Look Out, New England: Invasive Asian Turtles Spotted

Chinese soft-shelled turtles 'could cause major changes in the ecosystem'
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2015 9:07 AM CDT
This Sept. 11, 2015, photo shows a Chinese soft-shelled marsh turtle in Boston.   (Charlie Innis/New England Aquarium via AP)
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(Newser) – Chinese soft-shelled turtles are just little guys, between 7 and 15 inches long, but they're making waves in New England, where two of their number have been spotted recently on Massachusetts beaches, reports CBS Boston. Though considered endangered in their native eastern Asia, the "extraordinary-looking" critters are widely regarded as invasive, having established footholds in the Philippines, California, Hawaii, and Virginia. Further worrying officials at the New England Aquarium, which picked up the first turtle: They do pretty well in cold climates. "The concern is that if it can establish a population, it actually can survive our winter," the aquarium's president tells the AP. "It could cause major changes in the ecosystem. None of the animals in that ecosystem are adapted to a predator of that size. It eats large amounts of small fish, mussels, clams, and insects."

"The thing that's remarkable," she adds, "it has a really long snout, and can extend its neck. It's almost like a little periscope in the water that allows it to breathe. It has this pointy face, and you immediately know it's something very different." The turtles are farmed heavily as a food source in China—to the tune of some 300 million a year—and some theorize that these two might have been bought as food and released into the wild, which the aquarium warns against with "species that are not native to a local environment." (Read more turtle stories.)

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