Why Is My Red Eared Slider Digging?

Why Is My Red Eared Slider Digging

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you watch your red eared slider in the tank you may occasionally see it digging the ground or gravels in the tank. It is an ordinary behavior of the turtle. They do this even when they dwell in nature. There are certain reasons for the red eared slider to behave this way.

So, why is my red eared slider digging? Turtles dig the gravels in the tank to deposit their eggs. It can indicate that the turtle has already laid eggs or is going to in the near future. It can also mean other significant things such as it is searching for food or trying to hide from something or from its surroundings.   

Red eared sliders, like other reptiles, lay eggs in order to reproduce. Like others, they have the tendency to make sure their eggs get their perfect atmosphere. So they make comfortable adjustment in the tank to place the egg.

In the midst of gravels, the egg remains safe and comfortable. That’s why red eared slider digs. But there are certain other reasons for the red eared slider to do this. In this article, you will find out about the various reasons for its digging habit and how you can help it when it’s needed.

Just for your relief, you must know that you have absolutely nothing to be worried about. You may think of it to be the effect of something detrimental. Some aquatic and semi-aquatic animals dig the ground to hide from danger or to protect themselves from their harmful environment. But it’s not always the case.

Why Is My Red Eared Slider Digging?

In nature, red eared slider digs the ground as they do in a tank. It’s a basic characteristic of theirs. If you notice your red eared slider closely, you will see it occasionally digging the ground or the gravels you laid in the tank.

With their tiny hind legs, they will slowly remove the gravels or the ground to make a small hole. There are certain reasons for them to do so. But none of them is detrimental for the turtle. So you don’t have to worry. (Though in certain cases you may have to take some small measures)

So let’s find out the in-depth motive for this behavior of your red eared slider:

To Lay Eggs:

This is the most plausible answer to this question. Most reptiles make room for their egg amidst the ground. Red eared sliders are no exception. Your red eared slider is digging probably because she wants to preserve her eggs.

If the eggs are above the ground then it is more exposed to the environment. Any slight hit could break its shell or cause damage to the egg. So they keep the eggs surrounded by gravels or grounds so as to protect it.

Red eared sliders will lay their eggs and keep them there till the eggs hatch. So, if you see your red eared slider digging the ground it can mean that your turtle is going to have babies.

Red eared sliders, like other semi-aquatic animals, lay eggs once or twice a year. Depending on the turtle’s weight and age, a red eared slider can lay between 2 to 30 eggs. They keep the eggs surrounded by ground and it usually takes about 59 to 112 days for incubation.

Interesting fact: Red eared sliders don’t need males to reproduce. Talk about self-sufficiency!

As you have already assumed, the eggs need care and the hatchlings born will require much more attention. If you see your turtle excavating the ground then it’s safer to take some measures to ensure the safety of hatchlings. (Though the healthy hatchlings will survive even without your help, it’s better to take some preparation)

What can you do?

  1. As your red eared slider will hatch in the tank, make sure the water is completely fine. The ph level of the water must be between 7.4 to 7.8 and not more or less. If the ph level of the water is not maintained then it will cause damage to both the turtle and the eggs. A higher ph level can cause the eggshell to decay. So keep the ph on the recommended level.
  2. Maintain the water temperature. Strange enough, the gender of the turtle depends on the water temperature of its surroundings. If the water temperature is below 27 degrees Celsius then the hatchlings will be male. But if the temperature is more than 31 degrees Celsius then the babies are most likely to be female. So adjust the water temperature the way you want it to be
  3. Keep the basking light on. Pregnant red eared sliders tend to bask more.
  4. Keep the tank and basking area clean.

These may seem like small steps but it can greatly impact the eggs. The eggs will remain healthier this way.

Only digging is not enough evidence to be sure about its pregnancy. But if you see your red eared slider digging you should keep yourself ready. Doing these things won’t harm the turtle even if it doesn’t lay any eggs. These are the things that you should do to keep the turtle’s inhabitant as healthy as possible.

 To Eat The Rocks:

Red eared sliders are lithophagy, which means they try to eat rocks. It is observed in many species but never fully understood why they behave this way.

If you see your red eared slider digging, it can mean that they are actually eating the gravels. There are hypotheses about turtle eating gravels.

It is thought to aid them in their digestion. The calcium of the rock can be useful to them. Or the turtle can eat the gravels mistaking them for food.

But these are very poor assumptions. The best thing to do is to stop your turtle from eating the rocks. Small grain size rocks can easily pass through the turtle’s throat but larger ones won’t. So even if there are benefits of eating gravels, stop your turtle from doing it. Otherwise, it can choke to death.

Notice your turtle when it digs and observe closely if it’s taking rocks in its mouth. If it does, then stop your turtle immediately by taking it out of the tank. But it’s not always possible for you to watch the turtle. So you have to make sure the gravels in the tank are totally clean. Because, for your turtle, what’s worst than eating gravels is eating filthy ones.

To Search For Food:

When was the last time you fed your red eared slider?

Red eared sliders mostly survive on aquatic vegetation. Though the young turtles are carnivorous, they grow up to be omnivorous. They don’t eat quite frequently. An adult red eared slider eats once every 2 or 3 days. But some people feed it in small portions every day.

You can follow either of the routines. But if you don’t maintain your routine of feeding, the turtle then it will surely become hungry. It will become impatient and swim aimlessly in the tank. Its desperation will lead it to search for food among the gravels.

Your red eared slider will start digging the ground in search of food if you don’t feed it properly. It can even cause the turtle to eat gravels and you already know by now that this habit can lead to death.

So next time you see your red eared slider digging the ground make sure you have fed it properly.

Out Of Boredom:

Your red eared slider probably lives in a tank. You may have decorated it with plants and gravels. But whatever you do it can bore your turtle. If the turtle doesn’t have anything to do then it digs the ground to fight off the boredom.

If your red eared sliders have been living in the same habitat for most of its life then this is very likely to happen. You don’t want your turtle to be bored. So when you see your red eared slider digging and you assume that it’s digging out of boredom you can start helping it by increasing the diversity in the tank.

Rearrange the objects that are already in the tank. You can also add some more plants or accessories. This will increase the activity of the turtle as it will explore its new environment.

To Protect Itself:

If you see your red eared slider digging you may later see it among the ground or gravel it dug earlier. Though it’s not that common it can happen.

The turtle may dig the gravel or ground to hide under it. The environment may compel it to do so. If you keep multiple turtles or other aquatic animals in the same tank as your red eared slider, then it can cause a bit of chaos.

If the red eared slider is bullied by another turtle or scared by another animal then it can attempt to hide by digging the ground.

If you suspect this then you should watch out for the other animal’s behavior. And if this indeed is the case you can place the victim turtle separately from the others only for a few days. This will not cause any damage to the turtle if it’s in a safe place.


A red eared slider is beautiful in its appearance and behavior. They are very social and organized beings. Their nature is a bit complicated yet very simple.

Taking care of a living being is not easy. You have to keep an eye on them to ensure that they are well. So keep an eye on your red eared slider. If you see your turtle digging try to connect their behavior with the above-mentioned points.

Take the necessary steps if needed. After all, it is you on whom your red eared slider’s life depends.



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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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