Hello everyone! Today, I will talk about red-eared sliders (RES), a common sight in Singapore’s waters and pet shops. They are commonly sold in pet shops and aquarium shops at a very small size, about 5cm in shell length. Their cute stature, cheap prices (imagine that you cost less than a scoop of ice cream at a cafe) and hardiness lead to their rise in popularity as pets in Singapore. Furthermore, these shelled creatures are viewed as symbols of longevity and stability in Chinese culture.
However, many buyers are not aware of the potential size these baby RES can grow to. The situation is worsened by the many profit-driven aquarium shop owners giving misinformation to irresponsible buyers. I decided to go undercover and pretend to be an irresponsible buyer even though I had encountered many of those instances in my years of visiting aquarium shops. What I uncovered was shocking, to say the least. I went to a local aquarium shop asking for recommendations and advice for keeping a terrapin. The owner suggested I buy one of those premade plastic “turtle enclosures”, which is far from ideal but seems attractive to newcomers to the hobby due to its simplicity. When asked how big these little terrapins can get, he told me it will not get large enough to not fit in its enclosure. This may be partially true. However, it will probably be so cruel and unhealthy for the terrapin. To make matters worse, he proposed that I can release my terrapin into the local waterways after it gets too large for me to house it appropriately. “Reservoir already so many, you release it, let it make friends with the rest” he reasoned in classic Singlish. This interaction with an aquarium shop owner sheds light on the potential root cause of the problem of RES invading our water bodies.
Included in the IUCN list of 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species, it is no wonder why they are so abundant in Singapore’s water bodies. Their large import numbers and high population densities in urban areas suggest that the release of RES from the pet trade may be a leading factor for their invasiveness (Ng, 2009). Singapore is home to many species of turtles such as the Malayan box turtle and the Malayan flat-shelled turtle, both of which are classified as Vulnerable by IUCN. Sadly, there is a lack of studies proving that the introduction of RES can cause a decline in the population of native turtle species. This may be due to the difficulty of gathering observational data from aquatic habitats and the elusive nature of many native turtle species. I feel that Singapore should do more in terms of educating the public and aquarium shop owners. The sale of this invasive species should also be highly regulated until its effects on the native biodiversity are understood fully, or else we may potentially lose many of our native biodiversity.
Some interesting finds during my weekly aquarium shop trip 🙂