Terrapins around Doncaster

Introduction: The American children’s cartoon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so popular on TV from 1987 to 1996 is widely credited with having fueled the demand for terrapins as pets. Terrapins are bred in their millions on farms in the southern United States and exported mainly to the UK and Europe for the pet trade (Internet Ref. 1). Imported as appealing 50p piece-sized hatchlings, the fickle fad for them is periodically renewed by the release of yet more additions to the Ninja Turtles franchise and children’s films such as Finding Nemo in 2003 and its 3D version in 2013 and A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures in 2010.

Abandoned pets: Sadly as naïve owners tire of these long-lived creatures (living from 30-50 years), which grow to the size of a soup bowl and can become vectors of the food poisoning bacterium Salmonella, many are dumped into the wild. Such is the extent of the problem that many public ponds, canals and lakes are now home to abandoned terrapins (Durkin, 2016 & Internet Ref. 2).

Becoming naturalized: Although breeding has not been proved in the Yorkshire region, a female was found laying eggs at Shibdon Pond in Gateshead, Co. Durham, and they are known to successfully breed on our latitude in Denmark and in the Netherlands (Durkin, 2016). It has been suggested that with progressively warming summers these exotic reptiles may begin to breed and compete with our native fauna (Internet Ref. 2), so in anticipation of them becoming naturalized, since January 2015 EU Invasive Alien Species Regulations have in theory made it illegal to release terrapins into the wild.

Taxonomy: Most terrapins imported by the pet trade belong to the reptile order Testudines (turtles) the vast majority being the Red-eared Terrapin Trachemys scripta elegans, of the family Emydidae from the Mississippi river basin though occasionally examples of the sub species T.s.scripta or Yellow-bellied Terrapin from northern Mexico and the southern USA turn up. Exceptionally bruisers like the Alligator-snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) of the family Chelydridae are discovered, one being ‘rescued’ from the Angling pond at Abbeydale (SK3281), Sheffield in the 1990s.

Local records: On 6 September 2020 during an ad-hock visit to the Edlington Pit Wood Community Woodland (SK5499), Nora Boyle and I encountered a Red-eared Terrapin in the upper lake, basking in the sunshine on a floating log. In drawing this to the attention of Ian Singleton of the Edligton Pit Wood support group, Ian informed us that two had been seen in the lake and that another had been seen in the nearby Edlington Brick pond [now named Martinwell Lake] (SK5398) (see internet ref. 3).

There were numerous sightings of a terrapin (pre 2008) in the Don at Sprotbrough Flash Nature Reserve (SE5300). One was seen at Sandall Park, Doncaster (SE603056) 10 April 2008 (per museum enquiry). Also one was spotted basking in the sun at Doncaster Lakeside (SE5901) one sunny week end in April 2008 (per museum enquiry).

Further afield: Such large numbers were being abandoned in the Sheffield/Rotherham conurbation during the 1990s that the RSPCA and Local Authority were overwhelmed and the Sheffield Turtle Trust was set up to undertake ‘rescues’ and to try to re-home some of these pets. Although the Trust was frantically busy and did sterling work, records of finds seem not to have been kept.

On 16 January 2020 one was found ‘shuffling about’ (probably shivering) beside one of the streams in Graves Park (SK3582). Although the local folklore suggested there was a number of them in the park, Caroline Dewar of the Friends of Graves Park was not previously aware, of any terrapins living there – despite volunteers regularly tending to the park’s wildlife area and there being plenty of water in the park for them to inhabit (internet ref. 4).

Rotherham area: The Rotherham Biological Records Centre has a series of sightings from Thrybergh (SK4795) from 9 October 1997; 8 July 1998; 28 May 2001; 13 June 2009 and 4 July 2009.

Barnsley area: On 8th June 2007 one was photographed basking in the sun at Worsbrough Country Park (SE3403) (Internet Ref. 4). At Carlton Marsh (SE3710) during 2020 a Red-eared Terrapin was swimming in the scrape on 13 June. 2 were in the main wader scrape on 19 and 30 July and 3 were present on 22 August (Per. D. Standish & C. Gorman) (Internet ref. 5)

Wakefield area: A Red-eared Terrapin was in the north-east corner of Wintersett Reservoir (SE3815) on 4 May; 28 & 31 July 2020 (Internet ref. 5).

Castleford area: Red-eared Terrapins were seen in Pit Lane Flash (SE4027), Mickletown Ings during 2004. One hauled out on a coot nests to bask in the sun on 23 May then 3 were seen on 18 July and 2 on 24 October (per. John Martin) (Sunter, 2005).

Internet references
1) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/terrapins-terrorise-pond-life-1462666.html
2) https://aboutmanchester.co.uk/sea-life-manchester-launch-dont-flush-appeal/
3) https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/people/deadly-man-eating-pirahna-fish-found-in-doncaster-lake
4) https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/people/terrapins-are-thriving-sheffields-parks-and-green-spaces-its-bad-news-other-wildlife-1369405
5) https://barnsleybirds.blogspot.com/2020/07

Literature references
Durkin J.L. (2016) Reptile Atlas of North-East England. Available as a pdf file from
Sunter, R. (2005) The Yorkshire Reptile and Amphibian Report for 2004. Privately circulated.