We’re being invaded by turtles

Red-eared slider turtles, non-natives in Michigan, are turning up in more and more wetlands, especially those close to urban areas. (Photo by Mike Schoonveld)

Other than opossums, which are born naked and ugly, then grow hair and remain ugly, most baby critters are born cute, adorable, and continue to be cute – even turtles. Pet stores sell baby turtles by the thousands.

What happens next isn’t so adorable. When the turtles grow older, turtle owners tend to tire of the responsibility they assumed when they took the little silver-dollar sized creature into their home. The turtles become less cute and noticeably more smelly.

Unlike a hamster which solves the outliving it’s welcome-to-our-home problem by dying of old age after a few years, turtles don’t. They’ll easily live 50 years and some can live twice that long.

Too often, the solution is to take the pet to the nearest wetland and wish him or her luck in it’s new life in the wild. Many species won’t survive in Michigan’s wilds but one species, the red-eared slider, has proven to be quite adaptable, according to Ashley Elgin, a researcher with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Red-eared sliders – common to the south-central United States, less common to Illinois and Indiana, and probably not common at all to Michigan are easily reared in captivity and are cultivated on farms specifically for the pet store trade. Dozens of countries around the world have banned their import due to their ability to thrive in foreign habitats to the detriment of native turtles in particular and the environment in general.

According to Elgin, the sliders became an ultra-popular pet dating back to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which started in comic book form in the 1980s, became a cartoon show in the 1990s, and hit the big screen with live actors in 2014. The first turtle pets sold to a Ninja Turtle fans back in the 1980s are still alive and kicking – somewhere.

Elgin’s turtle studies turn up far more red-eared sliders in wetlands close to urban areas than in the wild. No doubt, these non-indigenous turtles in Michigan wetlands are the result of pets unadvisedly and illegally released.

Too bad the comic book didn’t start off with Teenage Mutant Hamsters.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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