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DNR Advises Against Using Wild Turtles in Derbies

Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtle

Turtle races or derbies have a long history in many Maryland communities, often in conjunction with Independence Day celebrations. However, these events can pose a potential health risk to the turtles involved, the wild populations into which derby turtles may be released, and the human participants. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) asks the public to help protect all of Maryland’s wild reptiles and amphibians from diseases by using only pet turtles in turtle races and not releasing them into the wild.

Some turtles raced in derbies are collected from the wild and, if diseased, can infect pet or other wild turtles when they are released. A particular concern is Ranavirus, an emerging infectious disease that has caused localized die-offs in Eastern Box Turtles, other native turtles, and some frogs and salamanders.

It is illegal in Maryland to release into the wild reptiles (turtles, snakes, lizards) or amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders) that have been held in captivity without prior written authorization from DNR, that have been captively produced, or are not native to Maryland.

Turtle derby participants should also note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently investigating several outbreaks of Salmonella infections in humans associated with exposure to small pet turtles. To prevent Salmonella infection from any turtle or frog, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling turtles, frogs, or their cage, aquarium or tank. People at highest risk for serious Salmonella infections ─ children, the elderly,  pregnant women, and those with weak immune systems ─ should avoid contact with these animals and their habitat. Click here to learn more.

Sale or possession of turtles with a carapace (top shell) length less than 4 inches has been illegal in the U.S. since 1975 due to the risk of transmitting Salmonella, however, they may still be available for purchase illegally. Turtles and frogs of all sizes are capable of carrying Salmonella.