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Turtles in Greece

Located in the Mediterranean, Greece is home to several turtle species. Turtles in Greece include African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis), Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca), European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni), marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata), and Yellow-bellied Slider Turtle (Trachemys scripta).

While all the turtles mentioned are endemic to Greece, the yellow-bellied slider is not and is an invasive reptile species. Many of the turtles found in Greece can also be found across the Mediterranean region.

Many of them are also kept as pets all over the world with tortoise species such as the Greek tortoise being quite a popular pet.

Freshwater Turtles in Greece

1. European Pond Turtle

European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis) sitting on a log in the grass near Radomir, Greece
An European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis) sitting on a log in the grass near Radomir, Greece. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Emys orbicularis
  • Other Names: European pond tortoise, European pond terrapin
  • Adult Size: 4.7 inches to 15 inches (12 to 38 cm)
  • Lifespan: 11 to 30 years
  • Global Conservation Status:  CITES Appendix II, Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. 
  • European  Red List: Near Threatened (Europe), Vulnerable (EU 27)
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes:  II, IV

The European pond terrapin is also known as the European pond terrapin or the European pond turtle. This species is a freshwater turtle endemic to Europe and the Western Palearctic.

Adult specimens can live up to 15 years or even longer. The turtle’s lifespan in captivity is estimated to be between 11 and 30 years.

These turtles are quite small in size although they can get quite large. The range length for adult individuals is 4.7 inches to 15 inches (12 to 38 cm).

Although they come in a variety of colorations, most individuals are dark with light speckling.

As you may have deduced from the name, the European pond turtle can be found in Europe – Central Europe and Southern Europe. They can also be found in North Africa specifically Morrocco to Tunisia.

Additionally, the species can be found in the Middle East as well as central Asia with the outermost border of the species’ geographical range being the Aral Sea.

Aquatic biomes that the European pond terrapin lives in include streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. They can also be found in swamps.

These turtles prefer slow-moving water bodies. Although the species spend most of their lives in water, females can also be found on land when they need to nest. They prefer to nest in open high and sandy soil.

European pond terrapin is a carnivore and feeds on small aquatic animals within its habitat. These include fishes, frogs, insects, and worms. Although they are carnivorous in the wild, captive-bred are known to eat vegetables and fruits.

The main threat to the species includes habitat loss due to urbanization, wetland drainage, road construction. Pollution is another threat to the species. Individuals are also collected for the pet trade as well as for food.

The invasive slider turtle also poses a threat to the species as they compete with the European pond turtle for nesting and basking sites and food.

The species can be found in the CITES Appendix II as such the trade of the species is monitored. The species is considered near threatened within Europe and vulnerable within the European Union according to the European Red List.

The species is also considered near threatened on the IUCN Red List. Additionally, the species is listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive.

2. African Softshell Turtle

African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis) swimming in green water at Manavgat, Turkey
An African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis) swimming in green water at Manavgat, Turkey. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Trionyx triunguis
  • Other Names: Nile Softshell
  • Adult Size: 37.5 inches or 95 cm
  • Lifespan: 24 to 45 years
  • Global Conservation Status: CITES Appendix II, Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

The African softshell is considered one of the largest softshell turtles in the world reaching a length of 37 inches. These large turtles can live up to 45 years and can be found in fresh and brackish water.

You can find the species in brackish wetlands, ponds, and the lower course of rivers. It can even also be found within the mediterranean sea.

The turtle has a flat carapace that is leathery as it is a softshell turtle and a long neck. The turtle also has a long neck is of benefit when hunting as it is mobile. The turtle is dark in coloration.

Although the species is omnivorous, it is considered to be predominantly carnivorous. Animals that the species feed on include small fish and crustaceans.it is also known to eat foliage and palm seeds.

In the Mediterranean, the African softshell can be found in the brackish waters of the region including major streams and rivers of the eastern Mediterranean coastal area, it has also been found in the Mediterranean sea although this turtle is not a marine reptile. In Greece, the species was first recorded on Kos Island.

