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The Pond Turtle

European pond terrapin is the only representative of turtle species occurring in Poland. It is also one of the rarest animals in our country. This species can be found in almost whole of Europe apart from its northern part (Scandinavia and territories on the North-West from Ryska Bay) and in Great Britain. Beyond Europe it occurs in Western Asia and in North-West Africa. It belongs to the family of Emydidae.

Pond turtle lives mainly in lowland. Sometimes it dwells also in uplands and in the mountains not higher than 800 m a.s.1. It can be found in stagnant waters abundantly grown over with rushes and reeds. Only in Crimea it occurs in mountain rivers of rushing current. During migrations from one reservoir to another it can be found far from water (4 km). In Poland the biggest population of pond turtle occurs in the Lake District of t^czyca and Wtodawa. It is contemporarily the most numerous station of this turtle in Central Europe. Besides pond turtle occurs in our country in small numbers* in a dozen or so stations isolated one from another. Their precise localization is not made available to everyone for fear of turtles' hunting.

The carapace of grown-up individuals usually reaches up to 20 cm. Its upper part is black, blackish or brown (often olive-brown). On this background generally can be seen thin, shorter and longer yellowish lines dispersed in rays from one point on every shell. The males' plastron is usually black while that of females is brown, yellowish or dark with bright spots. Bright spots are also visible on head, limbs and tail of both sexes. The tail measures one third of upper carapace. Thanks to its coloration turtle ideally mingles with the surroundings - dark water and various fragments of aquatic vegetation.

Pond turtle is a terrestrially-aquatic species: most of its life it spends in water coming out on land mainly to bask in the sun, migrate from one reservoir to another and - in case of females - to lay eggs. It behaves territorially, and at the same time a place to bask in the sun plays an important role on the territory of a given individual.

Pond turtle is a predatory species. It eats earth worms, various water insects and their larvae, snails, fish, newts and frogs. Towards each other pond turtle's males are extremely aggressive while towards people turtles are very skittish. Mating season of pond turtle in Poland falls on the turn of April and May. Pond turtle hibernates hidden in carapace on the bottom of a water reservoir. In Central Europe the dormancy period of this species falls between October and March - the beginning of April.

In Poland pond turtle occurred once quite commonly. Still in the twenties of the last century it could be observed in the Garden of Saxons in Warsaw. It passed under total legal protection in our country in 1935. Nevertheless, unfortunately the area of its occurrence decreased systematically. The biggest peril for this turtle is the degradation of its natural settlements: drainage of swamps, regulation of small rivers and afforestation and putting under cultivation lands in the neighborhood of stagnant waters which causes that turtles lose suitable places where they might lay eggs. Moreover turtles' eggs and young individuals are eaten up by Corvidae birds and other predators (for instance foxes, racoon dogs, etc.) Sometimes turtles perish during their seasonal migrations under the wheels of rushing cars. It also happens that irresponsible people take them home where they die because of improper care and lack of suitable food. Active preservation of pond turtle has been carried out by nongovernmental organizations since the eighties of the last century. Presently there is one nationwide protection program aiming to decrease the mortality of the smallest turtles. Equally important goal is to protect primarily stations where pond turtles still occur.

Joanna and Tomasz Mazgajscy
Museum and Institute of Zoology PAN, Warsaw