Emys orbicularis


Emys orbicularis before release into the wild.

Emys orbicularis

The European pond turtle Emys orbicularis (Linneo, 1758) belongs to the Emydidae family, which includes semi-aquatic and terrestrial turtles present in all continents excluding Australia and Antarctica.

This family, well distributed with different genera in the America, used to be represented in EU only by the  Emys orbicularis until 2005, when a genetic survey differentiated the Sicilian population as a new species, the, Emys trinacris Fritz et al., 2005.

Emys orbicularis is the terrapin that reaches the highest latitudes and has a very large areal. This reptiles is present in Europe and in the Middle East up to the Caspio regions, Areal lake, and Kazakhistan. Other minor population are locate in the Maghreb areas: Marocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

It is a mid-size testudo, the carapax could be up to 30cm long in the central EU population, and normally is flattened, if compared with the terrestrial testudo, and also very sturdy.  Coloration is very variable: goes from black to red-brown, yellow-greenish; in many population a yellow polka dots appearance is present especially along the extremities of the carapax.

The ovoid head, present few large dark scales, often with yellow spots; limbs are short and has well distinct toes, with sharp nails, connected to a robust swim membrane, better developed in the posterior limbs.  

Males are smaller in size than females, the plastron is concave and the tail is longer and thicker.

The European pond turtle is very dependent on the wetlands , and move into dry lands only for nesting proposes or for short migrations due to the some pond dry out.

The utilized environment are the most different: canals, permanent or transitory ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks, peat-lands, and brackish water areas; but generally they preferred calm waters in flat areas.


Activity timeframe
Activity timeframe is concentrated between the first few warm days of March-April until the end of October. In warmer years, especially in the south regions, the European pond turtle remain active almost throughout the year; but generally, when temperature goes below 10°C, the animals goes in to a  lethargic phase, buried its self under the mud  near by the banks.

During the activity period the turtles sped most of their time basking under the sun along the banks, on small islands, on floating material, or on logs. Youngsters are mainly carnivores, while the adults add to their diet lot of vegetation. 

Breeding  occurs, mostly, in the water, between March and April; and is not unusual that a female could have multiple males in the same breeding season. Egg laying - up to a maximum of 3 eggs laid by a single female each year-happen between the second half of May and the first two weeks of July; eggs are laid on the ground, in a south oriented location, normally chosen by the female after long searching in the previous days. The female dig a hole of 8-10 cm with the hind limbs, never looking back at the hole, the number of eggs laid varies based on the weight and size of the female, but generally is between 3 and 16. Sex of the embryos is incubation temperature related: high temperature, generally around 30°C, results in females; otherwise, below 25°C will produce mainly males.

Eggs hatching occurs during the end of summer/autumn rain storms, or during the following spring. 

This are long living species: it has been reported of an animal hosted by a zoological garden in France that lived for over 120 years.

Emys orbicularis is a protected species in the vast majority of the countries where she lives. The market of this species is forbidden by the Bern Convention of 1979 (European wildlife species protection act). Furthermore this species is protected by the EU 92/43 “Habitat Law” and embraced by the Italian D.P.R. (Republic President Decree) n. 357 1997, lately modify by the D.P.R. n.120 of the 2003. In the Liguria region the pond turtle is preserved by the L.R. (Regional Law) n.4 of the January 22nd 1992, which take care of the fauna in particular of amphibian and reptiles.