ROSEBURG, Ore – A 10-pound snapping turtle recently found at the Yoncalla Water Treatment Plant is a good reminder not to release pet turtles into the wild. It’s illegal, and it’s harmful for Oregon’s two native turtles, the Western Pond Turtle and Western Painted Turtle.
Snapping turtles, red-eared sliders, and map turtles and are not native to Oregon and are often illegally bought, sold or traded in the state. These are the most common pet turtles but are prohibited by law in Oregon because they are invasive species.
ODFW biologists say invasive turtles compete with Oregon’s native turtles for food, basking sites, and nesting areas. Many grow bigger and lay more eggs than our native turtles, and some even predate upon them, hatchlings in particular.
Turtles can live 40 to 100 years, and are often released into the wild when people lose interest or tire of caring for them. Pet turtles often suffer from eye, shell or respiratory infections, and these pathogens can be spread to native turtles.
“Turtles take a lot of care and have special diet and habitat needs to keep them healthy,” says ODFW Conservation Biologist Susan Barnes. “Turtles also carry salmonella which can make people, particularly children, very sick.”
Anyone finding an invasive turtle can turn it into their local ODFW office. Use extra caution when picking up a snapping turtle however; they can and do bite. Pick snappers up by the back of their tail, not the sides as their neck is long enough to swing about half their body size.
This time of year, female turtles are moving to nesting areas. Rick Boatner, ODFW Invasive Species Program Manager has some advice.
“If you find a native turtle crossing the road, pick it up and put it on the side of the road in the direction it was heading,” Boatner said.
The Western Painted Turtle and Western Pond Turtle are both classified as “Critical” on Oregon’s Sensitive Species list; state law prohibits killing them or taking them from the wild. Our native turtles are also identified as priority at-risk species in the Oregon Conservation Strategy due to declining habitat quality and fragmentation, pollution and competition with invasive turtles among other reasons.
ODFW tracks native and non-native turtle sightings, and asks the public to help by reporting online.