Don’t Let it Loose: Lessons and Resources to Combat Invasive Turtles

Families nationwide are getting excited about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. If your kids are asking for a Michelangelo or Donatello of their own, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

The most commonly sold turtles in the U.S. are red-eared sliders, an invasive species in the Pacific Region and other parts of the U.S. They are illegal to own in Idaho, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Protect Native The red-eared slider, also known as the red-eared terrapin, is a semiaquatic turtle belonging to the family Emydidae. They get their name from the small red dash around their ears. The “slider” part of their name comes from their ability to slide off rocks and logs and into the water quickly.

As with other turtles, tortoises, and box turtles, individuals that survive their first year or two can be expected to live generally around 30 years. Understand that adopting a turtle as a pet is a life-long commitment.

Turtles can also carry salmonella, a hazard to immune systems. Before taking home a pet turtle, please consider the hazards and responsibilities of pet turtle ownership.

If you choose to welcome a turtle into your home, remember, Don’t Let It Loose! It’s bad for your pets and bad for the environment.

These turtles damage aquatic ecosystems and compete with our native turtles, like the Western painted turtle and Western pond turtle.

Check out the alternatives to pet release: http://bit.ly/dontletitloose.

For further inquiries check out American Tortoise Rescue.
Don't Release

Invasive Species Resources

If you are interested in learning more about invasive species, the following online resources are a great start.

  • Invasive Species Lessons Plan – Adaptable for students in grades 3-12, students will explore the effects of invasive species.
  • Don’t Let it Loose – Come along on a virtual field trip to learn more about invasive species in South Florida
  • Invasive Species – Video podcasts from Explore Biodiversity
  • Ultimate Invader – Students learn about invasive species and in this activity design the ultimate invader

Turtle Lesson Plans & Resources

If you are interested in learning more about turtles, I’ve gathered a few online resources to help you begin your quest.

  • Sea Turtle Conservancy – Find facts about various types of sea turtles. Track sea turtle activity. Discover ways people are helping endangered species of turtles.
  • Share The Beach – This organization aides in the conservation and protection of nesting sea turtles on the beaches of Alabama. Great info about sea turtles. Tracking information. The site, also, includes information on how you can help in the the conservation of sea turtles.
  • Sea World – Sea turtle information on the Sea World site.
  • Lesson Plans – Sea Turtle lesson plans for grades 6-12 from SEETurtles.org
  • San Diego Zoo – Activities for grades 6-9 to learn about biodiversity, saving energy, and ecological footprint. This link defines the difference between turtle, tortoise and terrapin.

Saving the Native Turtles: Part One – Naturalist’s Notes

A few months ago, we enjoyed a nature walk with our Roots & Shoots group.  While the focus of the walk was on Bald Eagles, we also had the opportunity to observe a few native Western Pond Turtles basking in the sun. Sadly, their numbers were few.

native turtlesThrough anecdotes of her own personal experience and observations of the turtles in our local community, our Roots & Shoots leader encouraged the kids to help make a difference.  While we have always been interested in invasive species and have taken part in numerous community weed pulls in the past, she awakened a new interest in my kids.  

We have thereby begun a long-term project to increase public awareness and help save native turtles.  We began by learning more about each species and familiarizing ourselves with the problem.  The first task I assigned the kids was to do a nature journal entry on the Western Pond Turtle and to read an article that was published in our local newspaper.

Naturalist’s Notes

pond_turtle

Photo courtesy of USGS

The Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata)

Description
  • Lacks bright coloration on shell bottom which is usually a creamy yellow with some dark blotches
  • Top shell ranges in color from dark brown to olive
  • Head and legs are dark brown to olive
  • Grows up to 10 inches long
Habitat & Ecology
  • Inhabits a variety of aquatic habitats, including; ponds, rivers, reservoirs, streams, seasonal wetlands, and flooded gravel pits
  • Not fully aquatic; may spend part of the year in upland forests
  • Uses underwater hiding places such as undercut stream banks, mud substrates, logs, and dense patches of aquatic plants to avoid predators
  • Basks on logs and large boulders in the sun; an important behavior crucial for thermal regulation, digestion and other life requirements
  • Lives up to 40 years in the wild
  • Breeds from mid-May to late July, clutch size varies from 1-13 eggs
  • Females nest around 50 meters away from the water in short, grassy or weedy areas
Range
  • Extends down the West Coast, from Southern British Columbia to Northern California
Diet
  • Eats mainly insects, larvae of caddis flies, dragonflies and nymphs
  • Also eats some plants and scavenges on dead meat
native turtle

