Red Eared Invaders

Don’t get us wrong, we love red eared sliders. These friendly southeastern U.S. natives make wonderful pets. But red eared sliders are also one of the most invasive species on Earth, and people are at fault.

Because they are hardy and easy to breed, red eared sliders are the most popular turtle in the pet trade. They can be found everywhere from pet stores to flea markets. Sliders are often sold as quarter-sized babies in tiny plastic tanks. The problem is they don’t stay small.

large female red eared slider turtle sitting on basking dock

Big Mama came from the wild in 2019 after being hit by a car. Her shell is 11.5 inches long. She lives in a 150 gallon tank.

Male red eared sliders can reach six inches in shell length. The recommended minimum aquarium size for turtles is ten gallons per one inch of shell, so an adult male slider should have a 60-gallon aquarium. While the little plastic tank was doable, many people lack funds, space, or sufficient interest to properly house a turtle.

And that is just the males. What happens if that baby turtle turns out to be a female, who might grow to resemble half a basketball?

What happens, all too often, is people decide their growing pet turtles should be “free,” and release them into ponds and rivers. There, the sliders who survive (and many do – remember we said they were hardy turtles) take over. All it takes is one male in the mix, as a male may mate with many females, and suddenly there are hundreds of baby sliders. Red eared sliders are aggressive and can outcompete native turtles, like our painted turtles, for food and territory. Sliders also introduce disease into the native turtle populations. Outside of their native range, sliders are known to contribute to the decline of local species.

Thanks to the pet trade, red eared sliders have invaded almost every U.S. state and parts of Canada. They are also exported and are now found in ponds in Europe, Africa, and Asia. And everywhere sliders go, other turtles are in danger.

Keeping red eared sliders out of our native turtle habitats is part of Dancing Turtle’s mission. We take in sliders, recovered from the wild or surrendered, to rehome them or, in the case of the big females, to provide a safe place for them to live out their lives. A long-term goal is a pond enclosed by a fence just for our female sliders.

If you are interested in keeping a turtle pet, please visit our adoption page for a care sheet and to meet our adoptable red eared sliders.

Meet Grace, Rescue Turtle Ambassador

Grace arrived at Dancing Turtle Rescue just as the calendar was flipping to 2021 with Frankie, a yellow-bellied slider, and Leaf, an Asian leaf turtle. Grace is a Florida cooter, and all three turtles were being kept in crowded housing by caring folks who were unable to better provide for them. Many of our pet rescue turtles come with sad stories. Grace was one of those.

Grace and Frankie were sharing a small tank without much room to move, and Frankie became aggressive and bit Grace’s shell, which broke off the sections of shell above her back legs. When we took her in, that part of her shell was raw and bleeding.

rescue ambassador large cooter turtle sitting on pile of rocks back leg stretched out as if practicing yoga

Grace stretching into a yoga pose

We separated the turtles and placed Grace in a dry tub to keep the injured shell out of water while we treated it. Grace, we guess because of the trauma of being trapped with Frankie, panicked in the tub and struggled to escape. She only remained calm when she was on the floor, so we laid down a towel and clipped a heat lamp above it. Grace slept and basked on the towel, climbed into a low pan of water to eat and hydrate, and spent the rest of the day exploring our house. We often found her sharing a sunbeam with one of our cats, napping on the dog bed, or hiding under furniture.

When she isn’t caring for turtles, Debbie teaches yoga classes online. Her virtual studio is in the room where Grace’s towel and, later, her custom escapable tub are. While she sometimes joins Debbie on her mat, most often Grace is just off camera, “practicing” along with the class under her basking lamp.

Grace is very friendly and willing to have her shell and feet touched, which makes her an excellent ambassador for the rescue turtles. Her shell is healing but will probably never grow back completely, but we love her as she is. Grace will be staying with us.

We have many other turtles who are ready to be adopted. Please visit our rescue page and meet some.