Daily Invader

Chesapeake Bay Reptiles and Amphibians  

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)


American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) were brought to Virgina from the Southeast but unable to survive the winter.



“Oh, he’s so cute, can we keep him?” Believe it or not, baby alligators were widely sold in the pet trade until 1969 when the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act (1973) ended the practice. Alligators are native to the Southeastern US from East Texas to Eastern North Carolina, but have been found in some unlikely places as a result of pet releases; such as Pittsburgh, PA in 1949, where one was believed to have survived 6 or 7 winters before capture, and in Staunton, VA in March 2010. Historically, numerous releases probably occurred near the Naval Amphibious Training Base in Princess Anne County, VA where alligators were depicted on the camp insignia and frequently kept as pets and mascots by servicemen. Winter weather in the Chesapeake region is too cold for alligators to survive for more than a few years. Complete Record  


Common Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)


Common Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) were sold as pets and released into the wild.




Common Caiman crocodiles are native to central and South America from southern Mexico to Argentina. Juveniles were sold in the pet trade in the 1950s, when having a baby alligator as a pet was popular. But like all cute baby animals, they grow up. Male caimans can get as large as 8 feet long, much too large and dangerous for a family pet, so before they had the chance to eat themselves out of house and home, they were released into the wild. The first introductions were in canals in Miami, FL where they became established. Colder winters north of Southern Florida prevent the establishment of breeding populations, but there have been many reports of released caimans discovered along the East Coast as far north as Boston, MA. There are several reports of released animals in the Chesapeake Bay region, mainly from Virginia, and in August 2010, one was caught outside Baltimore. Since the animals die at about 54°F, they won’t survive in the Bay. Complete Record  


False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)


False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica) were shipped to the Atlantic states as a luxury food item in the 1800s.



Turtle soup anyone? False Map Turtles are native to the Mississippi Valley and Gulf Coast drainages; from North Dakota to Ohio, and south to Texas and Alabama. During the 1800s and early 1900s they were considered a luxury food item and were transported and sold as part of the 'terrapin' trade. The Diamondback Terrapin, the state reptile of Maryland, was a very popular food through the mid-1900s and was hunted almost to extinction. The import of False Map Turtles no doubt supplemented the local harvest of terrapins during this time. As turtle soup slowly dropped from the menu, the turtles became popular pets and were sold through the pet trade until ~1975. Numerous turtles have been collected throughout the watershed due to the release of unwanted pets. In 2010 a female with eggs was collected in Lake Elkhorn, Patuxent tributary in Columbia, MD, but we aren't certain if there are established breeding populations in Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Complete Records 


Checkered Water Snake (Natrix tessellata)


Checkered Water Snake (Natrix tessellata) was captured after hitching a ride with imported cargo from Europe.

Every day, thousands of containers of cargo from around the world arrive into the United States. Any of these containers could contain organisms from overseas ports that were unknowingly trapped onboard. The Checkered Water Snake (Dice Snake) arrived into the US along with cargo from Europe and was discovered in a warehouse at the Norfolk Navy Base, Norfolk VA, where the cargo was unloaded. Luckily, this was the only time this species has been collected in North America and it was captured in the warehouse; nevertheless there are many species that enter the US this way and some of these probably make it into the wild. The Checkered Water Snake is native to northern and central Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia, and is widely distributed. Complete Record  


Chinese Softshell Turtles (Pelodiscus sinensis)


Chinese Softshell Turtles (Pelodiscus sinensis) are a popular food in Asia but released turtles are now being found on the East Coast.

Chinese Softshell Turtles are native to East Asia from southeastern Russia to eastern China and northern Vietnam and Japan. They are freshwater turtles that have long been a traditional food item in Asia and are extensively farmed in China. They have been introduced in Malaysia, Singapore, Timor, the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii through food imports. In Europe they are a popular pet and have been found in marshes in Spain due to released pets. The first North America record was in 2003 when a dead turtle was found along the Potomac River near Accokeek, MD. Live turtles were later found in Dyke Marsh, Alexandria, VA and in Fairfax county VA (2006). In January 2011 seven turtles were found in the Passaic River, New Jersey. These introductions were likely resulted from turtles imported through the Asian seafood market. Complete Record




Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)


Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) is a popular pet that has been spread around the world.




Red-Eared Sliders are the most popular turtle in the pet trade and were captured, usually as babies, and shipped throughout the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s. The baby turtle trade was ended due to the risk of Salmonella, especially when the turtles were handled by children. They can live at least 35 years in captivity, but the baby turtles rarely survived long, since the food sold with them was inadequate. Red-eared sliders are native to the Mississippi Valley but are well established in at least 12 states outside their native range due to pet releases. The species includes numerous subspecies including one, the Yellow-Bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta), that is native to the southernmost part of the Chesapeake watershed north to Virginia Beach and the southern border of the lower James River drainage. However, the Red-Eared Sliders in the Chesapeake region are introduced. The introduced turtles compete for food with native species in the Bay as well as in other parts of their introduced range. For this reason they are included in the Global Invasive Species Program’s list of 100 of the world's worst invasive species. Complete Record 


Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle (Apalone spinifera)

Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle (Apalone spinifera) look like pancakes with pig snouts.


Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtles, pancakes with pig snouts! These cute turtles are common in the pet trade and as display animals in classrooms and science centers. They are native to the Interior Basin and Atlantic and Gulf Slopes of southeast North America, from the Lake Champlain region west to Montana, and south to Florida and Mexico. The Atlantic Slope populations range from Florida to southern North Carolina. There are 7 subspecies, of which at least 2 have been introduced into the Chesapeake Bay region, probably as a result of pet releases. Individual turtles have been found in the Chesapeake on numerous occasions, so it is likely that breeding populations have established, however, there is no evidence of a breeding population, except possibly for populations in Lake Whitehurst, Norfolk, and Windsor Virginia. Complete Record 


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