Timmi the ‘No Eye’ Turtle: New Trend in Frankenpets

By the New England Wildlife Center

Last week, Timmi Knoblich, a Red Eared Slider, came into the our veterinary practice for exotic animals because his owners noticed that he was showing signs of respiratory infection. This is not uncommon in turtles, especially this time of year. It’s about the same as getting a cold for us warm-blooded folks, except that a course of antibiotics is needed for a week or two. Dr. Mertz ran through his routine exam.

“Is he eating?”- check.  “Is he bright, alert and active?” – check. “Does he have anything coming out of his nose? Is he wheezing?” Check and check. It was shaping up to be a pretty mundane case until it came to the question, “Any crusty debris around the eyes?”  Hmmm. Well, no. Timmi has no eyes.

Timmi was born this way. No eyes. No eye sockets. No tear ducts. Just flat skin. He has adapted pretty well considering, but this guy is at a genetic disadvantage to say the least. Most turtles have a very good sense of sight and they depend on it heavily to do turtle stuff. Red Eared Sliders have a particularly well-developed sense of vision that allows them to see in color both above and below the water surface. This is necessary for protection from predators, finding food and seeking out their brightly colored counterparts for mating.

Originally we thought Timmi’s condition was a genetic anomaly. It’s not uncommon for wildlife to come through our doors with deformities due to exposure to environmental toxins at the time of their development. However, something about Timmi’s case was different so we did a little digging. Turns out, there are Red Eared Slider breeders who are purposely selecting for the no-eye gene.

Red Eared Sliders are among several species being bred for abnormalities like this one.

The turtle trade can be a pretty rough place. You may remember the headline from a few months back about the man who was caught smuggling several rare turtles in his underpants.

The truth is that the turtle trade has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry over the last few decades and is raising some pretty serious animal welfare concerns. “Collectors” are always looking for the weird, the unusual and the unique to diversify their collection. The no-eye trait is just one of many that can be bred for.

Nature provides all that a turtle needs.

If you are thinking of becoming a turtle parent, we strongly urge you to adopt or to do your research and seek out a reputable breeder who does not perpetuate the “collectible” mentality.

You want to look for someone who does not operate on a gargantuan scale, moving millions of turtles per year. Turtles have a long life span and Red Eared Sliders live about 50 years, so they are not a short-term pet. Make sure you are ready for the rigors of caring for a turtle before you bring one into your home.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider2 years ago

I don't understand :(

Carrie Anne Brown

very sad but thanks for sharing

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton2 years ago

God Bless. I know nothing about turtles!!

Tanja Zilker
Tanja Zilker2 years ago

so sad

Brigitte Nouari
Brigitte Nouari2 years ago

Bonjour, Hello,

D'après les informations que j'ai lues sur les tortues à tempes rouges (ou tortues dites de Floride en France), je croyais qu'elles étaient interdites aux Etats-Unis depuis 1975 suite à des problèmes liés à la Salmonellose ! N'empêche que ce type d'éleveurs qui sélectionnent ou modifient le capital génétique naturel d'un animal pour en modifier son aspect ou ses capacités pour en tirer profit auprès de collectionneurs ... C'est tout simplement monstrueux ! Ils devraient être dénoncés et des sanctions infligées cela relève, pour moi en tous les cas, de la maltraitance animale !!!

From the information that I read on the red-eared turtle (or turtles in Florida say in France), I thought they were banned in the United States since 1975 due to problems related to Salmonella! Nevertheless, this type of breeders who select or modify the genetic nature of an animal to change its appearance or its capacity to benefit from collectors ... This is simply outrageous! They should be reported and sanctions it is for me in any case, the animal abuse!

Jade N.
Jade N.2 years ago

i would wish the same thing on the senseless people who would do such a thing.

Bruno Moreira
Bruno Moreira2 years ago

so sad

scarlett g.
scarlett g.2 years ago

SHAMEFUL!! DISGUSTING!! People who commit and allow this to happen should be
" dispatched" !!.....................DEFINITION??....".BLOWN AWAY!!!!!"

Jessica Larsen

Whut? Why on earth would anyone breed this intentionally? OMG this is so sick
Those poor innocent turtles

Colleen W.
Colleen W.2 years ago

I don't know why I read these things, they just upset me so much.