Red-eared sliders are beautiful and colorful semi-aquatic turtles to keep in your tank. The adult sliders can reach between 7 and 12 inches in diameter. Therefore, the turtle can bite, and the bite will be painful. The bite can be particularly damaging to kids with little fingers. However, red-eared slider turtles don’t just bite for fun.
The red-eared slider turtles will not bite you if you pose no harm or handle it correctly. Avoid grabbing the turtle by the head or the legs because the discomfort can trigger their aggression. The correct way to carry a red-eared slider turtle is by placing your thumb on the carapace and the rest of your fingers below the plastron.
A red-eared slider bite is painful and can expose you to severe infections like salmonella. Although they host the salmonella bacteria, the turtles don’t get sick. However, the disease can cause diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain. I’ve discussed the dangers of the red-eared slider turtle bite and when it can bite you below.
Can a red-eared slider turtle bite?
You probably already know that turtles don’t have teeth. However, that does not mean they will not bite you. The turtle’s upper and lower jaw has serrated ridges, which they use to tear food.
Besides, the red-eared slider mouth is large enough to accommodate a bite. Therefore, the turtle will not hesitate to bite you if you mishandle and cause it some pain.
It is important to note that red-eared sliders are not aggressive turtles. Therefore, they will not bite you just for the sake of it.
The turtles are savvy and usually associate their owner with food and safety. Red-eared turtles will learn your scent, behavior, and sound and can even eat their food on your palms. But don’t scare or play excessively with the turtles.
Its sharp claws can inflict significant cuts and scratches on your hands if it doesn’t bite you. Although you can cut the turtle’s long nails to escape the bruises, you might not avoid a bite.
It is also worth noting that red-eared slider turtles can become aggressive if you keep many of them in a small space. The stressful environment can make them turn their heads to your hands whenever you want to grab them.
The minimum tank size for red-eared sliders is 50 gallons; for any additional turtle inch, add 10 gallons of water. Giving the turtles adequate space will lower their aggression and make them friendly.
Dangers of the bite
The bite of a red-eared slider turtle can be mild or severe. Nevertheless, there are some dangers of the bite that you should know.
Here are some of the dangers of a red-eared slider bite:
The most obvious danger in a turtle bite is pain. Although the pain can be intense, the bite is not poisonous. However, children with tiny fingers can experience significant damage from the turtle bite. Sometimes the bite can result in a wound.
Do not allow untrained children and kids under five to play or touch your red-eared turtles. The turtle will bite them. Unlike an adult who can hold the pain, a child will cry profusely.
Scars and scratches
A red-eared turtle has serrated ridges on its upper and lower jaw. They use tooth-like structures to chew and eat. But the turtles also use the jagged ridges as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened.
Avoid a lot of hand movements when you are going to hold, carry, or touch your red-eared slider. Keep calm. Otherwise, the turtle may interpret it as aggression and bite you. The tooth-like structures can tear your skin’s epidermis, resulting in a scar or a scratch.
Red-eared turtles carry salmonella bacteria, but the salmonella does not infect them. In other words, they host the salmonella bacteria.
A turtle bite that leaves you with scratch marks and scars may introduce the bacteria into your bloodstream and result in diarrhea, fever, and stomach pains.
Therefore, first aid is essential if a red-eared slider bites you. Use painkillers to manage the pain, and disinfect the wound with alcohol-based liquids to kill any salmonella bacteria on your hands.
Also, the CDC advises turtle keepers to clean and disinfect any surface their turtle walks through. Additionally, avoid touching your eyes and mouth immediately after carrying your red-eared turtle.
Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and a bar of antibacterial soap to eliminate the harmful bacteria from your body. Apply an antiseptic cream to the bite area to prevent further infections.
When can a red-eared slider bite you?
Here are some instances when a red-eared slider can bite you:
Mishandling your turtle is the primary reason for bites in red-eared sliders. Avoid grabbing a red-eared slider turtle by the head, legs, or tail.
That can be stressful and very uncomfortable for the turtle. Instead, carry the red-eared slider gently by placing your thumb on the carapace and your other fingers on the plastron.
When the turtle is hurt
Red-eared turtles also have pain receptors. They can get hurt from mishandling, falls, fights with each other, or shell rot. The pain can alter the red-eared slider’s temperament and make it more aggressive.
The turtle will think you want to add more pain to what it is already feeling. In that case, red-eared turtles will bite you.
If the turtle is scared
Turtles are usually scared if they still don’t know much about their owner. As I explained earlier, don’t approach your red-eared turtles while swinging your hands relentlessly. Keep your hands calm. Otherwise, a scared turtle will retreat inside its shell and not come out.
Forcing the turtle out of its shell would only add to the stress. If the turtle decides to get out from the cover while still scared, it will bite you to keep you off. Hold a green leafy vegetable a few inches from the frightened turtle’s head and be patient until it comes out without coercion.
Playing with the red-eared turtle
Although red-eared turtles are not aggressive, they are also not affectionate. Unlike most pets, the turtles don’t like it when you pick them up, stroke, or cuddle them. They will lose interest quickly and come out of their shell to walk away.
But it will bite you if you insist on playing with the red-eared turtle against its wishes. If you have small children in the house, instruct them not to play with the turtles. Not only will the red-eared turtle bite the playful child, but the child may also get infected with salmonella.
A starving red-eared slider
Red-eared slider turtles can last several days or months without food. However, you don’t need to starve the turtles if you are not going on a holiday. If you are around your red-eared sliders, feed the adults once or twice a week and feed the young ones once every one or two days.
Leaving the red-eared slider turtles without food for more than one or two months can change their temperament. When the turtle sees you, they expect food. Therefore, if you continually handle the turtle but it’s starving, it will retaliate with a bite.
What happens if a turtle bit you?
A lot of things can happen if a turtle bites you.
1. You can feel intense pain
2. The bite can open your blood vessels and cause excessive bleeding
3. The wound can be infected with the harmful salmonella bacteria, which can result in diarrhea, fever, and stomach problems
If your red-eared slider bites you:
- Rinse the wound with clean, warm running water for three to five minutes
- Wash the area with an antibacterial soap
- Apply an antiseptic cream on the bitten area
- Cover the area with a bandage
- Seek medical assistance if the wound is severe
- Green, N. (2022). Red-eared slider turtle – High risk. Invasive Animals Ltd. Technology.
- Tortoise Trust. (2022). The Myth of the Red-eared slider threat