Can You Release Red Eared Sliders Into The Wild?

Can You Release Red Eared Sliders Into The Wild

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Your red eared sliders have mate without your consent! She laid eggs, a lot of eggs. Red eared sliders can lay up to 30 eggs every year. That’s a lot of hatchlings! If you don’t own a big enough tank, where will you keep them?

You can’t kill them or just throw them away. They are living beings just like us. So, what can you do? Can you release red eared sliders into the wild?

Releasing red-eared sliders into the wild is not recommended because it is often illegal and always harmful to local ecosystems. Red-eared sliders can become invasive, outcompeting native species and spreading diseases. Instead of releasing them, take red-eared sliders to animal shelters or reptile rescues.

Red Eared Slider’s Captive Habitat & CareRed Eared Slider’s Habitat if Released
Warm, shallow bodies of fresh water like marshes, ponds, lakes, slow rivers and streamsUnknown water body – may be too cold, deep, fast-flowing or dry up
Soft muddy bottoms or areas to bask on landUnknown bottom type – may be rocky or steep, no access to land
Diet of aquatic plants, insects, worms, fish, aquatic snailsUnfamiliar food sources – may face starvation if can’t adapt diet
Protected from predators by size and habitat featuresExposed to many new predators in the wild with no protection
Supplemental UVB lighting and heat for proper shell growthNo access to artificial lighting or heating – shells may deform
Veterinary care and handling by experienced ownersNo more veterinary care – injuries and illness could be fatal

key takeaways

  • Releasing red-eared sliders into the wild is harmful and often illegal, as they can become invasive and spread diseases.
  • Red-eared sliders struggle to find food and survive in the wild, lacking the skills needed for hunting and competing for resources.
  • These turtles face security risks in the wild due to their ignorance of predators and lack of survival instincts.
  • Wild environments can lead to bad hygiene and health issues for red-eared sliders, as they are not accustomed to uncontrolled natural conditions.
  • Red-eared sliders released into the wild often suffer from sickness due to a lack of care and adaptation to natural diseases.
red eared slider closeup
Owner: Heather Powell

alternatives to releasing red eared sliders in the wild

By now, you know why you shouldn’t release your red eared slider in the wild. We’ll get to the detailed discussion down below.

However, before that, here are some of the alternatives to releasing turtles in the wild that might help you out:

Alternative To Releasing Red Eared Slider In WildDetails
Adopt out to another homeRehome through shelters, rescues or rehoming sites. Ensures long-term care in a controlled environment.
Donate to wildlife rehabilitationSurrender to permitted wildlife shelters or rescues for care and potential adoption if non-releasable. Prevents release into the wild.
Avoid breedingContinue providing suitable habitat, lighting, heating, feeding, handling and veterinary care for life. Avoid breeding.
Return to pet store (if purchased)Some stores will accept returns but quality of care is uncertain. Should be a last resort.
Find a vet or rescue to surrenderVets and rescues can often rehome or arrange long-term care. Prevents release that endangers wildlife.
Leverage social mediaJoin all the turtle groups on Facebook or any other social media. Post there for adoption of your red eared slider. Chances are high another kind soul will agree to take care of your slider.
Flyers/PostersYou can put some flyers, posters etc. around your local pet store. Use a cute pic of your slider. You might find a new owner very quickly this way.

Here is a list of wildlife centers that will adopt turtles if someone can no longer care for them:

Why You Shouldn’t Release Red Eared Sliders Into The Wild

Your turtles may have increased in number or you are just no longer able to afford to keep your pets anymore. What do you do then? What most people do is that they think of leaving them in the wild. People think that as the wilderness is the turtle’s natural habitat they will be okay there.

But this is a bad decision unless you want your red eared slider to die. Red eared sliders are tiny innocent creatures. You grow fond of them very quickly. Their social behavior such as greeting their owners raising their paw just melts your heart. You never want to get rid of them in an inhumane way.

If you don’t want to kill them don’t ever leave them in the wilderness. It’s different if you release them for a few minutes or so.

But if you intend to throw them into nature for a long time there is no chance for them to survive.

Here’s why:

Scarcity of food:

You surely keep your red eared sliders in a tank. There they get all their necessities without going through any trouble. You give them the best food regularly. They don’t miss a meal.

In nature, they don’t get this facility. They will have to search for food. And it’s possible that your red eared slider isn’t familiar with hunting for meals. That’s why they will have a hard time coping up with the situation.

Eventually, they will die.

Fighting for survival:

Red eared sliders that live in nature tend to be vulgar. In nature, the animals compete with each other to survive. Your pet red eared slider won’t be able to sustain this challenge. They are not used to fighting for food. So it’s apparent that your pet red eared slider won’t get enough energy to survive.

juvenile red eared slider
Owner: Carly McEachin


As your pet red eared slider stayed in a secured place in the tank they are very likely to be ignorant about certain things that happen in the wild. A reservoir in nature is very unlikely to be filled with only turtles.

