Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Although the European pond turtle will bask on the shore or on floating logs/emerging objects during the day, this shy species will dive back into the water if disturbed (10). The species hunts underwater for fish, amphibians, tadpoles, worms, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic insects, as well as foraging for the occasional plant (2) (10). The diverse climatic conditions of its extensive distribution means 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 aestivates to escape the summer's heat (2) (9). The European pond turtle usually emerges from hibernation by around the end of March, and mating begins from March to May, depending on the latitude (2) (11). 3 to 16 eggs, usually 9 or 10, are laid in May and June in small holes dug in the ground (2) (10). 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 (10) (11). In the northern parts of its range, a long hot summer is required for eggs to hatch, so this turtle may only successfully reproduce one in every four or five years (2). Since the life span of this long-lived turtle can exceed over 100 years, however, there are a number of potential opportunities to successfully produce young (10). Like many turtle species, the sex of offspring is dependent upon the incubation temperature, with females only produced at 28°C or higher (2) (11).
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Description

This olive, brown or black turtle is one of the few freshwater species that live in Europe (4). Although its appearance varies over its large range, this turtle is usually easily identifiable by the bright yellow or gold speckling on the dark carapace and skin of many juveniles and adults (5), an attractive feature that makes it sought after in the pet trade. However, some populations can be nearly entirely black with very few yellow markings at all (6). In general, individuals from the north of the range tend to be markedly larger and darker than their southern counterparts (7). The colour of the male's iris also varies per region, from red, brownish-yellow and yellow to pure white, while the eyes of females are generally yellow, occasionally white (2). There are currently 14 described regional subspecies, which differ in size, colour and markings (7) (8), although there is still much debate over the validity of these divisions (9).
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Distribution

Emys orbicularis, commonly known as European pond turtles, is found in southern and central Europe, northwestern Africa (roughly Morocco through to Tunisia), and in humid areas of the Middle East and Central Asia as far east as the Aral Sea. Historically the species was more common and had a wider distribution than it does today.

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )

  • Gadow, H. 1958. Amphibia and Reptiles. England: Wheldon & Wesley, Ltd..
  • Harless, M., H. Morlock. 1979. Turtles: Perspectives and Research. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
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Continent: Africa Near-East Asia Europe
Distribution: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Sardinia, S France, Corsica, Spain, Balearic Islands: Menorca, Portugal, Greece (including Limnos, Lesbos, Corfu = Corfou, Samothraki), Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania,  Iran (Caspian Sea), Soviet Union, Latvia, Lithuania,  Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia (Schleich et al.).  capolongoi: Sardinia  colchica: NE coastal Turkey  eiselti: SE Turkey, Syria  fritzjuergenobsti: E Spain, Portugal  galloitalica: NW Iberian Peninsula, Spain, S France, Italy  hellenica: Albania, Bosnia, Hercegovina, Crotia, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro; Italy, Sicily, Greece, Aegean Turkey.  hispanica: S Iberian Peninsula, Spain, S France, Italy (Thyrrenian coast)  iberica: Caspian coast from Dagestan to E Transcaucasia  ingauna: Italy  lanzai: Corsica  luteofusca: Turkey (C Anatolia)  occidentalis: Morocco, N Algeria and N Tunisia, Portugal (Malkmus 1995)  orbicularis: Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic (extirpated), France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy,Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland,Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain,Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine.  persica: N Iran to Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia (Dagestan)  Introduced to the Balearic Islands (LEVER 2003).  acording to the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals: Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Hercegowina,  Bulgaria, Croatia (including some Adriatic islands), Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Monte Negro, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, C/S Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, W Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Yugoslavia  
Type locality: S Europe
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Range

