Wildlife in Italy: European marsh turtle

Wildlife in Italy: European marsh turtle

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Systematic classification and distribution

Class: Reptiles
Order: Testudines
suborders: Cryptodira
Family: Testudinidae
Kind: Emys
Species: E. orbicularis

The Emys orbicularis they live in swampy areas rich in vegetation, where they hide perfectly when they feel threatened. Life in wetlands promotes the growth of algae on the carapace, making individuals perfectly camouflaged in the environment. They are diurnal animals and spend most of the day in the sun (basking).

Distinctive characters

The size of the Emys orbicularis it varies from 13 to 18 cm in males and from 20 to 35 cm in females. Their body is protected by the shell, or armor, formed by a convex carapace (upper part) and by a plate (lower part). The plate is flat in the female and concave in the male. This shape in the male matches the convexity of the female's carapace at the time of mating. The background coloring of the skin and carapace is brown, flecked with yellowish dots, it darkens with age. The plate is yellow in adults, while in young subjects it has gray-green shades in the central area. The palmate legs, that is, equipped with interdigital membranes, favor the movement in water.


The Emys orbicularis they live in colonies of 5-18 specimens and feed on crustaceans, larvae, tadpoles, molluscs, small fish and sometimes small mammals.
Sexual dimorphism occurs around 5 years, sexual maturity comes when the animal reaches 9-12 cm. The males have a long and thin tail, while in the females it is shorter and with a wider base, for the laying of the eggs.
The males have the nails of the front legs very arched, suitable for hooking the carapace of the females during mating.
6 weeks after fertilization, the female digs a nest on the mainland and lays white ellipsoid-shaped eggs, which measure about 30x20 mm.
The nest is always set up on the mainland, despite the habitat of this species being water. The female has an advantage in the excavation thanks to the nails of the very long hind legs.

European marsh turtle (photo

European marsh turtle (photo

curated by Ivana Stella