THE BACKGROUND TO RED EARED TERRAPINS IN BRITAIN

The British Chelonia Group estimate that during the late 1970s and early 1908s red eared terrapins were the most commonly traded reptile in the UK with around 33,000 being imported each year. Unfortunalely what starts off as an appealing hatchling that comfortably fits into a small fishtank will after a few years become about 0.3m in length and weigh up to 2kg.
Terrapins are also not the easiest of pets to maintain when fully grown since they require a large enclosure, a lot of cleaning, fairly stringent water conditions, special food and supplements and often expensive veterinary treatment.
It is perhaps not surprising therefore that so many of these creatures find their way into streams, rivers and ponds, even though releasing them into the wild is strictly illegal.

Not all terrapins living wild have been released by irresponsible owners - some like these pictured here are ferocious escape artists!

A number of myths surround terrapins living wild. These include: they bite you very badly, they give you salmonella poisoning and they are breeding like mad and will eventually kill off all of the native wildlife.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, none of this is entirely true.
Terrapins do have very sharp beaks as anyone who has seen one rip up a piece of meat can testify, but their shape makes it virtually impossible for them to bite anyone who holds them by placing their hands halfway along the shell.
Some terrapins do carry salmonella in their guts, but official figures show that in one year only one case of salmonella poisoning could be traced to a terrapin compared to 40 that were traced to horses. The best precaution is simply to wash your hands after touching one.
Terrapins do not breed in the wild in this country for the simple reason that in order to hatch the eggs need to be incubated at 25 deg C for about 60 days.
Anyone who has seen a terrapin munching its way through a batch of frog or fish spawn could be forgiven for thinking that these creatures represent a serious threat to native wildlife. However, their chances of surviving for any length of time in the wild are not great enough to make them an ongoing problem.

A common problem among captive terrapins is a weak and spongey shell caused by high protetin low calcium diet.

Any one of a number of diseases arising from our inhospitable environment can cut short their lives within a few years.One of the commonest illnesses is vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A or Retinol, plays an important part in the production of the epithelial tissues which cover the internal and external surfaces of the body. In the terrapin the most obvious manifestation of this problem is swollen eyelids. These can eventually fuse together causing the animal to starve to death. The illness is caused by poor diet and takes sometime to develop - so a terrapin which has been brought in from the wild may initially appear to be fit but its poor eating habits will eventually catch up with it. In captivity animals may be given a vitamin A injection plus feeding with vitmain rich foods such as liver or special supplements.
Respiratory infections closely related to pneumonia will show themselves in laboured breathing, nasal and oral discharges and swimming difficulties - if not treated with antibiotics these can also result in death.
Shell rot can either be caused by lack of calcium in the diet or lack of sunlight in which the terrapins can bask to synthesise the vitamin D3 which enables them to absorb such calcium as they do come across. For cases which are not serious minor surgery may save the day - although for serious cases the prognosis is poor.
When we remember that sunlight is not the commonest commodity in this country, and that a terrapin if wild may not have access to suitable food items and furthermore that these creatures do not eat at all when the outside temperature drops below about 16-18deg C it can be seen that their chances of long term survival without proper care are not that great.
Anyone finding a terrapin should, while taking the necessary precautions take it to their nearest animal rescue centre. Not only will this prevent short term damage to the native wildlife in the area but it will also the creature itself a chance of longer term survival it is otherwise unlikely to enjoy.


Click here to read about Terrapin Rescue