Terrapin Tales of Hull and East Yorkshire

Hull and East Yorkshire residents might just catch a glimpse of an unusual animal when they head to their local park this summer according to a University of Hull researcher.

Dr Africa Gómez, a Senior Lecturer in Biological Sciences at the University of Hull, reveals the extent to which terrapins have been found living in the region in a new article published in August’s issue of The Naturalist – the journal of the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union. Produced in conjunction with Dr Richard Shillaker from Hull Natural History Society, the feature reveals that terrapins have been spotted at 32 sites across Hull and East Yorkshire.

Dr Gómez said: “Although not native to the UK, terrapins are widely recorded as living wild in the country. These exotic species were widely sold in the pet trade in the 1990s – largely because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze. Terrapins that live in the wild in the UK are former pets that have been abandoned when no longer wanted. However, little has been published in terms of the level and existence of terrapins in Hull and East Yorkshire.”

In addition to their own surveys the researchers reviewed existing data from a range of sources and appealed for new information via social media – they discovered a total of 10 sites in Hull and 22 in East Riding of Yorkshire where terrapins have been spotted living.

East Park, High Eske Nature Reserve, Walkington village pond, Pickering Park and Pocklington Canal are among the locations where terrapins are known to live in the region. A total of four different terrapin species have been spotted across Hull and East Yorkshire.

Although many sightings were of single terrapins, groups of several terrapins have been recorded at lakes in East Park and Pickering Park.

Dr Gómez explains: “The sunny, warm weather brings terrapins out of the water and onto their basking spots. During the colder months of the year, they hibernate, normally under water. Terrapins are very easily overlooked. They are out of sight when swimming under water or basking somewhere that’s hidden from view and so are generally under-recorded. In Hull, there are recordings of several ‘large’ terrapins in 2 park lakes: 9 have been recorded in East Park lake and 7 were seen together in Pickering Park lake. Though more are thought to be present in both.”

Terrapins are related to tortoises and sea turtles, though they are usually found living in freshwaters like lakes and rivers. They can live for about 40 years in the wild but are unable to breed in the UK as the climate is not warm enough to incubate a terrapin egg.

Although there are reports of terrapins being released into the wild in the UK since Victorian times, the earliest definite terrapin record in East Yorkshire is from Brandesburton in 1992.

The researchers also discovered reports of a pair of terrapins known to have been living in Walkington Village Pond for about 20 years. Residents have observed that although the pair did not used to interact with each other, over recent years they have started to seek out each other’s company and can be seen together on what seems to be their “favourite log” at the west end of the pond.

Dr Gómez added: “Introduced species often get bad press, for example terrapins are blamed for the loss of ducklings or other water birds, however, there is little evidence for this. Pike and gulls are likely to represent more serious predatory threats to chicks than terrapins. However, we don’t know enough about the diet and ecological impacts of introduced terrapins, and this should be the focus of further research. 

“The continued presence of terrapins in Hull and East Yorkshire will depend on the balance of recruitment to, and loss from, the current population. Without further illegal abandonment of these unwanted pets into the wild the terrapin population in Hull and East Yorkshire will eventually die out. Terrapins are still offered for sale as pets in the UK but all species – including the European Pond Terrapin, are regarded as non-native in the UK – hence, releasing any terrapin into the environment in the UK is an offence.”

The researchers continue to record the presence of terrapins in Hull and East Yorkshire. If you have seen or photographed a terrapin in the region, please contact Dr Gomez at A.Gomez@hull.ac.uk