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.
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.
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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