Regardless of this, wild populations of this turtle are limited within Greece and specifically the Kos Island where it occurs naturally.

Within European countries, the African softshell can be found in Turkey, specifically the part located in Asia.

The turtle is also endemic to Africa. It can be found in West Africa, Central Africa, and East Africa.

In east Africa, the turtle can be found in the Nile river basin where it gets one of its common names – Nile softshell turtle. The Nile river basin stretches from northern Kenya to Egypt. The turtle can be found throughout West Africa.

The turtle has been included in the CITES Appendix II since 2016. This means that trade and exploitation of wild specimens are monitored. The turtle is considered Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Since the turtle rarely occurs in Greece and the rest of Europe, it is not included in the Habitats Directive which is a directive by the EU to protect European species considered to be endangered. It is also not included on the European Red List which is similar to the IUCN Red List but assesses the species regionally.

Threats to the species include consumption in Subsaharan Africa. In places such as on the coast of Turkey, nests have been destroyed and wild specimens have been killed by fishermen as they perceive the turtle to be a competitor since it also catches fish. Boat traffic and water pollution have also had a significant effect on wild populations.

Unlike many of the turtles, we will look at, the African softshell rarely occurs within Greece and can only be found on Kos Island.

Sea Turtles in Greece

3. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming underwater in Aegean, Greece
A Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming underwater in Aegean, Greece . – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Caretta caretta
  • Other Names: Loggerhead
  • Adult Size: 35 inches (90 cm)
  • Lifespan: 47 to 67 years
  • Global Conservation Status: Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (Mediterranean subpopulation is considered to be of Least Concern), CITES Appendix I, Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: II, IV

Loggerhead turtles are a migratory species and as such do not stay in one place. Some of the loggerhead turtles tagged in Greece have been found up to 1500 km away from where they were originally tagged which is normal for the migratory loggerhead. These sea turtles can travel several thousand kilometers every year.

Also, the loggerhead turtle is the only sea turtle found within Greece’s sea that nests on Greece’s beaches. Caretta caretta is known to nest on the Bay of Messara, Bay of Chania, and Rethymno all in Crete, Bay of Koroni, Bay of Lakonokos, and Bay of Kyparissia in Peloponnesus, and Bay of Laganas in Zakynthos.

Within the Mediterranean, Caretta caretta can be found in Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Israel, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Italy, Malta, Montenegro, Egypt, France, Spain, Slovenia, Cyprus, Croatia, and Albania. The Mediterranean subpopulation breeds on the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean basin and can be found throughout the Mediterranean sea.

The beaches of Zakynthos have a high nesting density with the beach of Sekania having about 1500 nests per kilometer.

The habitat of the species depends on the age of the individual. Young loggerheads typically prefer warm ocean currents among Sargassum mats, while older loggerheads prefer coastal waters and muddy or rocky substrate over sandy substrates.

The species is suspected to have a lifespan of 47 to 67 years although the exact lifespan of the species is unknown due to lack of data. In captivity, the average lifespan is suspected to be 33 years.

The main threats to the loggerhead include fisheries bycatch, collection of the eggs for human consumption, coastal developments, pollution, and climate change. The main threats to loggerheads within the mediterranean sea include nesting habitat degradation and fisheries bycatch.

Fisheries bycatch involves the incidental capture of the turtle in fishing equipment. Since turtles need to breathe air, they drown when trapped in fishing gear targeting other marine species.

Coastal development is the main cause of the degradation of nesting habitats. Coastal development includes dredging, construction, and beach modification.

Caretta caretta is listed in the CITES Appendix I. This strictly forbids the trade and hunt of the species illegal. The species is also covered by Annex II and IV of the Habitats Directive. The species is protected under Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species.

The species has an IUCN Red List status of Vulnerable. The Mediterranean subpopulation which includes the population found in Greece is considered to be of least concern.

4. Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in the sand in Trinidad and Tobago
A Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in the sand in Trinidad and Tobago. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Other Names: the luth, leathery turtle, lute turtle 
  • Adult Size:  57 to 63 inches (145 to 160 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Global Conservation Status: CITES Appendix I, Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species, Annex II of the SPAW Protocol to the Cartagena Convention, Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: IV

The leatherback is one of the largest animals on Earth and is considered the largest reptile on Earth. This giant can reach a shell length of 250 cm and weights of over 900 kg or 1982 lb.

This turtle is massive. The D. coriacea is a migratory species and can cover distances of over 10,000 km every year. Individual leatherbacks don’t live in one place. Individual leatherbacks are known to spend time in Greece and Crete.

However, the leatherback doesn’t nest in Greece, unlike the loggerhead turtle which is another sea turtle species.

The leatherback is so-called because of the leathery nature of its shell. Instead of having a bony hard shell as most turtles do, the leatherback has a leathery carapace. This leathery carapace is still very tough and protects it efficiently from predators.

This turtle lives in the sea and only comes to land to nest.

D. coriacea is carnivorous and feeds mostly on gelatinous invertebrates such as salps and jellyfish. The species also eat snails, sea urchins, cephalopods, fish, and small crustaceans.

D. coriacea is a pelagic animal and as such travels large distances from nesting beaches to feeding grounds.  The species is usually found in temperate oceans to the edge of subarctic water. The D. coriacea however lives in many different oceans all around the Earth.

They have been found in temperate oceans, tropical oceans, and even subarctic oceans. They have also been found as deep as 1230m which is below the photic zone.

There is currently no concrete information on the lifespan of the species.

The species face a wide variety of threats and these include fisheries bycatch, collection of the eggs by humans for consumption, coastal developments on critical habitats of the species, pollution, and climate change.

The highest threat to the leatherback’s wild population is fisheries bycatch. This is the accidental capture of the leatherback in fishing gear targeting other species.

Although the D. coriacea is a marine species, it still needs to breathe air. When trapped underwater, the turtle will eventually run out of oxygen and die.

The species is included in the CITES Appendix I. This makes the trade and hunt of the species illegal. The species is also covered by the Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive.

The species is also protected by Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species, and Annex II of the SPAW Protocol to the Cartagena Convention. The species has an IUCN Red List status of Vulnerable.

Land Turtles and Tortoises in Greece 

5. Greek Tortoise  

Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca) in snad and rocks in Aegean, Greece
A Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca) in snad and rocks in Aegean, Greece. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Testudo graeca
  • Other Names: Spur-thighed Tortoise, common tortoise
  • Average Adult Size: 7 to 8 inches (18 to 21 cm)
  • Lifespan: 50 to 120 years
  • Global Conservation Status: CITES Appendix II, Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List
  • European  Red List: Vulnerable (Europe & EU 27)
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: II, IV

The Greek tortoise is also known as the spur-thighed tortoise and the common tortoise. This tortoise species is quite popular in the pet trade and can be found as pets all over the world.

In the wild, the species is endemic to Europe and the Mediterranean region.

This tortoise looks like a generic depiction of a tortoise. This may be why it is referred to as the common tortoise. The shell is tan and so is the rest of the body.

The shell has black patches on a tan background. Among turtles, this species is moderately sized and can reach an adult length of about 10 inches. However, most individuals reach a length of just 5 to 8 inches. Males are generally smaller than females.

The Greek tortoise is a long-lived species that can reach an age of 125 years. These reptiles are known to commonly outlive their owner.

Although they can reach an age of 125 years, generally the lifespan of the tortoise is around 50 years. There have also been unverified reports of some Greek tortoises with lifespans of up to 200 years.

In Greece, the Greek tortoise can be found in northeast Greece and the northern Aegean islands. Different subspecies can be found in different parts of the Mediterranean. Testudo graeca graeca is endemic to Sardinia and Sicily in Italy, southern Spain, and from morocco to Libya in Africa.

Testudo graeca terrestris can be found in northern Libya and Egypt to Israel and also in Jordan, Syria, turkey, and Lebanon. Testudo graeca zarudnyi can be found in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

The turtle can be found in pine woods, coastal dunes, rocky hillsides, semi-arid scrub, grasslands, barren hillsides, plateaus, dey open steppes, and even in marshland borders. They are generally found in arid and semi-arid habitats.