There will be other animals too. Turtles living in nature will know how to protect themselves from others. But your pet turtle is not used to hide from predators. They certainly won’t be able to protect themselves.

Bad hygiene:

In the tank, your red eared slider lived in clean water. You changed the water every two weeks. Here you made sure the whole tank was clean. You maintained the hygiene. But in the wild, the water is contaminated.

Even if the water is fresh there will be other animals and plants that can carry diseases to the turtle you left.

The water won’t suit your turtle’s shell since natural water is filled with minerals. The turtle shell will eventually decay. Many other problems such as skin problems and respiratory problems can occur if the water is too much polluted.

Nowadays it’s very much likely for the natural reservoir to be contaminated.


Even if your pet turtle somehow manages to survive among the wilderness it won’t be happy. You treated it with care. But in nature, they will be neglected. There isn’t anyone to take care of them. If they endure even a minor blow or gets a little bruised it will lead to a major defect in the turtle.

First of all, they are not adapted to being attacked. And their body is not functioned to heal quickly because it got external treatments before. Other red eared sliders already living in the wild may not have any problem with a disease. But that same disease will mean death for your red eared slider.

It’s illegal to release a pet red eared slider into the wild. In the case of most animals, you need a permit to do so. But you will never get the permit to leave your red eared sliders into the wild.

And the reason for that is very clear.

Here is a table listing some common health issues, diseases, and parasites that captive red-eared sliders may carry and could potentially spread to wild populations if released:

Health IssueDetails
SalmonellaBacteria that can cause illness in humans and other animals.
MycobacteriosisBacterial infection causing respiratory and joint issues.
HerpesvirusViral infection causing respiratory disease and death.
Shell/skin fungal infectionsConditions like shell rot from poor husbandry.
Internal parasitesIncludes worms, flukes, and protozoa transmitted through feces.
External parasitesEctoparasites like ticks or leeches picked up in captivity.
Metabolic bone diseaseCalcium deficiency causing shell deformities.
Eye/respiratory infectionsBacterial and viral conditions from crowding and stress.
red eared slider swimming upwards
Owner: Carly McEachin

Why Do People Want To Release Their Red Eared Sliders Into The Wild?

For various reasons, people consider getting rid of their pet turtle. Willingly or unwillingly they release their red eared sliders into the wild. Everyone assumes that any animals will survive better in the wild as it is their natural habitat. But they never consider the consequences.

The reasons why people think of releasing their red eared sliders into the wild are:

Inadequate space:

A small tank and a lot of pets is never a great combo. 

You should have a tank that can store 10 gallons of water for every inch of your turtle. Red eared sliders can grow up to 12 inches. So for every red eared slider, your tank must have the capacity to contain 120 gallons of water.

More turtles will add more to that amount. If a turtle gives birth or if the owner gets new pets and can’t manage space for them they tend to release the previous ones into the wild.  

Can’t afford them financially:

Red eared sliders don’t make you spend much. Feed them once every 2 or 3 days and they will survive without any trouble. People mostly feed them vegetables, fruits or mealworms.

It costs about $30 to $40 per month. And there are other expenses too such as medical expenses, vitamin supplements, cleaning equipment, etc.

Keeping a pet red eared slider can cost up to $100 per month. It may not be much but for many people, it’s a lot. If they become broke and can’t financially afford to keep the pets, they release them into the wild.

Doesn’t get enough time to take care of them:

People are very productive in modern days. A long office hour and a lot of other major-minor choirs take most of their time. Among all these commotions of duties people barely have the scope to do anything else.

But red eared sliders need a lot of care. Though they don’t require food every day their habitat needs regular attention.

The tank water needs to be changed every two weeks. You must clean the whole tank at least once every month.

It takes a lot of time to thoroughly clean everything. A filthy tank harms a turtle in many ways. So it’s mandatory to keep the tank clean. To avoid these troublesome work people get rid of their pets.

Also, turtles require medical care. And if people can’t afford the time to look after them they release the turtle.

Legal issues:

Since 1975, it is illegal to possess small red eared sliders. The reason for this is the hatchlings or baby red eared sliders can bear salmonella bacteria on their skin. It is very harmful to get into direct contact with them.

That’s why, it’s prohibited to own a red eared slider smaller than 4 inches. So people dispose of the hatchlings without considering anything. Besides, if you live in an apartment you landlord may not like the idea of you keeping pets.

In this case, there is nothing left to do except for taking your turtle away. And most people take them “back” to the wilderness. This seems to be the most plausible option for them.

Why people release their red eared slider into the wild is because they are unaware of the consequences. If they had known what their loving pet turtle will have to endure in the wild they wouldn’t have even thought of leaving their red eared slider among naked nature.

