Turtle Pond

A Hub for Turtles – and Research

Built in 1939, the turtle pond on the UT campus began as a research facility for the biology department. Today, undergraduate students work with faculty members to conduct ecological research into the pond and its inhabitants.

About the pond

First known as the botanical ponds, the turtle pond was built in 1939 shortly after the construction of the UT Tower. It has since then become an urban greenspace lush with flora and active fauna – a stopping point for the local community to relax, socialize, or simply find joy in watching the turtles. The pond is currently home to at least 100 turtles, a majority of which are red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans). Other notable species found in the pond are Texas cooters, Florida red-bellied cooters, and a few reports of Spiny softshell turtles and a Snapping turtle. According to UT’s curator of herpetology Travis LaDuc, the rapid increase in turtle numbers observed over the last 10 years can be attributed to the release of pet turtles in the pond. 


Photo: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, date unknown

Undergraduate-led research and stewardship

Passionate students of the Texas Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Club have recognized the potential for the turtle pond to serve as a “living laboratory” – a place where students can perform ongoing biological research and help educate the UT community for years to come. Under the guidance of the lab of Justin Havird (Assistant Professor, Department of Integrative Biology) and fellow UT herpetologists, student researchers seek to characterize the microbial communities living on red-eared sliders at the turtle pond and other local Austin ponds through genetic screening techniques and non-invasive sampling. The research team hypothesizes that microbial communities are distinct across the different mucosal membranes of a turtle, and that the microbial composition of red-eared sliders at the turtle pond are unique from those sampled at other locations in Austin, as well as one previously-assayed site in Oklahoma. Beyond testing these hypotheses, this research project will serve as a way for students to consistently monitor the health of the turtle pond and its inhabitants. 


Photo: Nolan Zunk

Visiting the pond

As students engage in research they share an appreciation for it with the local community. Outreach includes tabling events and mixers showcasing the growth of the turtle microbiome project and biodiversity research at UT. Please follow the Biodiversity Center on Facebook to learn about these events as they happen.

Here are some things to know before your first (or next) visit to the Turtle Pond:

  • Please don’t feed turtles human food. While it may seem like an act of service, giving them foods that isn't in their diet can cause dangerous ecological imbalances for the pond. 
  • Please stay out of the pond, and do not allow dogs into the pond.
  • Don’t release pet turtles in the pond. 
  • Please don’t touch the turtles. However, if you see a turtle on nearby streets that is in danger, please carefully lift it by the gripping both sides of the shell and avoid the head area at all times. Place the turtle on whatever side of the road it is moving towards. Turtles often roam away from the pond to find places to make egg clutches.

Red-eared slider. (Trachemys scripta elegans). Photo: Anastasia Kuzmina