The species is included in the CITES Appendix II. This means that the trade of the species is monitored. The species is also included in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive of the European Union.

This means that the geographic range of the species is of special concern and the species itself requires strict protection within Europe. The species is also included on the European red list as a Vulnerable species both in continental Europe and within the 27 member states of the EU.

Threats to the species include habitat degradation, habitat loss, collection of wild individuals for the pet trade, collection for human consumption, and pig and salmon farms consumption.

6. Hermann’s Tortoise 

Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) in dirt and rocks in Epirus and Western Macedonia, Greece
A Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) in dirt and rocks in Epirus and Western Macedonia, Greece. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Testudo hermanni
  • Adult Size: 4.72 to 9.06 in (120 to 230 mm)
  • Global Conservation Status: CITES Appendix II, Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, Annex A of EU Wildlife Trade Regulation
  • European Red List: Near Threatened (Europe & EU 27)
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: II, IV

Hermann’s tortoise is not a large tortoise. Individuals generally weigh between 2 and 2.5 kg. The species is considered to be small to medium in size.

The tortoise has a black and yellow carapace which is considered attractive among hobbyists. The brightness of the carapace fades with age. The plastron of the species is also yellow and black.

The species is often confused with the Greek tortoise as these two closely resemble each other. However, unlike the Greek tortoise, Hermann’s tortoises lack sours on their thighs.

There are other differences as well, such as the Greek tortoise having large scales on their front limbs while Hermann’s tortoises have small scales on their front limbs.

The species is found within the Mediterranean region along the northern coast of the mediterranean sea. The species can be found from Greece and Romania to Spain although most of the wild population can be found in Italy.

The species can be found in grasslands and scrub forests. They can also be found in agricultural lands such as farmlands and suburban communities due to habitat degradation.

The tortoise is primarily herbivorous and feeds mostly on flowers, leaves, and grasses. When these foods are scarce, the turtle can also eat slugs, snails, and mall insects.

The species face several threats however the main threats include loss of habitat due to urban and agricultural development, pollution, collection for the pet trade and traditional medicine, road mortality, and wildfires.

You must acquire only captive-bred specimens if you wish to keep Hermann’s tortoise as a pet. Captive breeding of the species has proven successful and as such acquiring captive-bred individuals is not difficult.

The species is included in the CITES Appendix II this means that the international trade of the species is monitored. The species is considered near threatened within Europe according to the European Red List. The species is also considered near threatened on the IUCN Red List.

The species is included in Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation. As such strict import regulations are imposed by the EU are much stricter than those imposed by the CITES. Import permits are required for the importation of species listed in Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation.

Additionally, the species is listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive. This means that the species is considered endangered and the habitat of the species is designated as a Special Area of Conservation.

7. Marginated Tortoise  

Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata marginata) walking in straw in Athens, Greece
A Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata marginata) walking in straw in Athens, Greece . – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Testudo marginata marginata
  • Other Names: Greek marginated tortoise
  • Adult Size: 14 inches (35 cm)
  • Lifespan: 100 to 140 years
  • Global Conservation Status: CITES Appendix II, Least Concern on the IUCN Red List
  • European  Red List: Least Concern (Europe & EU 27)
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: II, IV

The wild population of the species is considered stable. The Greek marginated tortoise can be found in southern, central, and northwestern Greece.

The species have also been introduced to Crete, the largest island in Greece. The species is also endemic to Albania and Sardinia, the largest island in Italy.

The species is the largest tortoise in Europe and can reach lengths of 14 inches and weights of 5 kg. The carapace of this turtle is oblong.

The posterior of the shell has a sac-like formation. The carapace of this turtle is black with yellow colorations.

The species is long-lived with a suspected lifespan of 100 to 140 years.

The species is herbivorous and feeds on plants found within its habitat.

