An influx of marsh turtles has taken over British ponds, rivers and canals – and that may have something to do with a famous nineties cartoon …
Swamp turtles are an invasive species and – like gray squirrels and parakeets – were never really meant to call Britain home.
But all that changed in the nineties when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released on TV.
Newly found toadstool admirers reached out for turtles and turtles as pets, and to keep up with demand, turtles were imported in bulk from the United States.
They begin life the size of a 50p coin, but can grow larger than a dinner plate as they approach adulthood.
Teenage terrapins were subsequently dumped into the wild and have been seen in increasing numbers across the UK, particularly London.
The strange creatures – which can blow the bottom out – can be 40 years old.
Staff at Chiswick House and Gardens in London have noticed a huge increase in the number of terrapins at their site in recent years.
Real Estate and Facilities Assistant Conor Bakhuizen told Metro.co.uk that their 17-man population was ‘thriving’.
He said: ‘One of our rangers, Richard Sales, remembers an academic saying that “no stagnant body of water in the whole of the south of England is free of turtles and swamp turtles thanks to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
“Divorced turtles breed best in warm, tropical climates, as their eggs are not self-incubating, which means they are lost by the mother and left to develop and hatch naturally.
‘As the English climate is not warm enough to support this, the population fell steadily through the nineties.’
But the release of several Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies and TV shows led to yet another ‘boom’ in the population in the noughties.
Conor added: ‘In terms of their recent growth in numbers, we can not be sure of the exact cause. One theory, however, is that they are beginning to adapt more to the English climate and habitat.
“Like the movie, the turtles are something … mutating.”
In the past, there have been reports of marsh turtles mocking baby ducklings, snacking on bird eggs and tasting tadpoles.
But experts have explained that marsh turtles are not nearly as threatening as once thought.
Suzie Simpson, who is studying a PHD at Kent University, is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of terrapins.
She is project manager at Turtle Tally UK – which tracks the number of turtles across the country.
Suzie told Metro.co.uk: ‘Swamp turtles hadn’t really been researched before, we wanted to find out what’s going on with swamp turtles.
‘The data we collect is usually of a small number, whether individual animals in parks or ponds on tree trunks or on banks where they warm themselves up.
‘There is as yet no solid evidence that they take animals as small ducks. Doing so would take a lot of energy.
‘But they are certainly opportunistic omnivores, if they encounter a dead fish or a duckling, then they would eat them.’
Once more research has been gathered by the Suzie and Turtle Tally UK team, a true picture of the impact of swamp turtles can finally be painted.
At least 4,000 marsh turtles are thought to be wild in the UK, and London is the densest area to leave marsh turtles.
Suzie believes that while climate change may cause an increase in numbers in the future, it is ‘unrealistic’ that it is the cause of the recent increase.
She added: ‘If that were the case, we would see more young people.’
Release of marsh turtles is now illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Swamp turtles have previously been seen as far north as Inverness in Scotland.
Last week, Suzie was tasked with driving 158 miles from Kent to Bristol to rescue a pet turtle that had been released into a small pond at King’s Weston House.
It is usually not recommended to re-house the animals after a long period in the wild, she explained.
Special conditions allow for removal if the animal is sick or injured, if it is a welfare risk, or if it poses a danger to native wildlife.
Swamp turtles that are moved on from their inhabited pond or canal are sent to the National Center for Reptile Welfare in Kent to recover.
To find out more about Turtle Tally UK’s work, click here
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