Unlike its common name implies, this species is not restricted to Europe, but in fact has a wide distribution that also includes northern Africa and western and central Asia (7). In Europe, it is largely confined to southern and central countries (1) (7).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Extensively variable coloration is seen within this generally small species, however there is usually some light speckling on a dark (often black) background color. The shape and coloration of the shell changes with age. Young E. orbicularis have a rounded shell, and the shields are rough and slightly keeled, uniformly dark brown above and black below, with a yellow spot on each marginal and plastral shield along the rim of the carapace. As they age, the dorsal shields become smooth and are generally spotted or striated with yellow markings on a dark background. The head, limbs, and tail are dark with yellow or light brown spots and small dots. Shell size ranges from 12 to 38 cm (5 to 15 in.) and they have 12 pairs of marginal shields. The head is covered with smooth skin and the limbs are extensively webbed. Emys orbicularis has a flexible hinged plastron that is loosely united to the carapace by ligaments. Males of this species mature earlier and generally remain smaller than females, but they have similar growth rates.

Range length: 12 to 38 cm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

  • Feldman, C., J. Parham. 2002. Molecular phylogenetics of emydine turtles: taxonomic revision and the evolution of shell kinesis. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution,, 22: 388-98.
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Ecology

Habitat

This species lives in freshwater areas, including ponds, lakes, slow-moving streams and other lentic regions. They select terrestrial locations with open, high, and sandy soil habitats for nesting. These turtles search for habitats in shallow, fertile areas with adequate food supplies and minimal predators.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

Wetlands: swamp

Other Habitat Features: riparian

  • Bodie, J. 2001. Steam and riparian management for freshwater turtles. J. Env. Management, 62: 443-55.
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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Semi-aquatic - ponds, lakes, brooks, streams, rivers, drainage canals.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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This aquatic turtle is found in a wide variety of freshwater habitats, including ponds, lakes, streams, rivers and drainage canals, some of which may dry up completely during the summer months (1) (7). Preferred habitat is large bodies of slow-moving 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 (2) (7).This speciesonly leaves water to bask or nest (8).
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Trophic Strategy

Emys orbicularis is a generalsit carnivore diet. Most small aquatic animals are prey, and their diet may shift as they grow and can eat larger animals. Worms, insects, frogs, and fishes comprise their main sources of sustenance and they generally feed in water. These turtles attack and capture their prey, biting with a sideward turn of the head, then tearing the prey to pieces with sharp claws on the forelimbs. Generally, in the wild, their prey must be moving to be seized. In captivity, these turtles may resort to eating fruits and vegetables.

Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; insects; mollusks; aquatic or marine worms

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore , Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)

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Associations

Emys orbicularis serves a significant role in the food web of freshwater habitats. They prey upon worms, insects, frogs, and fishes, and are in turn preyed upon by other reptiles, fish, predatory birds, and large mammals.

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Hinges in the plastron allow these turtles to withdraw into the shell and close off shell openings as protection from predators. Hatchlings and eggs are preyed upon by various animals including: herons, raccoons, bears, king snakes, ghost crabs, hermit crabs, dogs, gulls, alligators, crocodiles, foxes, rats, cats, and cormorants. Young turtles are at risk of becoming prey to predacious fish species as well. Adult E. orbicularis are subject to attack by wild dogs, coyotes, carnivorous birds, and humans.

Known Predators:

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

During the mating season members of this species emit short piping sounds. Other possible vocalizations include whistles, chirps, and groans, which are often used in stressful situations. Head movements are also used to communicate. Auditory stimuli may be involved in mating rituals.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Cycle

Embryos of E. orbicularis exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination, based on egg incubation temperature and hormonal factors that cause gonadal differentiation. During the thermosensitive period of incubation, eggs at temperatures below 25 degrees C will become male embryos, while eggs at temperatures above 30 degrees C will become female embryos. Posthatchling growth includes body elongation and development of a streamlined body structure. The tails of young are nearly as long as the shell, but become shorter with age. Specimens about 5 inches in length are considered fully developed adults. Males of this species mature earlier and generally remain smaller than females, but they have similar growth rates. Growth is responsive to and limited by ecological factors, including hatchling size, food availability, genetic factors, and quality of their habitats. Alterations of diet and prolonged activity affect growth rate. Growth rate decreases as size increases and slows considerably following sexual maturity.

