Name: Trachemys scripta elegans
Native Range: Red-eared sliders can be from in the Mississippi valley from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Tennessee and Cumberland river valleys from Kentucky and Virginia to Alabama.
Introduction: Beginning in the 1900s, red-eared sliders were captured in the wild for sale in markets and dime stores. Its small size and cheap price made it a popular pet, and by the 1950s, millions of these turtles were being farmed and shipped abroad as part of the pet trade.
It’s novel size and increased popularity following the release of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics (the main characters, it was revealed, were red-eared sliders), led many to purchase the turtles for their home aquariums. Unfortunately, some owners released the animals when they became too large or too much of a hassle, allowing them to expand into non-native territory. This practice is often viewed as a humane option over euthanasia. They remain the most popular aquatic turtle species for home aquarists.
The red eared-slider has greatly expanded throughout the United States, with the outer edges of its range now stretching west to New Mexico, east to Florida, north to New York, and south to Mexico. They can even even be found in small pockets in Europe and Asia.
Why are they harmful?: Red-eared sliders are well-poised to be effective invaders. They reach sexual maturity at a young age and have high fecundity. Red-eared sliders compete with native turtle species for food, habitat, and other resources. These turtles can get quite large (10-12”) and are notoriously aggressive, and can bully native turtles out of basking sites, a critical resource for these reptiles. Reduced access to these sites can slow growth and increase mortality of native turtles.
Additionally, turtles raised in captivity can develop diseases that are unfamiliar to wild turtles. Upon release, these red-eared sliders can introduce diseases that can seriously harm native populations.
Methods of control: Controlling red-eared sliders can be costly (and a pain in the ass). A number of states and countries have passed legislation to control the possession and release of red-eared sliders. Only two states have outright banned the sale of the animal.
Current management involves catching the turtles with baited traps and either sterilizing or euthanizing them, which although effective, is time and resource intensive. Other methods include hunting adults and collecting eggs and hatchlings.
Sources: Jenny Burger, GISD, columbia
Photo credit (cover photo): Syd Phillips