Invasive Species Council of British Columbia

Turtle Trouble

Grade: 4 to 7

Duration: 30-75 mins

Setting: Indoor/outdoor

Subjects: Math, Science

Physical Activity: Yes

Bring Science, Physical Education and Math outdoors with this active game to learn about the essential components of a habitat and simulate how invasive species can impact native species. In this activity students will learn about BC’s only native pond turtle, the Painted turtle, which is threatened by an invasive turtle species, the Red-eared slider. 

This activity is part of the lesson “A Beginner’s Guide to Invasive Species”, where students engage in discussion, analysis, investigations, and interactive indoor and outdoor games to spark their curiosity, learn about the issue of invasive species and how they impact us all.

Related activities
Inquiry Questions
  • What are the impacts of invasive species?
  • How does releasing a pet impact native wildlife?
  • How can I be a responsible pet owner?
BC Curriculum Links

Science Big Ideas

  • All living things sense and respond to their environment (Grade 4)
  • Multicellular organisms have organ systems that enable them to survive and interact within their environment (Grade 5)
  • Multicellular organisms rely on internal systems to survive, reproduce, and interact with their environment (Grade 6)
  • Evolution by natural selection provides an explanation for the diversity and survival of living things (Grade 7)

Math Big Ideas

  • Patterns expressed and identified in tools and tables (Grades 4, 5)
  • Linear relations (Grades 6, 7)
  • a clipboard and writing utensil
  • pinnies or arm bands (1 colour)
documents to DownloaD

All animals need food, water, shelter, and space in order to survive and reproduce. These are the essential components of their home or habitat. An invasive species can impact native species by outcompeting them and “hogging” some of these resources. Over time, this can result in an increase in the population of the invasive species and a decrease in native species. 

For a background on invasive species and their impacts, read Background Information on Invasive Species for Educators and Don’t Let it Loose.

Pond turtles, such as the Western painted turtle and Red-eared slider, are generalist omnivores, meaning that they eat a variety of both plant and animal material. They spend their lives in the water and rely on logs upon which they bask in the sun to regulate their body temperature.  Turtles come on land to dig a hole in which they lay their eggs. Western painted turtles are British Columbia’s only native pond turtle. They are a Species at Risk and are most threatened by the loss of their wetland habitat. They also face competition for resources from invasive Red-eared sliders who live in the same habitats as the painted turtles. Red-eared sliders are popular pets. But when people purchase them when they are tiny, loony-sized hatchlings they often don’t know how big they will get, how long they live, or how much care they require. Unfortunately, many red-eared sliders are pets gone wild, released by their former owners who didn’t consider what the consequences would be for our native species and habitats.

  • Download Turtle Trouble Datasheet
  • Identify outdoor playing space and mark boundaries

Game Introduction and Overview

  1. Start by explaining that students are going to participate in an activity that emphasizes the most essential things that animals need to survive. Review what is a habitat and its components: food, water, shelter, and space. In this game we will explore how the availability of these habitat components (resources) and the introduction of an invasive species impact native populations.
  2. Introduce the main characters of this game: British Columbia’s only native species of pond turtle, the Western painted turtle, a Species at Risk, and the invasive Red-eared slider, released by former pet owners where it thrives in the wild.
  3. Count the students off in fours. All the 1s are Western painted turtles; all the others are Habitat Components: food, shelter, or space. Water isn’t included and it is assumed that there is abundant and unpolluted water in the pond. One student could be in charge of data collection, or the teacher or other adult could have this role.

Have students help decide upon the gestures that represent the resources. Some suggestions are:

  • Food: Put hands over stomach
  • Shelter: Put hands over head like a roof (or a gesture that could represent a basking log or nest site)
  • Space: Put arms out to the sides

Demonstrate the gestures and practice making the motions while saying the resource names.

During each round of the activity, each Western painted turtle student will individually decide which of the habitat components (food, shelter, or space) they will try to gather in that round. At the same time, each Habitat student will choose what resource (food, shelter, or space) they will be in that round. 

