An invasive species, the red-eared terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans), also known as the red-eared slider, red-eared slider turtle

Invasive species – The red eared terrapin

  • Spanish: Galápago de Florida, Tortuga de orejas rojas
  • Scientific: Trachemys scripta elegans
  • English: Red eared terrapin

An invasive species, the red-eared terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans), also known as the red-eared slider, red-eared slider turtle, red-eared turtle, slider turtle, and water slider turtle, is a semiaquatic terrapin belonging to the family Emydidae.

It is a subspecies of the “pond slider” (Trachemys scripta.) Read more about this invasive species at IUCN

The red-eared slider gets its name from the small red stripe around its ears and from its ability to slide quickly off rocks and logs into the water.

It was at one time, and probably still is, the most popular pet terrapin in the the world. Hundreds of millions were sold worldwide during the 80’s and 90’s

In Spain this Invasive species was available in pets shops across the country and also given as prizes (like a goldfish in the UK) in fun fairs. (The perfect prize given that they were small, easy to maintain and were very cheap to buy.)

Of course once they grow too big what is the answer? The very best scenario is that the turtle ends up in the garden pond of a family member or friend. But most of the time, the terrapin, is released into a local river or lake (with of course all the other “local” terrapins.)

The red-eared slider is included in the IUCN red list of the 100 most harmful invasive exotic species in the world, and is now banned from being sold in Spain (and most of the European Union.)

However, a loophole in the law allowed the issue to continue when commercial companies in the United States switched from the red eared terrapin to the yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) for European marketing.

Yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta)
Yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta). Don’t confuse this species with the male of The Mediterranean terrapin (Mauremys leprosa)

This loop hole was closed quite quickly but not before many hundreds of thousands of yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) were also introduced into Europe.

Invasive terrrapins in Spain
From left to right: Red eared terrapin – Mediterranean terrapin – Yellow bellied slider
Threats to Spanish terapins

In the Iberian Peninsular the red eared terrapin has become a very damaging and invasive intruder and is the main reason that the European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis) a native species to Spain is struggling to survive. (Along with habitat destruction and general pollution.)

The Mediterranean terrapin (Mauremys leprosa), also native to Spain seems to be coping better with the onslaught of the Red eared slider but still, its numbers are reducing.The Red-eared slider is larger in size and much more aggressive. Their strength allows them to take the best areas of sunbathing, to defend themselves better against possible predators and hunt more efficiently.

Time will tell but right now in many places across Spain, in rivers and lakes the red eared terrapin seems to be winning the battle. A lesson to be learned no? You can’t introduce a species into a new environment without some form of change in the hierarchy of the area.

Other invasive species of terrapin
Pseudemys peninsularis – Peninsular cooter

Pseudemys peninsularis is a species of freshwater turtle from the Emydidae family. (Sometimes it is considered a subspecies of P. floridana or P. concinna.) It is an endemic species of the United States that is found in the Florida peninsula. Due to deliberate releases here in Spain, it is one of the species that frequents city parks and gardens with artificial ponds and lakes. They are much larger than Spanish native species, sometimes doubling or tripling their size.

Pseudemys peninsularis - Peninsular cooter

The dispersion of this species has led to the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition including it in the Spanish Catalogue of Invasive Alien Species, due to its potential to colonize and constitute a serious threat to native species, habitats, or ecosystems. Its introduction into the natural environment, possession, transportation, traffic, and trade are prohibited in Spain.

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