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Cistude d'Europe © MNHN - P. Roux

European pond turtle

The European pond turtle, Emys orbicularis, is the only species of freshwater turtle in France. Until the 19th century, it was found across vast territories throughout Europe, Russia and North Africa. Now in decline, it is the subject of a reintroduction plan, which the Réserve Zoologique de la Haute-Touche is actively involved in.


Classe, order & family :

Sauropsida, Testudines, Emydidae

Genus :


Species :


Subspecies :


Lifespan :

up to 50 years

Height and weight :

11 to 19 cm, 1 kg at the most

Incubation :

~ 3 months, 4 to 18 eggs

Natural habitat :

ponds, marshlands

Diet :

insects, small vertebrates

Native region :


Conservation programme :

a National Action Plan (NAP) has been created. In addition, the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (National Museum of Natural History) is rearing these turtles in captivity at the Réserve Zoologique de la Haute-Touche with the aim of boosting populatio

IUCN status: 

Near threatened

Way of life

The European pond turtle lives in peaceful and sunny freshwater wetlands: marshes, ponds, ditches, slow-current streams, canals and brooks. It is fond of the muddy bottoms and plentiful aquatic vegetation. It looks for floating logs to sunbathe on but is always ready to go underwater at the first sign of danger.

Mating takes place in the water and the female lays her eggs several hundred metres from the shore.

During the winter, the European pond turtle lives life in the slow lane, sheltered in aquatic vegetation or buried in the mud.

Distinguishing features

The European pond turtle, with its webbed feet and smooth, flat shell, has a hydrodynamic shape which distinguishes it from tortoises. It has a relatively long tail compared to other turtles. Its claws allow it to dig up the ground.

Males can be identified by their red eyes while females, which are much larger, and their young have yellow eyes.


Today it is the European reptile that has suffered the greatest decline in numbers over the past twenty years. In decline throughout its range, it is an endangered species that must be protected. Protecting the European pond turtle must involve the conservation of wetlands.

On 7 July 2010 the Réserve Zoologique de la Haute-Touche opened a nursery dedicated to the species. Incubated and raised in a protected environment, the turtles will be released at around 3 years of age to inhabit the territories that they disappeared from. The objective: to produce 150 turtles per year for the reintroduction programmes carried out as part of the National Action Plan (NAP) for the species established in 2010. At present, they are released in the catchment basin of Lake Bourget. The intention is that in the future this project will be extended to Alsace and to other European countries.

Éclosion de cistudes © G. Martin
Cistudes d'Europe à la Réserve © MNHN - P. Roux
Cistude d'Europe © MNHN - P. Roux