They can, as they are not domesticated and were simply born in captivity. Indeed, they thrive in any area with a climate similar to their native range, which explains why they are so invasive across the United States.
Never release a pet turtle into the wild! Releasing a non-native turtle into the wild poses a risk to the turtle and disrupts the ecosystem as a whole.
Releasing pet turtles into the wild is becoming a major issue as the popularity of pet turtles grows. This is frequently the case when people do not have enough information about turtles before purchasing one.
And in some cases, they are unable to keep the turtle and must release it into the wild, which is actually the worst possible outcome for the turtle and the environment.
There are numerous reasons not to release a pet turtle into the wild. To keep things simple, I’ll divide the article into two sections: the first will discuss why this is detrimental to the turtle, and the second will discuss why it’s detrimental to the environment.
Finally, I’ll explain what you can do with your turtle if you’re no longer able to keep it.
ALSO SEE: Can a Turtle Shell Stop a Bullet?
How It Can Be Dangerous for a Pet Turtle to Be Released in the Wild
Because the majority of pet turtles are born in captivity, they have never encountered food, predators, basking areas, or, in some cases, other turtles.
Pet turtles do not need to be caught or searched for food; in most cases, they will find it “laying” around the aquarium or terrarium. They will occasionally have to exert some effort to catch a fish that swims in the aquarium.
Wild turtles will typically have to search for food for an extended period of time, and in the majority of cases, that food will be vegetation, not meat. Wild turtles typically consume meat infrequently and in very small amounts.
The majority of wild turtles eat small insects, worms, snails, and on rare occasions, fish. However, in order to obtain those proteins, they will have to search for, hunt for, and occasionally pursue prey.
They very rarely come across a fish or an insect that is lying on the ground waiting to be eaten.
Thus, a turtle accustomed to obtaining food without exerting any effort will struggle to adapt to this way of life, and this is not because they are not attempting; it is because they have spent many years in captivity, unable to use their skills, and thus have lost them.
You may argue that since turtles are not born with those hunting instincts, how come wild baby turtles survive and a pet turtle does not? Turtles, like the majority of animals, including humans, are born with certain instincts.
However, if those instincts are not utilized from the start, they will gradually fade away. Additionally, baby turtles consume less food. For instance, a baby turtle can survive an entire day on a single cricket, whereas an adult turtle can survive on the same amount of food for only half a day. Thus, a baby turtle has less time than a released pet turtle to learn everything it needs to survive.
A pet turtle is completely unafraid of predators. Most pet turtles will occasionally become fearful of strangers or other pets such as dogs or cats. They will hide in the aquarium and retract into their shells if they are afraid.
However, people and other pets are not true predators; while any of them could harm the turtle if they so desired, this is not usually the case, and thus they cannot be considered true predators.
Pet turtles retain the instinct to defend themselves; this can be seen occasionally when they attempt to bite the person handling them or when they hide in their shells.
However, a pet turtle is not required to defend itself against snakes, raccoons, crows, eagles, or alligators. The majority of threats they are defending themselves against are actually harmless.
A wild turtle must always be on guard, as a predator can strike at any time, and those predators will not leave them alone simply because the turtle attempted to bite them.
When a predator attacks, they do so in order to consume the turtle, so the turtle must either injure the predator or hide in its shell and withstand the attack until the predator gives up on the turtle.
None of those alternatives are pleasant, but there are no other options in this situation.
Additionally, wild turtles understand how to conceal themselves effectively so that predators do not discover them. Turtles can develop an ability to conceal themselves only if they spend significant time in the wilderness, hiding from predators and testing different hiding spots.
A turtle that has never encountered a predator has almost no chance of surviving an attack. Additionally, because they are unfamiliar with the area and lack experience hiding from predators, hiding is not the best option.
If you’re interested in learning more about turtle predators, you should read this article: What Are Turtle Predators?
Turtles require basking to stay healthy. Turtles in captivity have a basking area equipped with a UV light and a heat lamp to ensure they receive the exact amount of heat they require and plenty of UV light.
All a turtle needs to do is walk or swim a very short distance to obtain the required amount of heat and UV. This is not a difficult task for them.
Wild turtles, on the other hand, do not have it as easy. In the wild, good basking spots are scarce; a turtle must search for a while before finding one that is acceptable. Most wild turtles will never find a habitat as suitable as the one available to pet turtles.
Another issue with wild basking areas is that they are frequently overcrowded, and turtles will occasionally fight for a spot. When there are no viable basking areas in the area, a large number of turtles will stack in order to obtain the necessary heat and UV light.
There is one advantage that natural basking areas have over man-made basking areas: UV light. Even if the UV light bulbs provide sufficient UV light to keep the turtle healthy, nothing beats the UV light provided by the sun.
Even if a turtle can survive for longer periods of time without basking than it can without food, it is still necessary for their health. And for a pet turtle that did not have to search for a basking spot, having to find one that is not as good as the one they had while in captivity will be extremely difficult.
As a result, their health will begin to deteriorate gradually.
I mentioned turtle stacking in this section; if you’re unfamiliar with it or curious about why turtles do it, you should read this article: Why do turtles stack their shells?
Additionally, if you’re interested in learning how to heat a basking area properly, check out this article: Guide to Lighting and Heating a Turtle Tank and Basking Area.
Many pet turtles are not required to interact with other turtles, which can be problematic when they are released into the wild.
