Our Cypress Swamp exhibit is home to 4 species of turtles that we collectively call “pond turtles”. Though they all have their unique characteristics and behaviors, one species in particular is immediately recognizable to many guests: the Red-Eared Slider. Extremely well founded and popular in the pet trade, virtually everyone has seen this turtle in zoos, aquariums, and even pet stores across the country.
A red stripe running alongside the head gives the Red-Eared Slider its name and is quickly recognized by reptile enthusiasts. This slider is a large species of semi-aquatic turtle that feeds on vegetation, insects, worms, fish and snails and it can be an aggressive hunter. Though not a snapping turtle, it has a serrated beak that can deliver a nasty bite if provoked. Because they are relatively easy to maintain, Red-Eared Sliders have been popular in the pet trade for decades, and today they are the most commonly traded turtles in the world.
Red-Eared Sliders are very common in our local waterways, and you can typically find them basking on logs in lakes and ponds. Despite their strong, healthy population, there is a major problem: they are not supposed to be here. These turtles are native to the Southern US and Central America and, thanks to the pet trade, have become an invasive species in Virginia. After they became popular as pets, many well meaning pet owners released their sliders, something that is both detrimental to native wildlife and illegal, and today these turtles are out-competing many of our native species. Just like the infamous pythons in the everglades, this invasive turtle could spell disaster for some of Virginia’s species. But it’s not just Virginia that’s threatened; these turtles have invaded every continent except Antarctica, and are banned in many countries around the globe. The IUCN even included these pesky turtles on their “List of the World’s 100 Most Invasive Species”, a list that includes the Burmese Python and Cane Toad.
Though Red-Eared Sliders are amazing animals, they do not have a place in our environment. Research should always be done before adopting any animal; turtles in particular can live an exceedingly long time, and require more care and maintenance than most people realize. Because of this, many owners eventually get tired of their pets and wish to “free” them. No turtles (no animals in general) should ever be released into the ecosystem. Captive animals can carry a number of diseases that can decimate wild populations. Unfortunately, the Red-Eared Slider is here to stay, thanks to the actions of humans. So when you’re observing our Red-Eared Slider in our swamp habitarium, just remember how much their species has impacted life in our own backyard.
Did you know?
In a series of comics, Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the iconic Ninja Turtles were actually revealed to be mutated Red-Eared Sliders. After this revelation, sales of Red-Eared Sliders sky rocketed, particularly in Great Britain. The trade increased yet again in 2014 when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was released to theaters.