European Pond Turtle

(Emys orbicularis)


European Pond Turtle IUCN LEAST CONCERN (LC)


Facts about this animal

In general European pond turtles measure 13 up to 23 cm. Females tend to be larger than males, northern sub-species larger than those found in the south. Although the appearance varies over its large range, the European pond turtle is usually easily identifiable by the bright yellow or gold speckling on the dark (olive, brown or black) carapace and skin of many juveniles and adults.


However, some populations can be nearly entirely black with very few yellow markings at all (there are currently fourteen described regional subspecies, however there is much debate over their validity). The colour of the male's iris also varies from region to region, from red, brownish-yellow and yellow to pure white, while the eyes of females are generally yellow but occasionally also white. Although the European pond turtle will bask on the shore or on floating logs or emerging objects during the day, this shy species will quickly dive back into the water if disturbed.

Sexual maturity is usually reached at 5-12 years. The mating season begins immediately following hibernation at the end of March and ends around May, depending on the latitude. Male turtles “wake up” earlier and actively seek out female partners, using water-soluble pheromones secreted by receptive females as a positional cue. Both males and females prefer larger partners, as these promise a reproductive advantage. 3 to 16 eggs, usually 9 or 10, are laid in 1-3 separate ovipositions in May and June (but up to July) in small holes dug in the ground during the later hours of the day, in some cases miles away from the home range. The incubation period varies from around 57 to 90 days, and young may emerge in autumn or stay in the nest until the following spring, surviving brief frost periods of up to –6°C. In the northern parts of its range, a long hot summer is required for eggs to hatch, so this turtle may only successfully reproduce once in every four or five years. The average size of hatchlings is 26mm and the average weight is 5g.


The species hunts underwater for fish, amphibians, tadpoles, worms, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic insects, as well as foraging for the occasional plant. The diverse climatic conditions of its extensive distribution mean that, in the northern parts of its range, this turtle is forced to hibernate for long periods during the cold winter months, while in warmer, more southerly areas, it often to the contrary aestivates to escape the summer's heat.

Did you know?
that already Aristoteles mentioned the European pond Turtle under the name “mus aquaticus“ (= water mouse). In the 1. century A.D. Plinius used for the first time the name „emys“ However Conrad Gessner gave it in 1617 the scientific denomination Testudo lutaria. This denomination can also be found with Linné (1758), who, in his “Systema naturae” by mistake also called the species Testudo orbicularis. This name was established in 1876 by W. T. Blanford as defintive denomination according to still valid rules of nomenclature. The species name „orbicularis“ („with little circles“) therefore origiates with Linnè and indicates the yellow spots on skin and plastron. In the 18. and 19. century the name Testudo europaea was used, going back to Schneider (1783). The zoological genus Emys, which contains the European pond turtle as single species, was described by Dumeril in 1806. Gray called the European pond turtle in 1831 Cistudo europaea („European turtle“). This name was – finally – replaced by Bibron in 1835 with Emys orbicularis. Until well into the 19 th century, the nominate form Emys orbicularis orbicularis was relatively common in Germany and Austria, but subsequent climatic and human-induced changes in their habitat, as well as their popularity as a meat substitute during the catholic fasting period, left these species threatened with extinction in these areas.The home range can be as big as 700m² - 5000² and 3m in depth; additional inland excursions of up to 4 km have been recorded. The European pond turtle belongs according to the groudbraking work of Claude Pieau (from 1974) to the reptiles with, von temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD). If the incubation temperature stays below 28°C only males are produced and with tepreratures above 29,5°C the hatchlings are predominantly females. Between 28°C and 29,5°C both sexes can develop Thus the so called pivotal temperature for temperature-dependent sex determination is in general indeed around 28.5°C. In German E.o. however, genetic predisposition or maternal influence appears to play an important or even predominant role.


Name (Scientific) Emys orbicularis
Name (English) European Pond Turtle
Name (French) Cistude d’Europe
Name (German) Europäische Sumpfschildkröte
Name (Spanish) Galápago europeo
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
George Chernilevsky



Range North Africa; Central Asia; Turkey; Southern, Central and Eastern Europe
Habitat Found in a wide variety of aqueous habitats, some of which may even dry up during the summer months, like rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, irrigation/drainage ditches, cattle trenches, and even the brackish waters of estuaries and coastal wetlands. However the ideal territories are characterised by large bodies of slow-moving fresh water with soft bottoms (mud or sand), lush vegetation and nearby sandy areas for nesting, although juveniles prefer shallow waters with depths of up to 50 cm. The water is left to bask or nest
Wild population The European pond turtle's wide distribution gives a deceptive impression of abundance, since its occurrence is often highly localized and populations in many parts of its range are in fact undergoing severe declines. Probably the greatest threat to this species comes from water pollution from agricultural, industrial and domestic/residential sources. Habitat destruction as a result of changing agricultural practices is also responsible for much of this decline. Particularly damaging have been the conversion of earthen drainage ditches to concrete ones as well as the the regular burning of vegetation The increasing exploitation of groundwater resources and urban expansion have also destroyed many areas where this turtle was once plentiful. The introduction of the exotic species, the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), to a number of areas, probably from released pets, is also of particular concern as it competes for the same food resources and basking spaces as the European pond turtle. In addition the hatchlings and young animals have (and always had) a number of enemies like wild boar, badger, fox, crow,raven, magpie, heron and other birds, but also cat and dog. As soon as the hatchlings are in the water they may be taken by pikes and catfish. Aduld specimens have however no more enemies in the animal world. Illegal commercial collecting of the species from the wild for the pet trade has also occurred, although most specimens on the market probably now are captive bred. Indeed the European pond turtle is legally protected over much of its range and long-term conservation projects (including captive breeding and reintroduction programmes) have bee put into place. Encouragingly some of these reintroduction programmes have proved to be very successful, with high rates of survival and nesting behaviour following their release. This provides hope for the possibility of other reintroduction programmes in the future, where numbers in the wild should fall too low.

In the Zoo

European Pond Turtle


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 43 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


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Photo Copyright by
Wolfgang Simlinger