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Pond Turtle

The European Pond Turtle

Emys orbicularis (LINNAEUS, 1758)

Small to medium-sized and in Germany native aquatic turtle with a lifespan of up to and over 100 years. There are currently 13 known sub-species that differ in size, colour, markings and geographic distribution. In general, individuals of the northern sub-species are markedly larger and darker than their southern counterparts. Depending on climatic conditions, hibernation and/or aestivation are common.

Distribution: North Africa; Central Asia; Turkey; Southern, Central and Eastern Europe

Until well into the 19 th century, the nominate form Emys orbicularis orbicularis was relatively common in Germany and Austria, but subsequent climatic and artificial 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 only known remaining populations are found near Vienna, consisting of ~300 specimens, and in north-eastern Germany, where around 50 native adult Emys orbicularis orbicularis (haplotype IIb), but virtually no juveniles, live together in small groups or as individuals. Finally, occasional groups have been observed in Hessia, but whether these are actual native specimens or simply pets imported from southern regions remains controversial.

Biotope: In the major regions of distribution, Emys orbicularis are found in a wide variety of aqueous habitats, some of which may dry up completely during the summer months. Examples include rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, irrigation/drainage ditches, cattle trenches, and even the brackish waters of estuaries and coastal wetlands, although the ideal territories are characterised by large bodies of slow-moving fresh water with lush vegetation and nearby sandy areas for oviposition. In contrast, juveniles prefer shallow waters of up to 50cm in depth.

Home Ranges: 700m² - 5000² and 3m in depth; additional inland excursions of up to 4 km, eg for oviposition or seasonal changes of territory.

Natural nutrition: Predominantly invertebrates and amphibian larvae, occasional sick vertebrates and carrion, aquatic and terrestrial plants, fruit.

Size: Generally 13-20 cm, more rarely up to 23 cm depending on sub-species. Females tend to be larger than males, northern sub-species larger than those found in the south. In particularly meagre regions, dwarf populations with adult sizes of only 10 -12 cm have been observed.

Sexual Maturity: In the wild generally at 5-12 years, but up to 18 years in certain areas. Males reach maturity earlier than females.

Sexual dimorphism (not applicable to all sub-species); visible from approx. 4 years of age:

Reproduction: Mating season for Emys orbicularis begins immediately following hibernation. 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.

After mating, 3-21 eggs are laid in 1-3 separate ovipositions, generally in May/June (but up to July) during the later hours of the day, in some cases miles away from the home range. Females in colder areas lay only one large clutch of eggs, in which case the hatchlings remain in the nest over the winter, surviving brief frost periods of up to –6°C.

In general, pivotal temperature for temperature-dependent sex determination is 28.5°C; in German Emys orbicularis however, genetic predisposition or maternal influence appears to play an important or even predominant role. Average incubation time at 28.5°C is ~62 days; average size and weight of Emys orbicularis orbicularis hatchlings are 26mm and 5g, respectively.

Predators: Clutches, hatchlings and juveniles are welcome prey to wild boars, foxes, weasles, racoons, herons, seagulls, crows and carnivorous fish.

Data are taken from N. Schneeweiß (2003), U. Fritz (2003), J. Poschadl (2003), M. Auer (2002) und M. Rössler (2000)

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