Tag Archives: Terrapins

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 and hundreds of millions were sold worldwide during the 80’s and 90’s

In Spain this Invasive species, the red eared terrapin 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.

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.

Wildside Holidays – Spain

The top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies in Spain. Small family companies living and working in Spain. Local guides are the best!


Mediterranean Pond Terrapin

  • Spanish: Galápago leproso
  • Scientific: Mauremys leprosa
  • English: Mediterranean Pond Terrapin
  • French: Émyde lépreuse
  • German: Spanische Wasserschildkröte
  • Italian: Tartaruga palustre iberica
  • Portuguese: Cágado-mediterrânico


The shell of the Mediterranean pond terrapin is olive, brown or grey. The limbs are short and stout, with orange or yellow lines that fade in the older specimens. The carapace normally measures between 13 to 17cm (5 – 6¾ inches) but can occasionally reach 20 cm (8 inches) and is slightly convex in shape. The base of the shell is yellowish, with large blackish spots which fade with age.

It is relatively abundant in the rivers, reservoirs, ponds and all types of aquatic bodies in Spain with good vegetation and refuge on the banks. Sometimes they can be seen in dirty and contaminated water as is often the case when towns and villages in Spain have inadequate sewage treatment works.

They spend many hours sunbathing at the water’s edge or on semi-submerged logs and rocks, quickly diving and staying underwater for long periods at the slightest sign of danger.

The Mediterranean Pond Terrapin is a skilful hunter of fish, amphibians and their larvae, aquatic insects and also feed on carrion.

I have even observed them feeding on livestock excrement (goat and cow)

The breeding season begins in March continuing to July. Up to 22 eggs are laid days 15 to 68 days after copulation which are normally divided between 2 clutches with a 21 to 32 day interval. Hatching occurs after 56 to 82 days.

The name ‘leprosa‘, refers to the algae which grows on its shell which can cause a perforation and deformation of the plates and sometimes gives a malformed appearance. (If you have ever handled a Mediterranean Pond Terrapin then you have also probably noticed the awful stench coming from its shell!)

Conservation Status: not listed

Distribution: Spain, Portugal, southern France, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Similar species: European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

Wildside Holidays – Spain

The top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies in Spain. Small family companies living and working in Spain. Local guides are the best!