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Red-eared slider turtles

Wild red-eared slider turtles
Trachemys scripta elegans

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Stop wild red-eared slider turtles from damaging high value biodiversity sites.

Why wild red-eared slider turtles are pests

Identifying Features

Production threat Environmental threat Public threat


The Invasive Species Specialist Group has listed the red-eared slider turtle as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species. They are a mediumsized freshwater turtle that are native to southern parts of the United States. They are readily available in New Zealand, sold through the pet trade as juveniles around 50mm long. Red-eared slider turtles are omnivorous, long lived and tolerate a range of environmental conditions.

The impact of red-eared slider turtles in the wild in New Zealand is largely unknown, but given their omnivorous diet, they could adversely impact aquatic plants, insects, eels, small fish species and ground-nesting birds. They can survive in the wild in a wide range of aquatic habitats, including manmade drains and canals, natural wetlands, rivers, lakes, ponds and brackish estuarine waters.

Overseas, wild populations have become established predominantly by people releasing pet turtles when they outgrow their tanks and outlive their appeal. With a steady supply of red-eared slider turtles from the pet trade adding to numbers already in public hands, there is potential for them to become a serious problem in some locations. Serious consideration should be undertaken before purchasing such a long lived animal as a pet.

Red-eared slider turtles can survive in the wild in the Waikato region, but the current climate is considered unsuitable for their reproduction. Climate change may provide sufficient warmth for this to occur in the future. Turtles also could potentially breed in some of the region’s aquatic geothermal areas.

Identifying features

Red-eared slider turtles get their name from the small yellow to 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. These turtles can live up to 50 years in captivity – but they usually live between 20 to 30 years.

  • Shell can grow up to 350mm long.
  • Some individuals have been known to reach more than 400mm, but average length ranges from 120 to 200mm.
  • Females are usually a little larger than the males.
  • Shell and skin are usually leaf green in young turtles, turning olive to brown in mature turtles.
  • Head, legs, tail are green with fine yellow irregular lines.

Responsibility for control

Waikato Regional Council may undertake direct control of wild red-eared slider turtles. Landowners/occupiers in the Waikato are encouraged to report any sightings of wild red-eared turtles on their properties to the council.

It is an offence under the Biosecurity Act 1993 to knowingly release a red-eared slider turtle into the environment. It is also an offence to sell red-eared slider turtles from the wild.

These turtles should only be sold by pet shops and should be kept securely by pet owners and not released elsewhere.

Relocating red-eared slider turtles

If you have an unwanted pet red-eared slider turtle, DO NOT release it into the wild. Contact your local pet shop or SPCA in the hope they may rehome the turtle. If you see any red-eared slider turtles in the wild, note the exact location of the sighting and report it to Waikato Regional Council. Turtles are often sighted sunning themselves on banks or stones, or swimming in still watercourses.

More information

For advice and additional information on control methods, call our animal pest staff on freephone 0800 BIOSEC (0800 246 732).


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