Strange Trips: How 10 Exotic Species Found Their Way to the UK

CC BY 2.0. Tony Hisgett/Wikimedia Commons

Wallabies in the Isle of Man? Parakeets in London? A number of non-native animals are thriving in the wild in the UK. Here's how they got there.

Before people started inadvertently giving rides to plants and animals, species had to spread to new areas the old fashioned way ... using their feet, their wings, or occasionally getting swept up in a hurricane. But once humans started figuring out how to globetrot, new animals started showing up in new places. Often times they become harmful invasive species and wreak havoc on local ecosystems, sometimes they don't – but either way, it's always fascinating to learn just how they got there. Movie set escapes? Sneaking through the Channel Tunnel? All that and more ... as you can read in the stories below.

Wallabies at Isle of Man

Whaaat? What are wallabies, one of Australia's iconic marsupials, doing on a small island in the Irish Sea? Sure enough, a colony of ~100 Bennett’s wallabies lives on the Isle of Man, many of them offspring from a pair that escaped from a wildlife park over 40 years ago. Another established group lives on an island on Loch Lomond in Scotland, after being introduced by an animal-loving aristocrat in the 1920s. There have also been reports of more in Kent and the Peak District.

Coatis in Cumbria


Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

These cutie members of the raccoon family are right at home in Mexico, and Central and South America ... and now in the grasslands and woods of Cumbria as well. It is believed that the coatis escaped from captivity—though it is possible that they were deliberately released.

Yellow tailed scorpion in Sheerness

Yellow tailed scorpion

BlueBreezeWiki / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

While the native range for Euscorpius flavicaudis runs from Northwest Africa to Southern Europe, one plucky group of around 13,000 has found that the area around the Sheerness dockyard makes a fine home. They've been there since the mid-19th century, when they hopped on board ships heading to the UK. Living in cracks and crevices, they aren’t thought to be harmful to the native wildlife.

Stick insects in South West England

stick insect

Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

These masters of disguise are usually associated with the tropics and subtropics, but that hasn't stopped five species of stick insects from flourishing in British gardens. How did they end up there? Well, they hitched rides on plants being imported from New Zealand ... apparently, they used their talents and were hard to see.

Killer shrimp in Wales

Killer shrimp

NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Originally from the steppe region between the Black and Caspian Seas, these voracious crustaceans frequently hitchhike with fishermen and canoeists—spreading to other areas is made easy because of their ability to survive out of water for up to two weeks! First discovered in Cambridgeshire and Wales in 2010, this little shrimp's resilience and aggression have made it a bona fide invasive species, causing destruction of delicate ecosystems and potential extinction of vulnerable insects such as the damselfly.

Ring-necked parakeets in London

Ring necked parakeet

Frank Vassen / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

There are a number of famed colonies of tropical birds living in surprising places – I've known flocks of wild parrots in such incongruous places as Pasadena, California and NYC's City Island. London is no different, with its huge colony of exotic ring-necked parakeets. Known for their vivid green plumage and red beak, they originally came from India and found their way to the South East, particularly around London and parts of Kent. Some 8,600 breeding pairs call the area home, but how did they get there? Possibly they were released into the wild from captivity – though another theory has them escaping form a film set.

Siberian chipmunks in South East England

Siberian chipmunk

Frank Vassen / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Native to North European Russia and East Asia, Siberian chipmunks may have found their way to South East England via ... wait for it ... the Channel Tunnel. Who'da thunk? Though some suggest that their introduction was due to the decidedly less DreamWorks-ready plot of simply escaping from captivity. Though come to think of it, that's pretty DreamWorksy as well. Anyway, despite their extreme cuteness, unfortunately they are competing for resources with the county's native red squirrels, who are also battling invasive gray squirrels as well.

Western green lizards in Dorset

Green lizard

Bernard DUPONT / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

We may think of bright green lizards being more at home in an exotic locale rather than the quaint UK, but Lacerta bilineata came over from the Channel Islands to make a home in the UK. Records of their existence go back to 1872, when a group of them were released in the Ynysneuadd woods in Wales. Why, I am not sure. The next record dates to 1899 when another, larger, group was released in 1899 in St. Lawrence on the Isle of Wight. Many attempts to naturalize them later, and there remains at least one colony in Boscombe, Bournemouth.

Long-nosed chimeras in UK waters


NOAA Photo Library / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Eight species of mysterious rhinochimaeridae, commonly known as the long-nosed chimera, have swum their way to the watery wilds around the UK. Related to sharks and rays, these creatures are mostly found in tropical and temperate oceans. Living in the dark depths between 200 and 2000 meters beneath the surface of the sea, they are hard to research and so scientists don't know all that much about them.

Red-eared terrapins in Cardiff & London

Red eared terrapin

Brent Myers / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

England's turtles: A cautionary tale. Thanks to the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 1980s, guess what lots of people did? They went out and bought lots of red-eared terrapins for pets. And then when they found that their kids were no longer interested in pet turtles, they released them in parks. And then guess what happened? They started taking over! Given their size and propensity to breed, they have been banned from import into several countries and the European Union.

Via GoCompare Pet Insurance.