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In the United States (U.S.), pet turtles have been associated with outbreaks of salmonellosis, a serious and sometimes-fatal intestinal illness caused by Salmonella bacteria, with nearly 300,000 people being infected in some years. Children are particularly susceptible because of their propensity to put items, including small turtles, in their mouths. In 1975, a U.S. federal regulation prohibited the sale of turtles <4 inches (101.6 mm) in size, except for the purposes of export, scientific, or educational purposes. This regulation was established to reduce the incidence of salmonellosis, particularly in small children. Previous research has not evaluated the availability of turtles <4 inches in size on websites selling wildlife. We monitored 16 websites in 2021 and quantified listings of small turtles. We determined whether information on Salmonella, the 1975 federal regulation, or related state regulations were provided on the websites and determined legality of sales of small turtles by state regulations. We found that all 16 websites openly advertised and sold turtles <4 inches in size, but only half of these websites provided information about Salmonella and/or the federal regulation. These websites required buyers to confirm that they were not purchasing a turtle as a pet, thereby putting the onus on the consumer to adhere to the regulation. We documented 515 listings of turtles <4 inches in size, including 47 species and one hybrid. Our study has demonstrated that internet sales of small turtles currently represent part of the thriving online pet trade in the U.S. Enforcement of the federal regulation faces jurisdictional challenges in most states. Therefore, we recommend continued public education campaigns by public health agencies in the U.S. to help reduce the risk that pet turtle ownership presents.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

PLoS One





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