Humans and Nature
Online ISSN : 2185-4513
Print ISSN : 0918-1725
ISSN-L : 0918-1725
Measuring the impact of invasive species on popular culture: A case study based on toy turtles from Japan

2016 Volume 27 Pages 1-11


The red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) is native to portions of the United States of America (USA) and adjacent northeastern Mexico. The bright and colorful hatchlings have long been popular as pets globally but numerous individuals have been released into the wild stablishing populations in areas well outside their native range. As a result, slider turtles are now introduced worldwide on all continents, with the exception of Antarctica, and many temperate and tropical islands, including Japan. They are very successful at establishing breeding populations in a variety of habitats, even those in proximity to human development. Once established in large populations, they compete with native turtle species sometimes to the detriment of the latter. Tin toy turtles were popular in Japan for decades, and they were an important export item after World War II. From the 1920s to the 1950s, prior to the widespread establishment of slider populations in Japan, the toys were characterized by muted earth-tone colors representative of native species of Japanese turtles. After the 1950s, toy turtles exhibited brighter combinations of yellow, red and green more typical of slider turtles. This transition may reflect demand for more colorful toys by importing countries like the USA. Alternatively, the change was coincident with the importation of large numbers of colorful slider turtles to Japan via the pet trade and their subsequent establishment and numerical dominance in Japanese wetlands. This switch in toy turtle colors may reflect a cultural transition in awareness of what constitutes the appearance of a typical turtle in Japan. Sliders appear to have been accepted by Japanese consumers as a new cultural norm in the appearance of turtles, a case of art imitating life.

© 2016 Museum of Nature and Human Activities, Hyogo
Next article