Pa. Sea Grant seeks to capture invasive turtles pet owners release onto Presque Isle
Red-eared sliders are known by the yellow striping on their neck and feet, as well as the telltale reddish patch behind their eyes. (Courtesy of Sara Stahlman/Pennsylvania Sea Grant)
With patches of red behind its eyes, the red-eared slider can make for a cute pet, but it’s considered an invasive species to Presque Isle on Lake Erie.
A new project seeks to keep the turtle’s population at bay by setting out traps at two locations on the isle where the animal has been spotted: Waterworks pond and Lily pond.
Sara Stahlman, extension leader for Pennsylvania Sea Grant, a conservation education program, said the red-eared slider has likely been present for decades at Presque Isle as pet owners release the animals after they’re no longer wanted. The turtles can live 30 years.
“They think, ‘Oh, this is a turtle, it can go into the wild, everything’s OK and this is the right thing to do,'” Stahlman said. “But then the turtle ends up having very significant negative impacts to the environment and the ecosystem and the native species that are there.”
The red-eared slider feeds on fish, eggs and tadpoles. Like any invasive species, it takes away food, breeding locations and other resources from other native animals, Stahlman said.
That’s particularly problematic for other threatened species that live at Presque Isle, such as the redbelly turtle, she said.
“Because the red-eared slider is so aggressive, it’s going to outcompete that turtle,” Stahlman said.
Traps like this one at Presque Isle capture red-eared sliders. They are checked daily and if any other species are caught, those animals are released back into the wild. (Sara Stahlman/Pennsylvania Sea Grant)
It’s unclear how many red-eared sliders live at Presque Isle. Pennsylvania Sea Grant received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Great Lake Restoration Initiative to try to reduce the population by setting out traps for the animals. The project is modeled after a similar effort in Cleveland.
The trapping project at Presque Isle began last fall and started up again this month. So far, six red-eared sliders have been captured. Trapping will continue through October.
Stahlman said those that are captured are euthanized, as it’s illegal to rehome turtles by taking them from the wild.
“We want to make sure the understanding behind what we’re doing is there,” she said. “These turtles are very dangerous to native species and if we don’t remove those turtles, think about how many other turtles that are supposed to be in that ecosystem are going to suffer the consequences.”
Pet owners who do not want to keep their red-eared sliders should try to find them a different home, whether it’s a pet store, aquarium club, reptile rescue or another family, Stahlman said. She said Pennsylvania Sea Grant is hoping to host a pet surrender day over the next year with Herps Alive, an Ohio-based nonprofit with a sanctuary for turtles to stay while they wait for new homes.
If you see a red-eared slider at Presque Isle or somewhere nearby, you can report it to Pennsylvania Sea Grant here.