Many people probably don’t know that I’m actually a big fan of turtles. I own two Three-Striped Mud Turtles native to Florida and have spent days researching, identifying, classifying, and comparing the different species found in the southeast region of the United States. Just last week, I was walking from my apartment to the library and happened to pass by the “Castor Beach” on the USF campus. As I was walking by (I tend to have an eye for turtles for some reason), I spotted two turtles about 200 feet from the pond. I’ve never seen the turtles so close to the sidewalk before. In fact, I’ve only been close enough to identify only one specie of turtle in the Juniper-Poplar pond, a Florida Softshell Turtle. I identified these two turtles as Red Eared Sliders and did some quick research about them on my phone as I walked away.
Surprisingly, one of the first things that I found on Google was the fact that they were an invasive species in Florida. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there have been sightings of the Red Eared Sliders in a total of 10 counties, but Hillsborough was not one of them! Apparently, the Red Eared Sliders have been established and self-sustained in some of these counties for at least 10 years (myfwc.com). Breeding among these turtles has been reported in Florida and could potentially cause problems in the future due to the competition for food with native species.
Red Eared Sliders are one of the most common types of pet turtles sold on the market. It is very easy to find them online, in flea markets, dime stores and pet shops. What many people are not aware of at the time of purchase is the amount of commitment it takes to raise a turtle as well of the cost and the large size of the adult turtle. Many sliders can grow up to about 12 inches. Because of this, many pet owners will decide to release their turtles into nearby ponds, lakes, or rivers. Once established in their new territory, the sliders may breed with another of the same species, or they may also breed with the native Yellow-bellied Slider.
But rather than trying to terminate the species as they would pythons in the Everglades, nothing has been done so far in attempts to prevent these turtles from breeding. Although there may be some competition for food among the invasive and native, there has been no long-term consequences of integrating these turtles into our lakes and streams. Florida has long been a place where there is an extreme amount of diversity among animals, the macaque monkeys, for example. When examining the emergence of new species and the collaboration with old ones, Kirksey asks, “cui bono,” or who benefits from these situations (Kirksey, 106). Upon sighting an invasive species, wildlife officials first have to ask how this new species will affect the pre-existing environment, as if there are negative consequences to allowing this species to become a part of Florida’s favorable nature. In the eyes of Kirksey, though, species that are introduced to new lands will only learn to adapt to the existing environment and the existing environment will adapt to the new specie as in the case of the invasive Red Eared Sliders interbreeding with the native Yellow-bellied Sliders.
As these turtles continue to inhabit the same areas, a new specie will emerge and will integrate itself into the ever-evolving “wild”erness that we call nature. New relationships will be formed between species that would have never existed if the “invasive” were never introduced. Some species may benefit from the integration process while others may be driven out of their original territory in attempts to adapt to new habitats. I am excited to see how the turtle populations in Florida will continue to be shaped and shifted by the emergence of new “wild” species.
Kirksey, Eben. Emergent ecologies. Durham: Duke U Press, 2015. Web.
“Red-eared Slider – Trachemys scripta elegans.” Nonnatives – Red-eared Slider. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission , 2017. Web. <http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/reptiles/red-eared-slider/>.