Turtles are not social animals by any stretch of the imagination; the majority of them interact with one another solely for the purpose of reproduction and to compete for food, basking spots, and reproduction partners.
However, they continue to interact, and as they interact more frequently over time, they will improve at this, learning how to intimidate the opponent into submission and how to attract another turtle to mate.
These social skills are critical for a turtle, even if they are used infrequently.
When an adult pet turtle is ready to mate, they will have very few chances to attract another turtle, and they will lack experience fighting other turtles.
If a pet turtle shares an aquarium or terrarium with another turtle, it will be slightly more adept at socializing with other turtles than a turtle raised alone, but not as adept as a wild turtle.
How a Pet Turtle Can Cause Ecosystem Disruption
If a pet turtle survives in the wild, it can wreak havoc on the ecosystem. They can accomplish this in a variety of ways; here are a few examples:
Bacteria and Infectious Diseases
Turtles kept as pets may carry bacteria that are harmless to them but dangerous to other species. If the turtle spreads the bacteria to just a few animals, the entire area may become infected, and disease will begin to affect the animals.
Food Chain Disruption
A turtle will consume a variety of small insects and bugs that it encounters in the wild. If they consume enough of those small insects, they risk disrupting the food chain, as some species will go hungry and seek out food that they would normally avoid due to its danger. There are numerous ways in which this could go wrong, and I’m sure you can imagine several of them right now.
If several turtles are released into the wild and survive long enough to reproduce, the baby turtles will also survive. Thus, a new species has entered that ecosystem, which can result in overpopulation, which can result in food wars between species, and a variety of other negative consequences.
Destroying the equilibrium
Each ecosystem has a delicate balance; some animals consume other animals in order to keep their population in check. Certain animals consume only plants, while others consume only meat. Certain species work cooperatively to ensure their survival.
Each ecosystem has its own balance, which was established over thousands of years when there were numerous species but only a few remained. Eliminating one of them can upset the ecosystem’s delicate balance.
And adding another can be just as perilous, if not more so.
Turtles, in general, are adaptable to a wide variety of conditions, but to do so, they must consume food that was previously consumed by other animals and occupy space previously occupied by other animals. These factors can have a detrimental effect on other animal species and contribute to their extinction in that zone.
Thus, releasing a pet turtle into the wild is detrimental to both the turtle and the ecosystem.
Releasing a Turtle That Has Only Lived in Captivity for a Short Period of Time
If you find an injured turtle in the wild and keep it in captivity for a few months to heal, you can release it back into the wild. Given that they’ve spent the majority of their lives in the wild and only spent a few months in captivity to heal, they’ll have no difficulty resuming their normal lives in the wild.
Simply be cautious if you wish to care for an injured wild turtle; they will not adapt well to captivity, even if it is for a brief period of time.
Simply remember to accompany them to the veterinarian prior to caring for them and releasing them into the wild.
What the Term “The Wild” Really Means
I’ve mentioned the wild throughout this article; let’s take a moment to discuss what the term “wild” actually means.
The wild refers to an area where turtles naturally migrate to find sufficient food, water, heat, light, and protection.
There have been numerous sightings of turtles in cities and neighborhoods; these turtles are typically pet turtles that were released in an area near the city or neighborhood, such as a forest, where they were unable to find enough water or food and ended up in a city.
A city can also be considered a wild place, but not in the way that a turtle would naturally live or survive.
How to Properly Get Rid of a Pet Turtle
Turtles can become a burden after a while for those who lack the time or resources to care for them. Whatever reason you have for never releasing your turtle into the wild, there are more humane and effective ways to handle the situation.
Return Them to the Location Where You Purchased Them
Contact the retailer from whom you purchased your turtle and inquire about their return policy; some retailers will accept the turtle back after a specified period of time, or will direct you to a retailer that will accept your turtle.
Offer your turtle for sale
Create an online advertisement and sell your turtle to someone who is willing to care for it. It’s a good idea to also sell the equipment to that person, or at least a portion of it. This way, they’ll have everything they need to care for the turtle, and the turtle will be in the best possible environment.
Speak with a Zoo
Certain zoos gladly accept donations. And there will be experts on hand to look after your turtle properly, so you won’t have to worry about its well-being. Additionally, you could always pay a visit.
Consult a Vet
Another option is to consult a veterinarian; some of them may be aware of specific locations that will accept a turtle. Or, at the very least, they’ll point you in the right direction.
There are organizations that care for turtles, but their primary focus is on wild turtles, not pet turtles. They can assist you if you are having problems with your pet turtle, but they are not a place where you can give it.
They would be unable to do anything else if they accepted all turtles. I am aware that in some limited circumstances they will assist you in disposing of your turtle, but that is not their primary mission, and thus I believe that an organization that assists turtles is not the place to go if you wish to give your turtle away.
Thus, pet turtles are unlikely to survive in the wild, and even if they do, they may cause more harm than good to the ecosystem.
If you want to get rid of your turtle properly, you should not release it in a random location in the wild.
If you have any questions about how pet turtles survive in the wild or how to properly dispose of your turtle, please leave them in the comments section and I will respond as quickly as possible.
And if you are unable to find a suitable location or individual to give your turtle to, leave a comment, and I, and my colleagues from turtleowner.com will do our best to assist you in finding a new home for your turtle.