Portrait of the European Pond Turtle

Emys orbicularis, the European pond turtle, is the only naturally occurring turtle species in Germany and is threatened with extinction in this country. The German Society for Herpetology (DGHT for short) has honored this reptile species with the award “Reptile of the Year 2015” due to its special protection status. So writes Dr. Axel Kwet on the DGHT homepage:

The European pond turtle is ideally suited as a flagship for local nature conservation and is thus representative of many other species to draw attention to the endangerment of our Central European reptiles and amphibians and their habitats.

Emys Orbicularis – a Strictly Protected Species

According to the Federal Species Protection Ordinance (BArtSchV), this species is strictly protected and is also listed in Appendices II and IV of the Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43 / EEC of May 21, 1992) and in Appendix II of the Bern Convention (1979) on conservation of European wildlife and their natural habitats.

For the reasons mentioned, the animals are officially recorded and you need a special permit to keep them, which you can apply to the relevant local authority. It is illegal to trade animals without being in possession of the appropriate papers. When buying, you have to pay attention to the acquisition of the said mandatory permits.

In most cases, you will have to purchase the animals through special breeders. Pet shops mostly limit their range to brightly colored eared turtles from North America that are easy to obtain for the retailer and can be bought cheaply for the customer. When researching suitable sources of supply, the local veterinary offices may be able to help you.

Adaptation of the European Pond Turtle to the Climate

The European pond turtle is evolutionarily adapted to moderate climatic conditions so that you can keep this species ideally in free-range – especially the subspecies Emys orbicularis orbicularis. In addition to keeping and caring for them in the pond, there is also the option of keeping the animals in the aqua terrarium. European pond turtle In the relevant specialist literature, keeping and caring for juvenile animals (up to three years) in the aqua terrarium is recommended. Otherwise, free-range husbandry – with the exception of diseases, for acclimatization, etc. – is preferable, although adult animals can also be kept in the vivarium, which among other things offers the advantage of human care and control. Reasons for keeping them free-range would be the natural course of the day and year as well as the different solar radiation intensity, which is beneficial for the health and condition of the turtles. In addition, ponds with suitable vegetation and more natural terrain can represent a natural habitat. The behavior of the animals can be observed more unadulterated in an almost natural environment: The authenticity of the observation is increased.

Minimum Requirements for Keeping

When keeping and caring for Emys orbicularis, you must ensure compliance with the prescribed minimum standards:

  • According to the “Report on the minimum requirements for the keeping of reptiles” of 10.01.1997, the keepers are obliged to ensure that when a pair of Emys orbicularis (or two turtles) are housed in an aqua terrarium, their water base area is at least five times as large is as long as the shell length of the largest animal, and its width is at least half the length of the aqua terrarium. The height of the water level should be twice the width of the tank.
  • For each additional turtle that is housed in the same aqua terrarium, 10% must be added to these measurements, from the fifth animal 20%.
  • Furthermore, the obligatory land part must be taken care of.
  • When purchasing an aqua terrarium, the growth in the size of the animals must be taken into account, as the minimum requirements change accordingly.
  • According to the report, the radiant heat should be approx. 30 ° C.

Rogner (2009) recommends a temperature of approx. 35 ° C-40 ° C in the light cone of the radiant heater to ensure complete drying of the reptile skin and thus to kill pathogenic microorganisms.

According to the report, other important minimum equipment is:

  • suitable soil substrate at a sufficient height,
  • hiding places,
  • possible climbing opportunities (rocks, branches, twigs) of suitable size and dimensions,
  • possibly planting to create a suitable microclimate, as hiding places, among other things,
  • when keeping sexually mature egg-laying females special egg-laying options.

Keeping in the Aquaterrarium

Aquaterrariums are very suitable for keeping smaller specimens of European pond turtles, such as B. juvenile animals, and offer you the opportunity to exercise more control over the living conditions and development of the animals. The investments for the necessary utensils are usually lower than for free-range farming.

The minimum size of the aqua terrarium results from the prescribed minimum requirements (see above). As always, these are the absolute minimum requirements. Larger aqua terrariums are always preferable.

The position of the vivarium should be chosen so that there is no obstruction or damage in the pivoting area of ​​doors and windows and when choosing a room, care must be taken to avoid constant disturbances and noise so as not to strain the animals. The adjacent walls should be dry to prevent the formation of mold.

For hygienic reasons, too, it makes sense to make a large part of the land available, as the water is in a favorable environment for bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that can lead to the disease of the pond turtle.

The use of suitable lamps is indispensable for drying and warming the turtle, including metal halide lamps in conjunction with fluorescent lamps. In order to avoid the flickering of the fluorescent lamp light, electronic ballasts (EVG) are preferable to conventional ballasts. When choosing the lighting, it is essential to ensure that there is a suitable UV spectrum, even if the corresponding lights are comparatively expensive but indispensable for the metabolism and health of the turtle. In terms of lighting, the actual geographic course of the day and year should be modeled in order to ensure accommodation that is as natural as possible. Timers can be used for this. They enable lamps to be switched on and off during the day.

Regular checks of the water quality and needs-based water changes are an integral part of maintenance. This change can take place via drain valves or via the “suction hose method”. Filter systems can be used as long as they do not lead to undesirable currents that swirl the turtles and parts of the water around and lead to increased energy consumption by the animals. There is also the option of attaching the return hose to the filter above the surface of the water. The rippling favors the oxygen supply and thus has a positive effect on the water quality.

Bächtiger (2005) recommends avoiding mechanical filtering for pools that are located directly next to a window. The use of mussel flowers and water hyacinths as biological filtering makes sense: The sludge is vacuumed off from time to time and the basin is then filled with fresh water.