Development - Life Cycle: temperature sex determination

  • Belaid, B., N. Richard-Mercier, C. Pieau, M. Dorizzi. 2001. Sex reversal and aromatase in the European Pond Turtle: treatment with letrozole after the thermosensitive period for sex determination. J. Experimental Zoology,, 290: 490-7.
  • Gans, C. 1985. Biology of the Reptilia: Vol. 14. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
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Life Expectancy

Compared to many other reptiles and amphibians, this species has a relatively long lifespan. Individuals living in northern populations tend to exhibit longer lifespans than those in more southern locations. Records have shown average Emys orbicularis turtles living fifteen years or longer and adults may potentially live for decades. Mortality is very high for hatchlings due to abundant predators and lack of protection from the elements. Captive individuals may live several years longer than those living in natural populations. The age of turtles can be determined by counting the annuli growth rings on the scutes of the shell. It is assumed that only one growth ring forms annually.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
27.9 years.

Average lifespan

Sex: male

Status: captivity:
11.7 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 120 years (captivity) Observations: An animal of this species was reportedly kept in a botanical garden in the south of France for 120 years (Castanet 1994). Although unverified, it is plausible these animals live over a century.
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Reproduction

Once a pair-bond is formed, courtship and copulation follow. Mating may occur in sandy areas if not hidden within foliage. Most males and females cohabitate peacefully, but some adults are more aggressive toward each other.

After reaching sexual maturity at age 5 to 6 years, adult Emys orbicularis mate and the female produces approximately eight to ten white, hard-shelled, elongate eggs per clutch, averaging 15 to 25 mm in length, which are laid on land. The pregnant female selects a suitable spot of hard soil free from grass and other dense vegetation and prepares and moistens the ground. Then the female uses her stiff tail to bore a hole into the ground approximately five inches deep. The hind-limbs dig out the hole, and the eggs are laid at the bottom in one layer, and are divided and distributed by the feet. The female covers the hole with the removed soil, stamps the soil firm and flat, and abandons the nest. After approximately 90 to 100 days of incubation, the young hatch according to locality and seasonal conditions. Some embryos hibernate within the egg overwinter and do not hatch until the following spring when conditions are more favorable. These turtles mate repeatedly and may produce multiple clutches per year.

Breeding season: spring to early summer

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Males in this species make no parental investement, and female investment in her offspring ends when she lays her eggs and covers her nest.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

  • Gadow, H. 1958. Amphibia and Reptiles. England: Wheldon & Wesley, Ltd..
  • Gans, C. 1985. Biology of the Reptilia: Vol. 14. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Harless, M., H. Morlock. 1979. Turtles: Perspectives and Research. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Emys orbicularis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

CTCTTCTCTACTAACCATAAAGACATTGGTACCCTCTATCTAATTTTTGGCGCTTGGGCAGGAATAGTGGGCACAGCATTA---AGTCTACTAATCCGCGCAGAACTGAGTCAACCAGGAGCCCTTTTAGGAGAT---GACCAAGTCTATAATGTTATCGTTACAGCCCATGCCTTCATTATAATCTTCTTCATGGTCATACCAGTTATAATTGGTGGATTTGGAAATTGACTTGTACCATTAATA---ATCGGAGCACCAGATATAGCATTTCCACGTATAAATAATATAAGTTTCTGACTTTTACCTCCATCCCTACTACTACTTCTAGCATCATCAGGAATTGAAGCAGGGGCAGGCACAGGTTGAACTGTATACCCCCCGCTAGCCGGAAACTTAGCTCATGCCGGTGCCTCTGTAGACCTA---ACTATTTTTTCTCTCCACTTAGCTGGTGTATCTTCAATTTTAGGGGCTATCAATTTTATTACCACAGCAATTAACATAAAATCCCCAGCCATATCACAATACCAAACACCCCTGTTTGTATGATCAGTACTTATTACCGCTGTCCTATTACTATTATCATTACCAGTACTAGCTGCA---GGCATCACTATACTACTTACAGACCGAAACTTAAATACAACCTTCTTTGACCCTTCAGGGGGAGGAGACCCAATCCTATATCAACACTTATTCTGATTCTTTGGCCACCCCGAAGTATATATCCTAATTCTA
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Emys orbicularis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Populations of Emys orbicularis have been declining over the past century. Their geographic range has diminished and it will most likely continue to decrease duet to habitat destruction. Several solutions may be successful in replenishing these populations. Governmental and ecological organizations will need to regulate turtle hunters and egg collectors, protect habitats, and reduce destructive factors, including pollution and siltation.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: lower risk - near threatened

