How illegal turtles enter Oregon

By Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife

Hatchling turtles
Hatchling turtles in shipping container. ODFW photo.
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Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists warn Oregonians to be cautious when buying turtles as pets. Many of them are illegal to buy, sell or possess, despite the fact they are sold on internet sites, by street vendors and in some pet stores.

“This is the time of year we start to see more illegal turtles for sale. Small pet turtles and nonnative turtles are a big concern,” said Rick Boatner, ODFW Invasive Species Coordinator.

  • Turtles less than four inches in shell length are illegal because they commonly carry the bacteria salmonella on their skin and shells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration instituted the ban to protect infants, young children, pregnant women and others. Under Oregon Department of Agriculture rules, it is illegal to import turtles less than four inches into Oregon.
  • A number of non-native turtles are illegal, because all too often they end up in Oregon’s ponds and lakes where they compete with native turtles for food and habitat and spread disease. Red-eared sliders, named for the red “ear” (markings) on the sides of the head, are especially destructive. If you are in possession of a red-eared slider or other illegal turtle, contact your local ODFW office for advice. Never release a nonnative turtle into the wild; it hurts native habitat and species.

Oregon’s native turtles

Oregon’s two native turtles, the western painted and the western pond, are protected by law. It is illegal to take them from the wild, purchase them or keep them as pets. Both are listed on the state sensitive species list and highlighted in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as species in need of conservation.

Red-eared slider
Red-eared sliders are illegal to buy, sell or possess in Oregon. ODFW photo.
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Legal turtles

There are a number of turtles that are legal to have as pets in Oregon. Visit the Living with Wildlife, Turtles section of ODFW’s website for a list. If you do buy a turtle over the internet, on craigslist or from a pet store, quarantine it first to make sure it is healthy before adding it to your aquarium.


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