Branches (e.g. a heavy elder branch Sambucus nigra) and the like can be fixed in the water part and structure the pool. The pond turtles can climb up on it and seek out appropriate spots in the sun. Floatable aquatic plants in another part of the pool provide cover and protection.

Regular feeding and monitoring of food intake are essential components of keeping and caring for them. When feeding the young animals, you have to make sure they have enough protein. You also have to pay attention to a high calcium intake. In a pond, you can largely do without additional feeding, as there are usually a lot of snails, worms, insects, larvae, etc. And since the European pond turtle likes to eat this and even eats carrion and spawn, it has enough protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Worms as well as insect larvae and pieces of beef, which have been enriched with vitamin and mineral supplements, are suitable for additional feeding. You shouldn’t feed raw poultry because of the risk of salmonella. You should rarely feed fish as it contains the enzyme thiaminase, which prevents vitamin B absorption. Feeding food sticks that can be bought is particularly easy. However, you should ensure a varied diet and be careful not to overfeed the animals!

Laying containers must be created for sexually mature females (Bächtiger, 2005), which are filled with a mixture of sand and peat. The depth of the substrate should be about 20 cm. The mixture must be kept permanently moist to prevent the egg pit from collapsing during digging activities. A radiant heater (HQI lamp) must be installed above each laying area. The species-appropriate wintering represents a great challenge for the layman. There are different possibilities here. On the one hand, the animals can hibernate in a refrigerator at temperatures slightly above freezing point, on the other hand, the turtles can hibernate in a cool (4 ° -6 ° C), darkened room.

Keeping in the Pond

A suitable place for an Emys outdoor system must offer as much sun as possible, so the south side is extremely useful. It is even better to allow sun exposure from the east side as early as the early morning hours. Deciduous trees and larches should not be near the pond, as falling leaves or needles have a negative impact on the water quality.

An escape-proof and opaque fence or similar are recommended for the border of the system. Wooden constructions that resemble an upside-down L are best suited here, as the animals cannot climb over the horizontal boards. But enclosures made of smooth stone, concrete or plastic elements have also proven themselves.

You should refrain from climbing plants and larger shrubs on the edge of the system. Emys are true climbing artists and take advantage of many opportunities to explore the surrounding area.

The fence should be sunk a few inches into the ground to prevent it from being undermined. Provide protection from aerial predators (e.g. various birds of prey), especially for smaller animals, a net or a grid over the system.

The pond floor can be coated with clay, concreted, and filled with gravel or it can be created in the form of a foil pond or using pre-produced plastic ponds or glass fiber reinforced plastic mats. Langer (2003) describes the use of the above-mentioned GRP mats.

The planting of the water area can be chosen relatively freely. With foil ponds, however, bulrushes should be avoided, as the roots can pierce the foil.

Mähn (2003) recommends the following plant species for the water area of an Emys system:

  • Common hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
  • Water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis)
  • Crab claw (Statiotes aloides)
  • Duckweed (Lemna gibba; Lemna minor)
  • Frog bite (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae)
  • Pond rose (Nuphar lutea)
  • Water lily (Nymphaea sp.)

Mähn (2003) names the following species for bank planting:

  • Representative of the sedge family (Carex sp.)
  • Frog spoon (Alisma plantago-aquatica)
  • Smaller Iris species (Iris sp.)
  • Northern pike herb (Pontederia cordata)
  • Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Dense vegetation offers not only the effect of water purification but also hiding places for the animals. European pond turtle juveniles like to spend the sunbathing on water lily leaves. The turtles find food there and can plan their foraging accordingly. Hunting live prey requires motor, chemosensory and visual skills and requires coordination. This will keep your turtles physically fit and sensory challenged.

The pond should definitely contain shallow water zones that heat up quickly.

Deeper pond regions are also necessary, as cooler water is required for heat regulation.

The minimum water depth for wintering the animals in the outdoor enclosure must be at least approx. 80 cm (in climatically favored regions, otherwise 100 cm).

Branches protruding from the water structure the pond and offer the turtles the opportunity to take extensive sunbathing at the same time and to seek shelter underwater immediately in the event of danger.

When keeping two or more males, you should create an open-air enclosure that consists of at least two ponds, because the territorial behavior of the male animals creates stress. The weaker animals can retreat to another pond and territorial fights are thus prevented.

The size of the pond is also important: in a large area of ​​water, with suitable planting, an ecological balance is established, so that these systems are relatively maintenance-free, which is very convenient on the one hand and avoids unnecessary interventions in the habitat on the other. The use of pumps and filter systems can be dispensed with under these conditions.

When designing the bank, you have to pay attention to shallow bank areas so that the animals can leave the water more easily (juvenile and semi-adult animals drown very easily if the bank areas are too steep or too smooth). Fastened coconut mats or stone structures at the edge of the water can serve as aids.

Oviposition sites for sexually mature females must be made available outdoors. Mähn (2003) recommends the creation of egg-laying mounds. A mixture of one-third of sand and two-thirds of loamy garden soil is recommended as a substrate. These hills should be designed without vegetation. The height of these elevations is about 25 cm, the diameter about 80 cm, the position should be chosen as exposed to the sun as possible. Under certain circumstances, the plant is also suitable for natural propagation. A corresponding checklist can be found in Rogner (2009, 117).

The rest of the plant can be overgrown by dense, low vegetation.


By keeping and caring for this rare and protected reptile, you are actively involved in species conservation. However, you must not underestimate the demands on yourself: caring for a protected living being in a species-appropriate manner, especially over a longer period of time, is an extremely demanding undertaking that requires a lot of time, commitment, and effort.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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