, that’s also going to cause problems in the tank. So, in the end, creating a female-heavy habitat is your best bet. 

Feed In Different Areas 

Feeding in separate areas is a fool-proof trick for all species and works wonders for red-eared sliders. Fighting over food and resources is the number one cause behind turtle fights. So, feed in separate, designated areas that are preferably at the opposite ends of the tank. 

If this trick doesn’t work, try giving food at different times. Pick a time when another turtle is swimming, resting, or distracted. But this tip is quite complex to apply and can backfire pretty bad. 

My advice is to stick to feeding in different areas at the same time. 

Overpopulation 

The overpopulation problem in the tank won’t just cause fights over territory but resources, mating, living conditions, offspring, and so much more. We have already discussed other difficulties of a crammed tank above but let’s not forget that an overly populated tank is also prone to getting polluted easily. And when the environment is dirty, it’ll cause unsolicited stress and fights. 

And as baby turtles grow into juveniles and adults, they’ll be able to defend themselves, which in turn will again fuel more aggression. 

Place A Divider In The Tank

Placing a temporary divider when the turtles are showing aggression is another effective tip to calm them down. Dividers can be used for many purposes like basking, feeding, and even resting if your turtles have a hard time getting along.

Here’s a 120-gallon tank divider by Toyuto. I love this divider because it’s transparent and allows up to 92% light transmission. 

What To Do When A Red-Eared Slider Turtle Bites You?

If you get bitten by a red-eared slider turtle, don’t put it back in its tank immediately. That way, it’ll think that it was being rewarded for biting you. Instead, keep it in another enclosed space from where it is impossible to escape.

Since turtles don’t like change in the environment, it’ll associate biting with an unpleasant experience and hopefully doesn’t repeat again. 

Next, immediately wash the bitten area with soap and lukewarm water. Although stingy, placing the wound beneath running water will help to effectively flush out the wound. Don’t try to put hydrogen peroxide or any other treatment in the skin if you’re not too sure about it. 

This might help kill the germs but may also worsen the impact in the process. 

Instead, opt for an antibiotic and cover the wound with a bandage. 

Although painful, bite marks from red-eared sliders are seldom harmful. So most probably, you won’t need stitches. 

However, if the cut’s about ¼” deeper or continues to bleed even after applying pressure for about 15 minutes, you might want to go to the doctor asap. 

With animal bites, there’s always a heightened chance of infections. You will need to be extra careful with wound handling until it’s completely healed. 

If your wound is looking yellow/bluish or producing a yellowish, stinky discharge, that’s a red flag. Call up your doctor immediately. A fever is also concerning – so seek professional advice in that case as well. 

Can I Get An Infection From Red-Eared Slider’s Bite?

Like we said above, the bite marks are usually not deep. So if there’s no blood oozing out, there’s not much to worry about. However, if there’s blood, or even worse, your flesh is showing, this might be concerning. 

But like all turtles, these sliders are vulnerable to Salmonella. And it can be dangerous when transmitted to a human. The risks are even more heightened for young children and people with underlying illnesses. 

So, in that case, it’s better to get your turtle tested for Salmonella. If the results come out positive, necessary steps should be taken for both you and your pet. 

If you’re confused about what Salmonella is, it’s actually an infection-causing bacteria that trigger diarrhea, fevers, and sharp stomach pains. 

Salmonella’s symptoms are subtle, and turtles aren’t too expressive. Thus, the only way to know if your pet has Salmonella is to get it tested.

Before we go, here’s some important information you don’t want to miss. 

How To Handle Red-Eared Sliders?

By now, I hope it’s crystal clear that right handling is the key to keep the turtle’s aggression in check and prevent possible bites. So, what’s the right way to handle it?

When picking your red-eared slider, always make sure to scoop it from below with your palm. Never grab from the top, as it will startle and prompt them to bite in self-defense. 

Next, gently grasp the shell with both hands while giving support to both the body and legs. 

In an attempt to be gentle, be careful that the grip isn’t too fickle. This increases the chance of your turtle falling to the ground and sustaining serious injuries. 

As for petting, they do not really entertain physical touches. That’s just something you have to make peace with and learn to respect their boundaries. Petting around the head and mouth area will cause even more stress – so refrain from doing so. 

Also, do not keep your tank in a noisy area or the one that receives a lot of football. Constant noise and foreign presence will make this solitary animal anxious and aggressive. 

And anxiety and aggression aren’t just temperamental issues. In the long run, it can cause your turtle serious health problems. 

If you have cats and dogs in the house, don’t forget to teach them the turtle’s boundary from the beginning. These furry pets are curious by nature and might enjoy watching the turtle’s movement in the tank. 

And while this may seem like an amusing sight, the turtle will certainly be under a lot of pressure. 

It’s also super wise to choose a closed top tank if you have other curious pets in the house.

The same applies if you have young kids at home. If your turtle bites a young child’s finger, his/her delicate fingers might sustain some serious injuries. 

And lastly, always make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the tortoise. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to ensure that germs are effectively killed. 

At times when hand washing isn’t possible, use a reliable sanitizer. 

Conclusion On Do Red-Eared Sliders Bite 

This was quite a long article, wasn’t it? But I wanted to make sure that you know everything there’s to know about a red-eared slider’s temperament. 

To put it briefly, yes, red-eared sliders bite. They can bite humans, fellow turtles, and other tank mates. 

However, they never bite anyone or anything for the sake of it. These turtles are not the friendliest bunch in the town, but they’re not the meanest as well. 

Red-eared sliders only bite when they feel threatened and want to defend themselves. 

The most common reasons behind biting are mishandling, stress, hunger, discomfort, and egg protection when it comes to humans. 

However, when it comes to fellow turtles, the reasons for biting get a bit more complicated. 

For instance, the motives here can range from territorial aggression and dominance to mating frustration and basking competition. Thus, in this case, you need to guarantee ample space for all parties or involved or consider keeping them in separate tanks. 

Some effective tips to curb aggression and biting habits among red-eared sliders are offering appropriate space, creating a female-heavy habitat, adding a divider, and feeding in different areas. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.