The European pond turtle was once in high demand as a fasting food during Lent and thus hunted and captured in huge numbers. Today, the threat to the European pond turtle comes primarily through the destruction of its freshwater habitat which includes stagnant and slowly-moving waters as well as suitable spots on dry land for the burying of its eggs.
European pond turtles are the only naturally-occurring turtle species in Austria and thus can be easily identified. However, "animal lovers" have been known to release their more exotic tropical house pets into the Danube wetlands, which may lead to cases of mistaken identity!
The European pond turtle may be found throughout the entire Donau-Auen National Park. Recently, pond turtles of unknown origin were released into the March wetlands. A particularly high number of imported pet turtles are typically released in the Lobau, which borders directly on the city of Vienna.
Endangerment and Conservation Status
The European pond turtle has very few actively reproducing populations in Central Europe and is considered to be near threatened.
Emys orbicularis spends most of the day in the water, looking for food. If the water is particularly cool, as it is in early spring, this animal may bask in the sun for long periods of time on partially-submerged logs or on the shore. The European pond turtle preys on nearly all moving aquatic animals, from insects to worms and snails; from fish to amphibians and their larvae. Aquatic plants may also be nibbled on when living prey is in short supply. Mating usually takes place in the water. One to two months later, the female wanders onto land to find a suitable place to lay her eggs, preferably a cleared patch with dry soil. During the night, she digs a hole around the size of a fist with her hind legs. To soften up the ground before digging, she "wets" the spot with water stored in her bladder as often as necessary. After laying approximately 10 eggs, she seals the hole so thoroughly that even seasoned experts have difficulties identifying it as a clutch. The young emerge after several months in the autumn, although they may occasionally remain in the nest until the following spring. Many clutches are discovered and plundered by martens or foxes.
European pond turtles may cover large distances in their search for suitable nest spots. These turtles are often discovered wandering on the streets of communities near the National Park. If you find a turtle, try not to pick it up, since this may cause the animal to release the water out of its bladder which it needs to build the nest. Releasing imported pet turtles into the wild also poses a huge danger to the continued survival of the native pond turtle. The "disposal" of aquarium animals in the wild is of course strictly forbidden by law.