The FWC is investigating a virus, currently known as Turtle Bunyavirus (TBV,) that has been detected in some of the state’s native and nonnative freshwater turtle species.
The FWC takes TBV seriously and is taking proactive steps to monitor and slow the spread of the virus. To reduce the geographic spread of TBV, and lessen potential impacts of this virus, the FWC has enacted Executive Order #21-19 which prohibits the take and transportation of the following species: Florida softshell turtles (Apalone ferox), smooth softshell turtles (Apalone mutica), spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera), and yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta). The virus is also known to infect Florida’s cooter species (genus Pseudemys), which are already prohibited from being removed from the wild, and red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), which are a prohibited nonnative species. The EO will help to conserve native turtle species while biologists work to fully understand the impacts of TBV. The FWC is also soliciting sightings of sick and dead freshwater turtles of any species for further investigation.
While this Executive Order is targeted at reducing the spread of TBV by prohibiting the take and transportation of known carriers, to minimize any additional potential spread, additional precautions including not moving or relocating any other turtle species would be beneficial.
Description of sick and dead turtles potentially infected with TBV
Clinical signs of TBV may include all or some of the following: weakness, lethargy, swollen, closed or sunken eyelids, discharge from the nose or eyes, and splotchy red discoloration on softshells. Turtles with TBV may appear to have difficulty breathing, be reluctant to flee, and swim irregularly. A more in-depth description of infected turtles is available in the Frequently Asked Questions below.
To help assess the geographic distribution of the virus, the FWC is encouraging the public to report sick and dead freshwater turtles meeting the above description. Submit reports of sick and dead freshwater turtles by calling the FWC’s Freshwater Turtle Hotline at 352-339-8597, or by using the FWC Reporter App. Contact the FWC before handling sick or dead turtles.
Sick turtles may be transported to licensed rehabbers if needed. However, the FWC and rehabber should be contacted before transporting the animal.
The FWC and partners will continue to conduct monitoring and testing for this virus. Currently, the science (epidemiology) of TBV is not yet understood. This page will be updated as more information becomes available.
Frequently Asked Questions
Turtles infected with TBV may vary in appearance and severity of clinical signs. Turtles may appear lethargic, slow to respond to the presence of an observer, or without any obvious signs of injury. This may include the inability of a turtle to hold its head and neck up, or lack of general alertness if approached. In water, turtles may be seen swimming lopsided or in circular patterns or unable to fully submerge. Turtles with TBV may appear to have difficulty breathing and their eyes may appear sunken.
Clinical signs may include swollen or closed eyelids, often with a layer of crusty material coating the eyelids. Some turtles may have discharge from the nose and eyes. Softshell turtles may have a splotchy red discoloration on their bottom shell (plastron), neck and limbs.
The most important thing you can do is notify the FWC by calling (352) 339-8597 or using the FWC Reporter App on your smartphone.
In Florida, turtle bunyavirus has been detected in the following five species of freshwater turtles: Florida softshell turtle, peninsula cooter, Florida red-bellied cooter, yellow-bellied slider and red-eared slider.
It is possible that the virus may affect other turtle species, especially species that are closely taxonomically related to the known susceptible hosts. The FWC will continue to monitor reports of all species of sick turtles.
There is no current evidence to suggest that humans or wildlife other than turtles can be infected with turtle bunyavirus. It is possible that TBV infects other turtle species, including species outlined in the Executive Order. The FWC is monitoring reports of all sick and dead turtles to determine which species are susceptible to TBV. Before handling a sick or dead turtle, contact the FWC.
Adhering to the prohibitions outlined in the executive order will help to slow the spread of this virus. Additional precautions, like not collecting or moving any species of turtle, or other reptiles, are good practices. Reporting any apparently sick turtle to the FWC will help researchers monitor the spread of TBV. Finally, sharing the reporting request from the FWC will help spread the reach of reports that are submitted.
The first mortalities associated with TBV may have been as early as January 2018, although the FWC was not notified of these deaths until March 2018. The FWC has been closely monitoring reported turtle mortalities since March 2018.
Currently, TBV has been detected in the following counties: Brevard, Collier, Indian River, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Putnam, and Seminole. However, reports of sick and dead turtles have been received from across the state, and the full extent of the TBV distribution throughout the state is unknown.
There is currently no known cure for this virus. FWC biologists are working with partners to learn more.