Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have your child wanting a new pet and that could lead to trouble

TAMPA - They aren't armed with nunchucks and swords.

They don't live in a sewer and won't be asking you to order a pizza.

Sure, you can name them Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello, but that is the closest a pet turtle will get to the fictional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who first debuted in comic books in the mid-1980s.

"Even their shell is like a part of their skin," explained Molly Nall, who co-owns Critter County Junction off Hillsborough Avenue with her husband .  "Even though they seem tougher than a lot of animals they are still fragile little beings."

The Nalls know how the Hollywood hype surrounding movies featuring animals can have parents heading to the pet store after leaving the movie theater.  It was not too long ago the movie Finding Nemo had them selling clown fish and look alike goldfish.  And, when Walt Disney's G-Force hit theaters, their pet store was selling a lot of hamsters.

"It is a commitment," Nall explained of adopting any pet.

While turtles are relatively easy to take care of, Nall wants to remind parents they do need daily attention.

"It is going to take a little bit of time.  You have to remember to feed them once a day," she said.

Not to mention, they require a lagoon or tank, and that must be cleaned weekly.  In addition, since they are cold-blooded, a heat lamp is required for proper care.  Without the heat, the turtles can become sick and stop eating.

Parents should also keep in mind turtles carry salmonella.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, "In 2007, a baby girl in Florida died from Salmonella that was traced back to a pet turtle. The turtle was sold illegally at a flea market and given to the family."

"You should always wash your hands after handling any pet," Nall added.

Nall believes turtles can make good pets and can be educational for children.  She said parents need to stay away from adopting multiple turtles because they grow and can live up to four decades.

"A little yellow belly turtle starts out maybe two inches long and can end up eight to ten inches big, you know, the size of a Frisbee," she said.

As the turtles mature, you will need to upgrade their smaller lagoons and tanks to bigger ones.


Selling turtles with shells less 4 inches long is illegal since the Food and Drug Administration banned it in 1975. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this ban "likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis .

You should not have a turtle in any household that includes children under five, the elderly, or people who have lowered natural resistance to disease due to pregnancy, cancer, chemotherapy, organ transplants, diabetes, liver problems or other diseases, according to the CDC.


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise triggered environmental emergency in the early 1990s in England.

Demand for pet turtles prompted the importation of red-eared sliders to the country from the southern United States and Central America. 

Whether their children lost interest, the turtles grew too big or the maintenance was too much, many of these turtles were released into the wild, particularly waterways.  As a result, the turtles began eating other wildlife forcing animal groups to open up shelters to contain them.

The American Tortoise Rescue , a California-based non profit, is using what happened in England to plead with parents not to buy turtles as pets.  The organization believes 90 percent of turtles purchased in the wake of the first franchise movie were dumped into waterways or flushed down the toilet.

Members of the organization even posted a public letter to parents.

The letter reads:

Dear Parents,


We're asking you to save a turtle's life and perhaps even your child's.


In August, your children will be enjoying another edition of the extremely popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. This will include a whole new generation of kids who missed the 2007 animated film. It's fun and great entertainment.


But, we are writing this to ask for your help. Since the first movie was released in 1990, hundreds of thousands of live turtles, mostly water turtles called red eared sliders, were purchased for between $10 and $25 after each ninja movie was released. The result? Many, if not most, were dumped and even deliberately killed or flushed down the toilet. Remember people buying thousands of dogs that ended up in shelters after 101 Dalmatians came me out? Same problem. 


Unfortunately, children do not realize that real turtles do not fly, perform stunts or do any of the exciting moves fictional movie turtles do. Parents, trying to please their children, purchased live turtles which ended up languishing in tanks. Or, when the kids realized after a few weeks that these were not ninja turtles, the turtles were dumped illegally into rivers and lakes as well as dumpsters, flushed down toilets or relinquished

to shelters and overcrowded rescues. It's estimated that 90 percent died. As an aside, zoos do not take turtles.


Turtles have been around for 200 million years and outlived the dinosaur. Is this the way we want to treat our precious wildlife? Most of these turtles are taken out of the wild and sold to pet stores, breeders and mercados for profit.


Here's the bigger problem. Turtles carry salmonella which can make a child very, very sick and can even kill them. That's why turtles less than four inches were banned from sale in the U.S. in 1974 and still are...tiny turtles easily fit into a child's mouth. Children also tend to touch the water and don't wash their hands. It's an ugly problem. A nine month old baby in Los Angeles got salmonella meningitis from a turtle after its parents touched it and then held the baby. We do not recommend live turtles or tortoises for children under 13 because of salmonella exposure and because the kids lose interest almost immediately.


What can you do to help? Buy Ninja action figures and toys instead of live turtles and save a turtle's life, and perhaps even your child's.


Thank you. (Please spread the word and forward this email.) 


Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson, Co-founders  

American Tortoise Rescue



The FDA offers these tips to consumers: 

  • Don't buy small turtles or other reptiles or amphibians for pets or as gifts.
  • If your family is expecting a child, remove any reptile or amphibian from the home before the infant arrives.
  • Keep reptiles and amphibians out of homes with children under 5 years old, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems.
  • Do not allow reptiles or amphibians to roam freely through the house, especially in food preparation areas.
  • Do not clean aquariums or other supplies in the kitchen sink. Use bleach to disinfect a tub or other place where reptile or amphibian habitats are cleaned.
  • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching any reptile or amphibian, its housing, or anything (for example, food) that comes in contact with the animal or its housing.
  • Be aware that Salmonella infection can be caused by contact with reptiles or amphibians in petting zoos, parks, child day care facilities, or other locations.
  • Watch for symptoms of Salmonella infection, such as diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and headache. Call your doctor if you or your family have any of these symptoms.
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