European Pond Turtle: Ultimate Guide

The European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) is also known as the European Pond Terrapin. And as you can probably guess from the name they are pond dwelling turtles native to many parts of Europe. 

There are 14 subspecies of European Pond turtle, all of which have long life spans and live in freshwater. 

This article will talk you through everything you need to know about the species. 

Male vs Female

The average European Pond Turtle is around 5 inches long. The females tend to be bigger than the males. 

Male turtles tend to reach their full size and sexual maturity before the females. The females grow at the same rate but tend to continue growing after the males reach their full size. 

A 5-inch male is considered fully mature. Females are expected to reach 6-inches or more. 


European Pond Turtles are beloved across the world for their striking and unique appearance. 

Their shells are fairly bland. They are dark brown, green, or grey with the occasional yellow speckle. 

It is their faces and skin where they shine. They are known to have black or bright yellow eyes that perfectly compliment their skin. Their skin is black and is covered in bright yellow spots. 

They have long necks and short tails. 

As a Pet

European Pond Turtles can make excellent pets, they are smart and quickly become used to being handled. 

If you want to own a European Pond Turtle then you will have to be careful where you purchase it from. 

It is illegal to own a wild European Pond Turtle and breeding them in captivity is heavily restricted by law. You can only buy hatchlings from registered breeders. 


The lifespan of European Pond Turtles is affected by the subspecies that they are. Some subspecies can live up to 100 years in captivity, while others live up to 30 years. The larger subspecies of European Pond Turtles tend to live for the longest. 

The average lifespan of a European Pond turtle is between 40-60 years, 20-30 in the wild. 


European Pond Turtles have a few interesting adaptations that help them to survive well in the wild. 

Firstly, European Pond turtles can stay underwater for hours at a time. This allows them to hide from predators that won’t follow them into the water. 

They also exhibit pair bonding, which has been shown to help keep at risk populations more stable. 

Breeding Season

European Pond Turtles reach sexual maturity between 5-6 years. The adults can cohabit peacefully together. Although some subspecies can be more aggressive. 

These turtles like to mate in areas obscured by foliage – but if this is not possible they will mate on the shore of their pond. 

The female then finds a suitable nest, they will return to the same nest unless it is visibly damaged. She will bury the eggs 5 inches underground and incubate them for 90-100 days. 


The survival rate and sex of the fetuses are hugely dependant on the conditions of the nest and surrounding area. 

Eggs at temperatures below 25 degrees C will become male embryos. Whereas eggs at temperatures above 30 degrees C will become female embryos. 

Females lay larger batches of eggs as changes in the weather can kill off their babies before they hatch. The more eggs she lays, the more hatchlings she is likely to have. 

Growth Rate

When living in captivity, European Pond Turtles live for almost twice as long. However, this does not affect their growth rate. 

Both males and females have a similar rate of growth. 

European Pond turtles do the majority of their growth in the first 18 months of their life. After this, their development significantly slows down. Once they reach 18 months, their survival rate vastly improves. This is helped by their hard shells with 12 shields. 

Life Cycle

Both the shell shape and coloration of European Pond Turtles change with age. 

Young European Pond turtles have dark, round shells. They are born dark (either dark grey or black) with a few light speckles just under the base of their shell. 

As they get older, the skin all over their body develops speckles, which are usually bright yellow. Their shells also develop speckles and become more obviously oblong shaped. 


European Pond Turtle populations have shrunk dramatically over the last 150 years. They are hunted by many different species and have lost a lot of their natural habitat due to urbanization, but the biggest contributor to their number dropping is humans. 

In fact, the practice of traditional Chinese medicine is one of the biggest causes. TCM uses turtle meat in soups and also uses crushed turtle shells to ‘treat’ alignments. 


European Pond Turtles should be fed with both meat and greens. You may find that the older your Pont Turtle gets, the less meat it wants to eat. 

When it comes to meat, they like to eat a wide variety of items. They will happily eat insects and mice. They also like to eat fish. They can be fed shrimp and freshwater fish. 

They like iron-dense green leaves and will even eat nutritional pellets if they are on offer. 


Humans are the biggest threat to European Pond Turtle populations. 

However, in the natural world, they also have a large number of predators. Not all of their predators attack adult European Pond Turtles, in fact, many go for their eggs and hatchlings. 

These predators include: 

  • Crabs 
  • Herons 
  • Raccoons 
  • Crocodiles
  • Bears 
  • Alligators 
  • King Snakes 
  • Coyotes 
  • Domestic Dogs 
  • Birds 
  • Gulls 
  • Fish 
  • Foxes 
  • Cormorants 
  • Rats 
  • Wild Cats 
  • Domestic Cats 

Roaming Range

European pond turtles can be found living in the wilds of Central and Southern Europe. They are also known to nest in North Africa, and as far east as Central Asia.  

European Pond Turtles are not fans of roaming. It is not uncommon for one of these turtles to never move more than 500 yards away from their birth pond. 


There are 4 health issues that European Pond Turtles are vulnerable to: 

Shell Infections – these infections can cause permanent shell damage.  

Parasites – turtles that swim are vulnerable to parasites like ringworm. Infection can cause weight loss and diarrhea. 

Vitamin A deficiencies – are caused when turtles are fed the wrong diet. This deficiency affects all of the turtle’s major organs.  

Abscesses – there are painful lumps that usually appear around the turtle’s ears. They are filled with dry pus and can affect their ability to swim. 

Eye Color

European Pond Turtles are incredibly sought after because they are very handsome and have a unique coloring in the turtle world. 

As for eye colors, there are two main colors that European Pond Turtles will have – yellow or fully black. Both of these eye colors work well with their black skin and yellow spots. 

Occasionally, a pond turtle may have green eyes. 

Heterochromia is very uncommon in European Pond Turtles.  


European Pond Turtles like to be warm, hence why they spend up to 10 hours a day sunning themselves. 

So, it is not surprising that they have a long hibernation period during the cold season. 

When European Pond Turtles notice that the temperature is dropping they will bury themselves in the mud. The mud is usually very close to their pond. They will not emerge until the warm weather returns. 

Can they swim?

European Pond Turtles are semi-aquatic. 

This means that they spend most of their lives in the water, but will often be spotted roaming about on land. 

Semi-aquatic turtles are known for their love of basking in the sun. This is something that the European Pond Turtle is also guilty of loving. They will often sit on logs to do this, with their head held high and their tail straight out behind them. 


European Pond Turtles like to eat. They should be fed a varied diet that includes meat, fish, and greens. 

They like to swim, the pond should be at least 18″ deep as they like to dive and keep themselves cool in the depths. 

You should also add logs to the pond. This will provide the turtles with a way to exit the pond, and it will also give them a location to bask in. 


As we mentioned, the breeding of European Pond Turtles is heavily restricted. If you are purchasing one of these turtles in Europe then you should expect to pay between $35-$100. 

If you are looking to purchase the same turtle anywhere else in the world, you could end up paying 10 times as much and have trouble importing it. 

Fun Facts

  • When they get too cold European Pond Turtles bury themselves in mud 
  • When European Pond Turtles are happy they will let out a series of short piping noises – they often do this while basking in the sun 
  • Humans are the biggest predators of European Pond Turtles – they are hunted for their eggs, shell, and skin. Some countries eat turtles and others use their shells as medicine.