Question:

I've heard from several pet shop owners that it is illegal for them to sell baby water turtles because the babies have been known to carry harmful bacteria. Why is this, and am I at risk if I breed my two red-eared sliders (both are healthy)? I've owned the turtles for more than four years and would like to learn more about them.

Answer:

The bacteria you are referring to are Salmonella, the bacteria that cause salmonellosis.

In 1975, the Food and Drug Administration passed a law making it illegal to sell viable turtle eggs or live turtles with a shell length of less than four inches in the United States. [Editor's note: to read this law go to 4-inch regulations.] It was believed that animals larger than four inches did not pose the same threat as the bulk sold hatchlings, and as a result were still legal for trade.

Salmonellosis is perhaps the single most infamous zoonosis (disease that can be transmitted from animals to people) associated with reptiles. Over 200 types of Salmonella have been isolated from reptiles, including aquatic turtles, land tortoises, lizards, snakes and crocodilians. All of these types of Salmonella are considered dangerous to people.

The red-eared slider was the turtle that received the majority of the negative publicity. At the time that salmonellosis was a major disease concern, the slider was the most common type of turtle kept as a pet in the United States. In the early 1970's it was estimated that about 280,000 cases of human salmonellosis were contracted from pet turtles.