Turtles are infesting urban parks. They were not invited, yet they found their way. The red-eared slider is located primarily in the Great Lakes Basin, although they are not native to it. According to the IUCN, the red-eared slider is one of the world’s hundred worst invasive species. While it inhabits much of the Upper Midwest—primarily Michigan— it has been making its way into an ever-increasing number of territories. These turtles now live in nearly every U.S. state. The cause of the invasive species in local parks has been due to their release by pet owners. After pet owners discover that the reptile may live up to 50 years, which would require a high level of maintenance, they release them into the wild, an act that is neither fair to the animals nor the ecosystems they come to inhabit.
New York City parks lie at the epicenter of this epidemic. According to National Geographic, the turtles are “wreaking havoc” on these urban green spaces. They draw attention as they are marked with brilliant red on their heads that look like ears. Many of them hide under the water in city parks. The turtle’s presence in a city park can create algal blooms, which is harmful to waterways. Furthermore, the turtles are exposing humans to salmonella. National Geographic has reported tens of thousands of verified red-eared slider observations in almost every U.S. residential and urban region over the past ten years. Michigan State University reported the effects that the species has on the environment in an article named, “Is Your Pet Invasive?”
“The red slider turtle is the most globally traded turtle in the pet industry today. They are now considered a non-native invasive species in more than 22 states and several countries. It is estimated that more that 52 million individuals were produced in the United States on turtle farms and sold to foreign markets between 1989 and 1997. According to the Global Invasive Species Database, ‘Their omnivorous diet and ability to adapt to various habitats, gives them great potential for impacting indigenous habitats.’”
In New York City, it is easy for this species to survive, due to their hardy coping mechanisms. These turtles have the ability to slow down their metabolism when they need to—especially when resources are scarce—meaning that they can live months without food. While the red-eared sliders survive and expand their habitat, native turtles are being pushed out. There is now competition for food and space amongst these turtles living in the urban parks. Due to the saturation caused by the red-eared slider in the pet market, rescue and conservation groups are unable to continue taking in this species. According to the University of Notre Dame, authors Michael J. Spear, Ashley K. Elgin, and Erin K. Grey wrote in an article covering the Red-eared turtles that, “Invasive species cost the United States approximately $120 billion annually and are the second largest threat to endangered species.” While the risk of damaging ecosystems inflates with the habitat of the invasive species, humans must be on the offense to educate pet-owners in the release of their exotic animals. Even if the turtle lives for fifty years, it does not mean it should be released, incidentally punishing the ecosystem that benefits the pre-inhabiting living organisms.
Although New York city’s urban ecosystem is feeling the hit of the red-eared slider, Michigan is a leading region for the turtle’s habitation. The cause of this is apparent and needs to be stopped. The release of these reptiles cause harm to our waterways and potentially our well-being. If you own an exotic animal—whether in college or at home—think twice before releasing it. The world could pay for your decision. The consequences may feel small in the moment, but they contribute greatly to the operation of creation.
Edited by Emma DesLauriers-Knop