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The Myth of the Red-eared slider threat

Several newspapers have published highly sensationalised, emotional articles referring to the “Terrapin Terror” (Daily Mail,), and “Terrapins strike terror into Sheepwash Pond” (Edgware & Mill Hill Times)

These articles include a range of extraordinary claims:

  •    “A water bird paddles across a pond… unaware that a killer is about to make a meal of it”
  •  “Poised to strike if it gets the chance” (picture of Red-eared slider basking and nearby duck) – Daily Mail
  • “The bite of larger adults is so powerful it can crush bone”
The True Facts

Adult Red-eared slider turtles (Chrysemys scripta elegans) are predominantly herbivorous. Approximately 90% of their diet consists on aquatic vegetation and filamentous algae. The remainder of their diet is comprised of insect larvae, insects, (small) fish, aquatic snails, small amphibians and carrion. They do not  attack live birds. This behaviour is completely unknown in this species and has never been recorded anywhere in the vast scientific literature available on the feeding habits of the Red-eared slider turtle.

The Tortoise Trust is happy to produce numerous detailed scientific citations detailing the diet and behaviour of this species that prove conclusively, beyond any doubt at all, that Red-eared sliders do not attack live water birds and that any such allegations are totally without scientific foundation.

We would also point out that a Red-eared slider is physically incapable of killing a duck or even a large fish. It is, in our expert opinion, impossible. This behaviour is, however, commonly associated with a totally different species of North American turtle, the Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina).

Red-eared sliders are water-feeders. They feed while submerged. They do not “strike”. They drift gently up to their food item, and take the item with a very slow, delicate movement, rather like a goldfish feeding. They do not attack with anything that could be described as a “sudden strike”: that description fits the behaviour of a Snapping turtle, or much more likely, a large Pike.

If ducklings were taken, it was not by the turtles suggested in these articles.

The most likely culprit would be a pike. If a turtle of any kind was involved (and their seems to be no reliable evidence for this) it would not be the Red-eared slider but instead a Snapping turtle. These have been imported into the UK, but in relatively limited numbers compared to the Red-eared slider turtle.

The claim that a child would be in danger of being injured by a Red-eared slider is also grossly misleading. These turtles only bite if mis-handled and provoked, and their biting ability is very limited. They will not approach a human in the water. Even when handled, their normal reaction is to retreat into their shells.  We find it hard to imagine how any serious injury could be caused, and the suggestion that this species would “make a meal” of “tasty little fingers” is simply ludicrous. Again, that would be true of a Snapping turtle, which can indeed inflict some quite nasty injuries if mishandled or provoked.
These grossly misleading and inaccurate articles in effect “demonises” what is in fact a relatively harmless species. By so doing, they are placed at risk of “retribution” attacks by the ignorant, and make it much more difficult to deal with the situation humanely and intelligently. These animals should not be released into the wild (this is an existing offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act, 1981). However, many organisations, including our own do offer rehoming facilities for this species, and it is important that the public is not misled into believing that they are more of a threat than they actually are. This species will not reproduce naturally here, and therefore any danger to native wildlife is of strictly limited duration.

Control of Red-eared sliders

  • Where Red-eared sliders are perceived to be causing a problem, there are effective ways of removing them safely and humanely, usually by netting or trapping.
  • SHOOTING is absolutely NOT HUMANE and will NOT result in rapid or humane death in a turtle.
  • Shooting will result in a slow, lingering death and in our view would constitute the unnecessary infliction of suffering and would be liable to criminal prosecution.

If problems exist with Red-eared sliders the Tortoise Trust offers a professional consultation service on how to deal with them.