Game Procedure

Part 1.  Western painted turtles and Habitat Components

  1. Western painted turtles all go to one end of a playing field and spread out along a line. The Habitat students form a line on the other side of the field, approximately 10-20 metres apart, depending on your available space (and how much you want the students to run!).  The Turtles should have their backs towards the Habitat students (each line facing outwards, with backs towards the middle of the playing field) so that they can’t see each other.  Everyone should be close enough to be able to hear you clearly. 
  2. Before each round, count the number of Western painted turtles, Habitat Components, and invasive Red-eared sliders (who will be added later) and fill this in on the Turtle Trouble Datasheet.
  3. At the start of each round, each student decides upon the resource that they will be (in the case of Habitat students) or that they need to survive (in the case of Turtle students).  At the count of 3 (or “Ready, Set, Swim!”), each student makes their gesture, then turns and faces the centre of the playing area, for all to see.  They can’t change their mind and must stay the same resource for that round.  Turtles run over to the Habitat students to find someone who is doing the same gesture as them. 
  4. If Western painted turtles are able to find a Habitat student who has the matching resource that they need, they bring them back to the turtle area.  This represents that it was able to meet its survival needs and the population of turtles increased. 
  5. If the Western painted turtle cannot find a matching Habitat, they stay at the Habitat end of the playing field.  This represents that the turtle couldn’t find the resource that it needed to survive in its habitat, so it died and became part of the Habitat (its body was recycled – nothing wasted in an ecosystem!). In the next round they become the Habitat Component that they were missing when they were a turtle.
  6. If there is a tie with two Western painted turtles arriving at the same time at the only remaining Habitat student that matches their resource need, an adult can be the judge of who arrived first or have another way to decide the outcome, such as a coin toss or Rock-Paper-Scissors.
  7. Play some brisk rounds (4 or 5) with only Western painted turtles and Habitat students.  Notice how the numbers of Habitat Components and Western painted turtles fluctuate.

Part 2. Red-eared sliders are introduced

  1. Tell the students that someone has just released some of their pet Red-eared sliders into their pond. Ask what they think will happen. Select two or three students to be the Red-eared sliders and have them wear the coloured pinnies or arm-bands to distinguish them from the Western painted turtles. 
  2. Explain that the Red-eared sliders can out-compete the Western painted turtles for food, shelter, and space. As such, the Red-eared sliders have an advantage: they can take their resources first.  Have them form a line halfway between the Western painted turtles and Habitat Components.  In this part of the game, any Western painted turtle left without a Habitat Component becomes a Red-eared slider; any Red-eared slider without a matching Habitat Component becomes part of the habitat in the next round, joining the Habitat students at the other side of the playing field.
  3. Continue a few rounds to show how Red-eared sliders outcompete native Western painted turtles.  Be sure to tally the numbers in each round on the Turtle Trouble Datasheet. Between each round, have the students notice how the Western painted turtle population is faring.
  4. After the game, discuss the activity and encourage the students to talk about what patterns they noticed and what they experienced.  Continue the discussion and analysis back in the classroom.

Analysis and Discussion

Back indoors, share the Turtle Trouble Datasheet. Divide students into small groups to work together to graph the population change of each species of turtle over time. Put the years [rounds] on the x-axis and population size on the y-axis.  Notice how the population fluctuated over time. Some sample discussion questions include:

  • What happened to the Western painted turtle population when Red-eared sliders were introduced to the pond?
  • Was your hypothesis about what would happen when the Red-eared sliders were introduced supported? Why or why not?
  • In what year was there the greatest increase (or decrease) in the population size of Western painted turtles?
  • In what year was there the greatest increase (or decrease) in the population size of Red-eared sliders?
  • Compare the available habitat (number of habitat students) before and after the Red-eared sliders were introduced.
  • What are some things you learned about habitats and invasive species by playing this game?
  • How do you think it would change if we added a predator to the game? What other changes could you make and how would it affect the outcome?
  • How is this simulation similar to or different from what happens in nature when an invasive species is introduced?  What other examples can you think of where invasive species might outcompete native species in a habitat?
  • What are some things that we could do to prevent the release of pets into the wild and to reduce the impact of invasive species like Red-eared sliders?
Share with us!

We’d love to have your feedback and see photos of your students’ learning and participation in this activity. Send to for the opportunity to win resources and have your class have a virtual visit with an invasive species expert!

  • Play the game again with a twist! Assign a few students the role Habitat Guardians. These students are responsible pet owners and can tag the Red-eared sliders. If they tag the Red-eared sliders before the Red-eared sliders gather their Habitat Component, the Red-eared slider becomes part of the Habitat (returns to their aquarium).
  • Go outdoors to local ponds or lakes on warm days in the spring to look for turtles in the wild. Try to identify if they are Red-eared sliders or Western painted turtles. 
  • Share how to be a responsible pet owner and the “Don’t Let it Loose” message with the school or greater community in fun video advertisements or comic strips. 
Additional Resources

Turtle Trouble is an adaptation of “Oh Deer!” from Project WILD.