It’s been named Fluffy, but its spiky appearance and “nasty bite” means only the brave – or the foolish – would attempt to offer this particular turtle a cuddle.

The dinosaur-like creature, an alligator snapping turtle that can cut bones and is native to swamps and rivers in southern parts of the US, was rescued from a tarn in Cumbria on Monday.

A local dog walker had spotted the exotic creature bathing in the shallow waters of Urswick Tarn, a small lake near Ulverston, and asked others for help identifying it on Facebook.

Denise Chamberlain, an Urswick parish councillor who keeps tortoises and previously spent a couple of years living in the southern US state of Florida, was alerted to the social media post by a friend and instantly recognised the distinctive carnivorous species.

“I looked at it and immediately thought: oh goodness, I know what you are,” said Chamberlain. “I have seen snapping turtles in the wild, but on a much bigger scale. They grow to about 14 stone – and they can snap fingers.”

Despite only being a juvenile, the snapping turtle she had found could still give someone a “nasty nip”, she said. “These turtles have a natural defence mechanism: when you go near them, they open their mouth.”

While snapping turtles are not illegal to own as pets in this country, they are expensive and difficult to care for, so it is possible that Fluffy was dumped in the tarn by a former owner.

After an initial reconnaissance mission to the lake, to check she had identified the reptile correctly, Chamberlain made a few calls to try to organise a rescue effort. “These species are invasive, they’re non-native and I knew it was going to upset the ecology of the tarn, which is very finely balanced.”

The turtles have no natural predators, can grow to around 80cm and live for up to 70 years. They are also found in South and Central America, and have powerful jaws capable of breaking through bone. “That type of creature, while it’s not going to breed, could do some real damage to the fish stocks and eat all sorts of local wildlife,” said Chamberlain.

Chamberlain’s efforts to get help proved fruitless so, although she had never handled anything like it before, she decided to rescue the turtle herself.

She filled a plastic container with water from the tarn, grabbed a plastic shopping basket and entered the muddy water up to her calves.

The turtle, she said, was “just sat in the shadows”, looking angry, with only its nose above the waterline. “It was lurking around the top so it could catch the rays of the sun, but stay underwater and breathe.” She added: “It looked like a prehistoric little dinosaur.”

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As she came closer, it opened her mouth to show her its strong, beak-like jaw. “Fortunately, because it was quite cold and the turtle itself was quite cold, it wasn’t too difficult to manoeuvre into the shopping basket.”

After “very carefully” giving the reptile a once-over at home to check it wasn’t hurt, Chamberlain fed it some raw chicken and then took it to Wild Side Vets in Barrow.

A more permanent home has now been found for Fluffy at a wildlife sanctuary in Cornwall.

“I think the name Fluffy is very appropriate – it’s a reference to the creature in Harry Potter. And as someone on Facebook said, it certainly looks like a creature Hagrid would love.”


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