European Pond Turtle/Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are often blamed for the craze of pet turtles and terrapins who were then released into ponds and streams when no longer wanted. These turtles are thought to have been found in the UK many thousands of years ago, and can now be occasionally seen again here as a result of being released or escaping from captivity.
|Identification||Adults 20-30 cm in length. Olive, brown or black in colour with yellow spots and streaks on the shell and skin. Some individuals nearly black without yellow markings.
Iris may be red, brown, yellow or white.
Similar in appearance to Red-Eared Slider but less likely to be encountered in the wild. Also lacks red flash behind eye and is darker in colour.
|Distribution||Non-native species. Thought to have been found in the UK around 8000 years ago but subsequently became extinct due to climatic cooling. Individuals found in the wild in the UK are probably escapees from the pet trade. Wide distribution across Europe (except in the north and some central areas), north-west Africa, and western and central Asia.|
|Ecology||Found in ponds, lakes and slow moving rivers. Prefer water bodies with soft bottoms such as mud or sand. Bask during the day but will dive back into the water if disturbed. Hunts for fish, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates and aquatic plants. Hibernates during the winter. In spring females lay 3-18 eggs in small holes dug in sunny spots. Incubation period lasts 2-4 months but hot weather is required. (Reproduction in the wild in the UK is rarely successful due to colder climate.)|
|Predators and other threats||In the UK, the terrapins could be prey/attacked by domestic cats and dogs, but otherwise have no natural predators here.
In their native ranges, they are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List due to threats including habitat fragmentation by roads, and vehicle mortality, and collection from the wild for the pet trade (now illegal).
N.B. The release of exotic species into the wild is a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.