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LR/nt
Lower Risk/near threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
2.3

Year Assessed
1996
  • Needs updating

Assessor/s
Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group

Reviewer/s

Contributor/s
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Status

Classified as Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1), and listed on Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive (3).
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Threats

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 (8). 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, and the regular burning of vegetation (9). Pollution, conversion of creeks to canals, increasing exploitation of groundwater resources and urban expansion have also destroyed many areas where this turtle was once plentiful (6) (12). 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 (12) (13). Additionally, illegal commercial collecting of the species from the wild has occurred for the pet trade (13) (14), although most on the market probably now come from captive-bred individuals.
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Management

Conservation

The European pond turtle is legally protected over much of its range (6), and in Hungary, the WWF launched its own pond turtle protection project in 2002 (13). This has involved national habitat surveys and public awareness campaigns, in which leaflets on turtle protection issues have been distributed throughout Hungary's schools, and environmental organisations and individuals (13). There is also long-term conservation action in Brandenburg, in the SE German-Polish border region near Dresden, and a reintroduction program near Frankfurt. The recently described subspecies ingauna near Genoa, Italy, is subject of an intensive in-situ and captive breeding conservation program (8). European pond turtles are also being bred at CARAPAX, the European Center for Chelonian Conservation, Italy, with 200 to 250 hatching each year, destined for reintroduction programmes throughout the species' range. Several projects are running in northern Italy and the various subspecies are also being bred for further reintroductions in Tunisia, Valencia (Spain), and France (15). Encouragingly, a reintroduction programme in France between 2000 and 2002 proved very successful, involving the release of 35 adult European pond turtles in three groups in Lake Bourget, Savoie, with high rates of survival and nesting behaviour following their release. This success provides hope for the possibility of other reintroduction programmes in the future, where numbers in the wild should fall too low (16).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Emys orbicularis is generally harmless and does not normally have extensive contact with humans

(Gadow 1958).

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Freshwater turtles, including Emys orbicularis, are hunted as sources of food, used for medicinal applications, and kept as pets.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; source of medicine or drug ; research and education; controls pest population

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Wikipedia

European pond turtle

The European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), also called the European pond terrapin, is a long-living freshwater species[3] of turtle.

Subspecies[edit]

Geographic range[edit]

It is found in southern and central Europe, West Asia and North Africa. In the early post-glacial period, the pond turtle had a much wider distribution, being found as far north as southern Sweden.

Habitat[edit]

Emys orbicularis turtles prefer to live in wetlands surrounded by a large proportion of natural, wooded, landscape. Specimens of Emys orbicularis are also found in upland environments for feeding.[4] Emys orbicularis is usually considered semi-aquatic, as their terrestrial movements can span 1000 meters, and occasionally found traveling up to 4000 meters, away from the water.[4]

Human impact[edit]

Historically, Emys orbicularis had been maintained as pets; however, this practice has been prohibited due to protection laws. Due to human impact, turtles have been found to be relocated in areas distant from their origin. However, it is possible to localize and indicate a region of origin with genetic testing.[5]

Appearance[edit]

The European pond turtle is a medium size turtle and varies quite a bit across its distribution, from 12 to 38 cm length. Its shell is brown with a hint of green, spotted yellow.

