Pet stores that sell baby turtles
By Dave Fogel
Like many other children born in 1960, my first real pet, a pet that was not the family dog, but my pet, was a baby red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans). Variety stores (often referred to as five-and-dime stores) supplied a great many baby turtles sold in the United States. These were predominantly red-eared sliders, but additional species, even non-native, such as the Amazon yellow-spotted side-neck turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), would periodically be offered. Typically costing only 25 or 50 cents during the 1950s and 60s, the red-eared slider became known as the dime-store turtle. Although this era was the heyday for baby pet turtles, my mother recalls purchasing a baby turtle in the early 1940s from S.S. Kresge (a five-and-dime store). She and her second-grade classmates were encouraged to bring their turtles to school, where races were held in the classroom.
The red-eared slider is an aquatic species native to the U.S., inhabiting freshwater systems, and ranging from West Virginia to New Mexico and south to the Gulf of Mexico.
The red-eared slider is an aquatic species native to the U.S., inhabiting freshwater systems, and ranging from West Virginia to New Mexico and south to the Gulf of Mexico. The typical adult size is 5 to 8 inches in length. However, individuals over 11 inches have been recorded. Although these potentially long-lived pets rarely lived long enough to grow, that did not discourage their sale.
Popularity in Print
A 1937 Sunday comics newspaper page featuring a color Ralston Purina cereal, Tom Mix cartoon included a coupon for a free baby turtle. The promotional turtle's carapace was decorated with a painted Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooter Bar Brand logo, and was mailed to children for two cereal box tops, or one box top and a 10-cent coin. Additionally, a 1950 full-color comic book advertisement offered kids "real, live racing turtles." For $1, Jamaica Pet of New York, mailed a baby turtle, with its carapace completely painted in your choice of five colors, along "with your favorite name on it, " turtle food and a glass bowl.
Boxes with cellophane windows, measuring 4 inches long, 3 inches wide, and 1 inch tall were manufactured specifically to highlight and sell baby turtles, and allow for easy transport. These boxes were also used to sell "chameleons, " which were in fact American green anoles (Anolis carolinensis). The box stated, "make ideal pets, live baby turtles; loads of fun for children, and hand-painted baby turtles."