Here is a table listing sample laws and penalties regarding releasing exotic pets/invasive species in different jurisdictions:

LocationLawPenalty if Applicable
USA (Federal)Lacey Act – bans releasing non-native speciesFines up to $500,000 and 5 yrs imprisonment
FloridaNon-native species are not pets – releases prohibitedFines up to $1,000/day and 6 months jail time
CaliforniaFish and Game Code – bans releasing red-eared slidersFines up to $5,000 and 6 months jail per offense
CanadaSpecies at Risk Act – protects native wildlifeFines up to $1,000,000 and 3 yrs imprisonment
UKWildlife and Countryside Act – invasive species banFines up to £5,000 per animal released
AustraliaEnvironment Protection and Biodiversity ActFines up to $550,000 and 2 yrs imprisonment
GermanyFederal Nature Conservation Act – bans releasesFines up to €50,000 depending on species

But what can they do if they want to get rid of their pet turtle and keep them safe at the same time?

cute red eared slider
Owner: Vivi Hernandez

How Can You Get Rid Of Your Red Eared Slider And Ensure Its Safety?

For many personal or financial reasons, you may have to decide to release your turtle into the wild. Your condition may not allow you to keep your pets to yourself. But you can’t just throw them into the wild. You should know by now what happens to a pet turtle if you free them into the bare nature.

But some conditions may not just allow you to keep them the way they are now. What can you do except for releasing them into the wild?

Here are a few things that you can consider:

Get a bigger tank:

As you know you need a space that can hold at least 120 gallons of water for your red eared sliders. So if the numbers of your turtles increase you can just get a bigger tank.

Sell your present tank and get a new larger one. You can have one custom made. Or if you want a 120 gallon tank to be delivered at your doorstep, check this one on Amazon.

Feed your turtle Cheap but quality food:

If you feed your turtle fruits, vegetable or mealworm you may have to spend $30 to $40 every month. This is a bit costly. What you can do is feed your turtle cheap turtle food. They don’t cost much but ensures nutrition.

I would suggest you feed Fluker’s Medley Treat for Aquatic Turtles to your red eared slider. They contain all that your turtle needs. And they don’t cost much at all. With less than $5, you can give your turtle the best food for a month.

Sell your red eared slider:

What’s better than killing your turtle by releasing it into the wild is to sell it to someone else. You may not be able to afford to keep them for financial or other reasons. But someone else might be interested in having a red eared slider as a pet.

That way your turtle will be safe and sound. Contact your local pet shop or post on social media. You can also sell them online if you want.

What about hatchlings:

If you are new with turtles you should never consider keeping baby red eared sliders. They can be very harmful to your health and you surely won’t be able to take care of them. Baby red eared sliders need constant care. In this case, you have to contact your local pet store. You can sell the hatchlings to them.

No matter what happens, you should never consider releasing your red eared slider into the wild. As they were your pet, they got used to living in a serene place. They won’t be able to survive in the brutality of nature.

But if you really need to get rid of them, just consider the tips discussed above. Evaluate your decisions before taking any steps. Your turtle’s life depends on the decisions you make.

red eared slider basking
Owner: Kimberly Ann

Frequently Asked Questions

can pet turtles survive in the wild?

Pet turtles should never be released into the wild as they are not equipped to survive in the wild and can disrupt an entire ecosystem. They are not accustomed to foraging for food or avoiding predators, and are more susceptible to illness and disease. Additionally, harsh weather like winter can cause them to freeze to death.

can i release my turtle into a pond?

It is not recommended to release pet turtles into ponds or the wild. Captive turtles may struggle to adapt to hunting for food and lack necessary instincts and skills for survival. Released turtles are vulnerable to predation, struggle to find adequate food, basking areas, and mates. Releasing turtles can also disrupt an entire ecosystem.

will my turtle die if i release it?

Pet turtles might die if released in the wild as they are not adapted for hunting or gathering food. Pet turtles also lack the natural instinct and survival skills that are crucial for living in a wild environment.

where can i release my red-eared slider?

It is not recommended to release red-eared sliders or any pet turtles into the wild. Instead, you can consider contacting local animal shelters, rescue organizations, or zoos to find a suitable home for your turtle. Some organizations may also have programs for rehoming turtles.

Can I keep a red-eared slider I found?

It is not recommended to keep a red-eared slider that you found outside. It is important to leave them alone, unless they appear to be ill or injured. If you want a pet red-eared slider, adopt one from a reputable source.

are red-eared sliders invasive?

Red-eared sliders are considered invasive species in many parts of the world, including Canada and the United States. They are native to the Mississippi River drainage in the United States, but have been introduced to other parts of the world through pet trade and aquarium releases.

Here is a table outlining some of the impacts and damages caused by red-eared sliders in regions where they have become established, according to the Invasive Species Centre:

EuropeOutcompete native European pond turtles for food/habitat. Known to prey on young birds.
AustraliaPredation of young native turtles reduces populations. Compete for basking sites and food.
HawaiiPredation of native bird eggs and hatchlings threatens endangered waterbirds.
Southern USACompete with and spread disease to over 20 native turtle species. Alter aquatic ecosystems.
Pacific NorthwestOvergraze vegetation and damage habitat of native western pond turtles.
Ontario, CanadaHybridize with native Midland painted turtles, diluting the native gene pool.
JapanInvasive populations on the island of Okinawa outcompete native turtle species.

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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