The species inhabit a range of vegetation types including olive groves, coastal dunes, and the Maquis and Garrigue shrublands. The species s usually found in the Maquis and Garrigue scrublands.

The species face several threats but the main threat to the wild population is wildfire. The Greek marginated tortoise is impacted less by urban and agricultural development than Hermann’s tortoise as the marginated tortoise does not mind stony habitats.

Infrastructure developments also destroy the species’ habitats. Species may also be collected for the pet trade as Mediterranean tortoises are popular in the pet trade.

The species is offered legislative protection by being listed in Annex A of EU Wildlife Trade Regulation 338/97 and CITES Appendix II. The species is also protected by Greek domestic legislation.

The species is also included in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive of the European Union. Annex II designates the habitat of the species as a Special Area of Conservation and Annex IV designates the species as one that requires strict protection within Europe.

The species is also included on the European red list as a species of Least Concern within Europe.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Difficult Is It To Keep Turtles Found In Greece As Pets?

There are several turtles found in Greece. Some, such as the loggerhead sea turtles, are impossible to keep as pets unless you own a gigantic aquarium such as Sea Turtle Care Center or SeaWorld. It is also highly illegal for individuals to keep marine turtles as pets.

However Greek turtles such as the European pond terrapin and the African softshell can be kept as pets. Make sure that these turtles are captive-bred and have the needed permits if necessary.

Other Greek turtles that can be kept as pets include the Mediterranean tortoises native to Greece such as the marginated tortoise or Hermann’s tortoise. These tortoises are relatively easy to keep.

For aquatic pet turtles, you need an aquatic setup such as a glass aquarium. These turtles can also be housed in ponds or any large plastic container. You need to ensure that the turtle is exposed to enough UVA and UVB light.

The water temperature also needs to be within the right range. You will have to clean the enclosure regularly and feed the turtles regularly.

For tortoises, you need a large open area to house them. These turtles are herbivorous and accept foliage, vegetables, and fruits.

The temperature and humidity levels need to be optimal. These also need to be exposed to adequate amounts of UVA and UVB light.

Regardless of the turtle, you wish to get as a pet, make sure to do your research.

Can You Transport Greek Turtles To Other Countries?

Turtles within Greece are protected by regulations such as the CITES and the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations with the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations offering stricter protection. As such, the transportation of turtles in and out of Greece is strictly regulated.

Similarly importing Greek turtles into other European countries is monitored and regulated. Import permits are needed to transport the turtles into other European countries and out of Greece.

Is It Easy To Buy A Greek Turtle?

Within Greece, the trade of native turtle species is prohibited. You cannot trade any of the wild turtles endemic to Greece within the country as they are all listed in Appendix II of CITES and subsequently in Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, which prohibits the trade and use of the turtles for commercial purposes within the European Union.

However, if you are outside Europe, you can legally acquire captive-bred specimens. You must acquire a captive-bred so as not to acquire a specimen that was collected from the wild. Many of the Greek turtles are popular among hobbyists and have been successfully bred.

You can find species such as Hermann’s tortoise and the marginated tortoise in pet stores. You can also acquire individual specimens from breeders.

Are Greek Turtles Dangerous?

Greece’s freshwater turtles and tortoises are not dangerous although they do carry salmonella as do all other turtles.

As such, it is important to watch your hands before and after handling any turtle, because once the salmonella bacteria enter into your digestive system you are susceptible to suffering from salmonella poisoning which has been known to be fatal to young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.

Conclusion

As you may already know, many Greek turtles are kept as pets. These include species such as the Hermann tortoise, Greek tortoise, and the African softshell.

Other turtles that can be found in Greece include European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata), and Yellow-bellied Slider Turtle (Trachemys script).

Interestingly enough, the slider isn’t native to Greece but can be found in the wild due to people releasing their pet sliders into habitats foreign to the species. This makes the slider an invasive species.

There are also two sea turtles endemic to Greece and these include the loggerhead and the leatherback. Both these turtles are illegal to keep as pets.

And even if they weren’t, it will be near impossible to care for one.

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