species of the week #66 – european pond turtle

The European Pond Turtle is back in Rhineland-Palatinate! After being heavily hunted in the Middle Ages and sold as a fasting food at the market in Speyer, it finally became extinct at the beginning of the 20th century due to river straightening and the associated loss of river meadows. In 2008, NABU started a reintroduction project in Bobenheim-Roxheim and Neuburg, and in 2020 the first migrating young animal was spotted. A great success, which shows that renaturation and reintroduction can work.

Distribution status Threatened with extinction
Remaining deposits Bobenheim-Roxheim, Neuburg
Last sighting in rhineland-palatinate current
Habitat Shallow, sunny, heavily vegetated waters with sandy, sheltered banks
Threat Capture, river straightening, intensive agriculture, climate change

The European Pond Turtle is the only turtle species found
species of turtle found in the wild in Germany. It used to be a characteristic species of the floodplain areas along the Upper Rhine. The main cause of its extinction was probably the mass capture of the terrapin in the Middle Ages. Especially the market in Speyer was known far beyond the region as a trading centre for the sale of the species. The capture was accompanied by the destruction of their habitats through river straightening, lowering of groundwater levels, destruction of floodplain biotopes and destruction of egg-laying sites in the course of agricultural intensification.

The European Pond Turtle feeds mainly on aquatic insects, snails and amphibian larvae, at higher temperatures it also lives vegetarian. The European Pond Turtle is a food generalist, i.e. it can use any available food. However, it can only eat under water, otherwise it cannot swallow. Increasing drought due to climate change means a period of starvation for the European pond turtle in particularly shallow waters.

In 2008, the first turtles were released in the Bobenheim-Roxheim Altrhein area. To date, more than 100 terrapins aged about four years have been released into the wild in this area. As the animals only become sexually mature at the age of 10 – 15 years, the success of a reintroduction can only be seen many years later. After the animals developed very well in the Bobenheim-Roxheim area, NABU started looking for new project areas for further reintroductions. Finally, the old Rhine arms near Neuburg am Rhein in the district of Germersheim were chosen. This area is managed within the framework of the Interreg project “Pond Turtle without Border” together with the French colleagues, who had already started reintroduction on the French side.

In 2020, a juvenile was discovered during a land migration in the reintroduction area near Bobenheim-Roxheim. There were already high hopes in Bobenheim-Roxheim in recent years, as land-migrating females were observed, egg pits were found, egg-laying was observed and in late summer 2017 two freshly hatched European Pond Turtles – about the size of a 2 Euro coin – were spotted on their way to the water body. The hatchling found in 2020 is estimated to be two years old, once again confirming the long-awaited hope of successful reproduction.

Politically necessary:

  • Continued support for reintroduction
  • Comprehensive floodplain protection
  • Promotion of extensive agriculture

Committed climate protection

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Image: By Sergento – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48668533