Watch A ‘Small but Mighty’ Terrapin Fearlessly Expel Lions From Its Home

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Written by Sharon Parry

Updated: November 9, 2023

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A pride of lions drinking from a pond.
© Henrico Muller/

You don’t have to be big to be mighty! On the face of it, this looks like amusing and unique footage of a plucky terrapin scaring off a male and female lion from a watering hole. The size difference is huge and the looks on the lions’ faces are hilarious. They just cannot work out what is going on! They carry on drinking, however, until they have had their fill of water. The terrapin does not give up either! It keeps pestering them until they move and is lucky not to get swallowed at one point! So, what is going on here? A quick glance at the video notes reveals all.

Watch a Terrapin Try to Bite a Lion’s Tongue and More Below!

Terrapin Show Down at the Watering Hole

From the video notes, we learn that the footage was filmed at the famous Krugar National Park in South Africa. We also learn that it was captured by a guide at a location on the Sand River. Apparently, the lions had recently caught a zebra foal so the guide expected that they would need to drink before long. He found a location near to a watering hole and waited for them to turn up.

Diamondback Terrapin

Terrapins usually live 25-40 years.


What he did not expect was the interaction with the terrapin! However, this is not just curiosity on the part of the brave little creature. The lions have visible blood on their faces and paws and it is this that probably attracted the terrapin as they entered the water.

Terrapins In Africa

The Pan hinged terrapin has a smooth rounded shell and a plastral hinge.

©Abu Shawka, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

The African national parks are known for their big game animals but there are plenty of fascinating smaller species there as well. The three species of terrapin found most often in the Kruger National Park are the cape terrapins, serrated terrapins, and pan-hinged terrapins although the names of these species vary. Serrated hinged terrapins are often found in lakes and rivers in this area. They can be spotted basking on logs and mud banks but are also seen on the backs of sleeping hippopotami. They eat water snails, and insects as well as plants.

Pan Hinged Terrapins are small with a smooth rounded shell and a plastral hinge. Their skin is a dull grey-brown but their shell is slightly darker. They eat small reptiles, amphibians invertebrates, and birds. The cape terrapin is found in ponds and is also called the African helmeted turtle. They will feed on carrion so it is possible that blood on the lions would have attracted them.

Is It Normal For a Terrapin To Challenge a Lion?

Lion and lioness drinking at the watering hole

Lions drink at watering holes after a hunt

©Stu Porter/

By nature, various subspecies of terrapin turtles can exhibit aggressive behavior and will even bite. Consider the American snapping turtle, a type of terrapin that is known for its painful bite. Even though terrapins don’t technically have teeth,  their bite is so powerful it can remove a human finger. Besides their snapping jaws, terrapins also have very sharp claws and have also been known to make a barking sound if disturbed.

This little turtle is quite brave, pestering the lions in such a way. It could be a territorial move or just plain old curiosity. We’d surmise that it’s not normal behavior, as video footage of this kind is rare. The turtle may not be aware of how risky its behavior is, given that lions have preyed on turtles at times. A terrapin is not an African lion’s prey of choice, though. While lions are opportunistic predators and would possibly target a turtle if suffering hunger pangs, turtles are not that easy for a lion to sink its teeth into. Lions do prey on turtles, as well as birds, hares, mice, lizards, wild hogs, wild dogs, antelopes, cheetahs, buffaloes, leopards, crocodiles, baby elephants, rhinoceros, hippos, and giraffes.

This particular terrapin is quite lucky that the lions had already eaten.

Other Amazing Animal Videos You May Like

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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