Sweetie’s nature journal entry

Western Pond Turtles are a species of special concern. One of the causes of  their disappearance is the release of aggressive pet Red-eared Sliders into local ponds. The State of Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department banned the sales, importation and possession of Red-eared Sliders in 1996. Despite stoic efforts, advocates in California have failed to accomplish this in the last 20 years.

You Can Help

I will keep you apprised of our progress.  Our next step is to reach out to local resources agencies to learn more about native turtle habitats and efforts underway.  We will also plan to begin a letter writing campaign to prohibit the pet sale trade of Red-eared sliders in California.

You can help, too! Research what turtles are native to your area.  Are they endangered due to threats of an invasive, non-native species.  Write a letter to your state representative expressing your concerns for native turtles in your area.

Nature Study in China: Phylum Mollusca

Prior to our departure for holiday in China, we had enjoyed the new DreamWorks movie, Turbo. Snails were thereby on our mind and to the delight of the kiddos, we happened upon a few small garden variety in the ancient gardens of China and at the Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu.  In Yangshuo, we discovered what the locals called Duck Snails, a large freshwater snail belonging to the family Ampullariidae.  The more accepted common name is the Apple Snail, an aquatic gastropod mollusks with gills and an operculum.

apple snails

Field Studies

We first noted the presence of these snails because of the bright pink egg masses that we observed all over the shoreline of the Yu Long (Dragon) River. These egg masses are laid on solid surfaces up to about 20 inches above the water surface. An average clutch contains 200 to 600 eggs, with each egg measuring 0.9 to 1.4 mm in diameter. Soon thereafter, as the kids began to play in the river, we found adult snails in a variety of hues, ranging from creamy yellow to a light pink.

As amateur naturalists, we are not sure exactly what species we observed (Pomacea canaliculata or Pomacea insularum) – perhaps even multiple species.  Based upon our research, we are leaning towards P. canaliculata.  Even so, the kids enjoyed playing with them and watching them glide across the surface of the bamboo boat structure that was anchored near shore.

Sweetie expressed wanting to take them home and of course, I explained that this was not only illegal (customs would certainly not allow us to transport live animals back to the states) but it would also be negligent on our part and potentially environmentally catastrophic.

applesnails

Phylum Mollusca

When we returned home, I took advantage of their interest in the snails, to engage them in a little nature journaling.  I pulled out a few text books and had the photographs we had taken in Yangshuo available on the iPad.  Sweetie ran to her room and brought back one of the shells she had collected during our stay.  We then got about sketching and noting our observations in our journals.

As they worked, I read aloud a book that I had purchased years ago in Hawai’i, Beyond ‘Ohi’a Valley: Adventures in a Hawaiian Rainforest by Lisa Matsumoto.   The illustrations are very beautiful and the characters are very comical; the storyline tells about the native animals of Hawai’i and the impact of invasive, non-native species.  While discuss how similar problems could occur with the introduction of the apple snail – in fact, it is happening …

Pomacea canaliculata is native to temperate Argentina and northwards to the Amazon basin. Through human introduction, this applesnail has rapidly spread to Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, southern China, Japan, Philippines, and Hawai’i. There are indications that they are invading Australia. In the 1980’s, channeled applesnails were introduced in Taiwan to start an escargot industry. This snail was originally imported under the name “golden snail” or “golden applesnail” for human consumption. However, the Asian escargot market never materialized and applesnails, that escaped or were released, ultimately came to cause extensive damage to rice fields. 

I’ve posted more pictures and information about Pomacea canaliculata onto Project Noah.  I encourage you to hop over if you are interested in learning more about Apple Snails.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study.