Lonely Planet Writer

Florida officials ask public to stop painting the turtles

Florida Wildlife officials are pleading with the public to stop painting turtle and tortoise shells. For some inexplicable reason, people have been painting live animal shells, leaving the creatures vulnerable to attack from predators and at risk from the toxins in the paint itself.

Turtle in Kissimmee's natural conservation areas.
Turtle in Kissimmee’s natural conservation areas. Image by Experience Kissimmee / CC BY 2.0

Painting turtle and tortoise shells prevents the animals from absorbing essential vitamins from the sun and strips the animals of their natural camouflage from predators. The toxins from paint can also cause respiratory problems and other health concerns as chemicals seep into the bloodstream. Of particular concern are gopher tortoises, which are protected, along with their burrows, under Florida state law as a threatened species. Florida offers a perfect habitat for the gopher tortoise, who live in sandy, well-drained areas with minimal tree coverage, and can often be found on the banks of rivers and beaches around the state. The gopher tortoise can live up to 60 years in the wild.

Tortoise at Oscar Scherer State Park, Laurel, Florida.
Tortoise at Oscar Scherer State Park, Laurel, Florida. Image by James Daisa / CC BY-SA 2.0

The paint can usually be removed from the shell, but sometimes it is impossible to remove all of it, or the shell is permanently stained. In some cases it may be necessary to have multiple cleaning sessions to remove all of the paint, and the animal may have to be sedated for the process. To report suspected wildlife violations, call the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 or text Tip@MyFWC.com.