On March 31st, we were alerted to an incident where a member of public had found a Florida softshell turtle in an inland area of water in North East England. The turtle, a non-native species had most likely been released after its owner could no longer care for it, or had not realised the size and age these get can reach. This is a fairly common occurrence and has been since the early 90s after the red-eared slider/terrapin (RES) became a popular pet for children, mainly based on the popularity of cartoon series and film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The RES are the most common turtles owned as they breed well in captivity and are easy to sell, but while they may be cute as hatchlings they grow to an average length of 15-20cm and have been known to reach 40cm. Their life span is on average 20-30 years but can be more. This is something that most people don’t take into account when buying them for a child, therefore not planning for the future once the child has left home or grown tired of the pet.
The softshell turtle is unique among turtle species because, as their name implies, they do not have the hard shell most other species have. There are a few sub-species within the type and they can be kept as pets as long as they are cared for properly and owners are prepared for the size they can grow to. They need a certain water temperature, a heat source and also UV light, which converts the calcium in their food into nutrients. Without this, soft-shelled turtles are unlikely to survive.
There are many reasons why releasing these reptiles into the wild is wrong and although some do thrive in certain areas, many will often meet a sad end. Although the RES is a fairly hardy species and can survive our winters, they are classed as an invasive species and will predate upon native species such as fish, toads, newts, dragonfly larvae, tadpoles and aquatic plants, and pose a huge threat to the ecosystem. The release of exotic species into the wild is a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Our volunteer marine mammal medic Carol, collected the turtle and cared for it overnight, it has now been handed over to the RSPCA and they are taking it to a turtle sanctuary in Yorkshire.