Morphology[edit]

An important factor that affects Emys orbicularis development is temperature and thermal conditions. It has been reported that differential growth rates of the same species occur, including variation of body size and clutch sizes, because of varying temperatures in certain areas.[6] Due to evident patterns of sexual dimorphism, Emys orbicularis adult males are always found to be smaller than females. In males, smaller plastrons offer them a wider mobility compared to females. In females, due to their differential diet and foraging habits, there may be a correlation to an adaptive effect on their skull and head morphology.[6]

Diet[edit]

Emys orbicularis turtles eat a mixed diet of plants and animal matter that can increase the efficiency of their digestive process. Although it is assumed that Emys orbicularis turtles are strictly carnivorous, it seems that not all Emys orbicularis are entirely carnivorous as their diet also consists of plant material.[4] It has been reported that an adult's diet starts from a carnivorous to a more herbivorous diet as it ages and grows in size. This is also very similar to other omnivore Emydidae turtles.[4] As an Emys orbicularis turtle grows in age and becomes an adult the amount of plant material consumption increases during the post breeding period. Emys orbicularis turtles may prefer less energetic food after the breeding season, a period of time where most of its energy is spent to recover from reproduction.[4]

Nesting[edit]

Most freshwater turtles lay their eggs on land, typically near a water body, but some species of Emys have been found to lay their eggs distances less than 150 meters from water.[3] The search of a nesting areas by adult females can last several hours to more than one day. Once the location of the nest is established, females spend time for the construction of the nest, laying of the eggs, and closing the nest which can take up to another 4 hours.[7]

Nest fidelity is a characteristic that female European pond turtles carry out by selecting a nesting site based on its ecological characteristics and then return there for future expeditions so long as the site has not changed.[3] Emys orbicularis females tend to change to another nesting site if there are visible changes to the present environment or because of dietary changes. If an Emys orbicularis female must change from nest to nest, it will typically select a site in close proximity.[3] In addition, females can also lay eggs in an abandoned nesting site if the conditions change to become better suited for egg survival. If the ecological characteristics of the nesting site changes, this may influence the survival of the hatchlings and their sex ratio. Due to ecological changes such as trees growing to shade the nest, this can change the environment into an inadequate location for egg incubation. Females that do not exhibit nesting fidelity and lay eggs in the same area for long periods of time, even with the ecological changes, may produce large proportions of males as vegetation grows and nesting areas become more shaded.[3] Since the sex of these turtles are temperature-dependent, a change in temperature may produce a larger number of males or females which may upset the sex ratio.[3]

Mortality[edit]

Climate has an effect on the survival of Emys orbicularis hatchlings. Hatchlings are only able to survive under favorable weather conditions, but due to regular annual clutch sizes and long lifespan, Emys orbicularis adults, along with many freshwater turtles, balance out loss of hatchlings due to climate.[7]

Emys orbicularis species have become rare in most countries even though they are widely distributed in Europe. The building of roads and driving of cars through natural habitats of Emys is a possible factor that threatens the populations of the European pond turtle. Road networks and traffic often carry complex ecological effects to animal populations such as fragmenting natural habitats and creating barriers for animal movement. Mortality on the road is most likely due to females selecting nests near roads which places a potential danger for the hatchlings as well. Hatchlings that wander too closely to roads are more likely to be killed and put the future population in danger. Although the possibility of roads being a major causation for the mortality of Emys orbicularis turtles is a rare phenomenon, long-term monitoring is necessary.[7] Life span is 40–60 years. They can live over 100 years but it is very rare and unusual.

Parasites[edit]

This species hosts several species of parasites, including Haemogregarina stepanovi, monogeneans of genus Polystomoides, vascular trematodes of genus Spirhapalum and many nematode species.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1996). Emys orbicularis. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006.
  2. ^ Fritz Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 181–184. ISSN 18640-5755. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Mitrus, S. (2006). "Fidelity to nesting area of the European pond turtle, Emys orbicularis (Linnaeus, 1758)". Belgian Journal of Zoology 136 (1): 25–30. 
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