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Turtles In Portugal

While there are several turtles endemic to Portugal, there are only two freshwater turtles in Portugal and these include the Mediterranean pond turtle and the European pond terrapin. The other turtles found in Portugal are marine turtles.

The loggerhead turtle used to nest in southern Portugal and southern Iberia, however, due to coastal developments this is no longer the case. The five marine turtles can be found in the Portuguese and Spanish waters off mainland Iberia.

The Mediterranean pond turtle is not endangered and wild populations are quite stable. However, habitat degradation may cause declines in wild populations. The European pond terrapin is classified as in danger according to the Red Book of Vertebrates in Portugal.

Freshwater Turtles in Portugal

1. Mediterranean Pond Turtle  

Mediterranean Pond Turtle (Mauremys leprosa) on a rock near water in Mourao, Portugal
A Mediterranean Pond Turtle (Mauremys leprosa) on a rock near water in Mourao, Portugal. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Mauremys leprosa
  • Other Names: Spanish pond turtle, Mediterranean Turtle
  • Adult Carapace Length: 24 cm in females, 21 cm in males
  • Lifespan: 24.5 years (captivity)
  • Global Conservation Status:  Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation, CITES Appendix II, Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. 
  • European  Red List: Vulnerable (Europe), Vulnerable (EU 27)
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes:  II, IV

The Mediterranean pond turtle is also known as the Spanish pond turtle and the Mediterranean turtle. These common names are based on the geographic range of the species.

This species can be found in the Mediterranean region in places such as Tunisia, Spain, Niger, Morocco, Libya, France, Algeria, and of course Portugal. The species occurs across northwestern Africa (which includes Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Algeria, and Libya), and the Iberian peninsula (which includes Portugal and Spain) into southern France.

The species can be found in all freshwater and brackish water bodies such as lakes, lagoons, ponds, rivers,  marshes, pools, springs, oases, creeks, and streams. However, the species prefer large permanent water bodies such as rivers and lakes.

The species is suspected to have an average lifespan of 24.5 years in captivity. The oldest individual in the wild was 35 years old at the time of death.

The Mediterranean pond turtle is a small to medium-sized freshwater turtle with females being noticeably larger than males. Adult females can reach a carapace length of 24 cm (4 inches), while adult males can reach a carapace length of 21 cm (8.2 inches).

The biggest threats faced in the Iberian Peninsula include fisheries bycatch, aquifer water extraction, marsh drainage, agricultural and industrial pollution, and habitat alteration. Other smaller threats to the species include collection for the pet trade and harvest for consumption and manufacturing of tourist souvenirs.

Another suggested major threat is competition from invasive species Trachemys scripta (pond slider) which can be found throughout the Mediterranean region. This species was introduced into the wild by pet owners.

The species is included in the CITES Appendix II which means that the international trade of the species is monitored. Automatically, the species is also protected by the Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation which forbids the importation of the turtle within the European Union member states until with an import permit.

The species is listed as Vulnerable on the European Red List and the IUCN Red List. Also, the species is listed in the Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive which designates the species as an endangered species and the habitat as a Special Area of Conservation.

2. European Pond Terrapin 

European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis) on rocks and sand in Porto Ovelha, Portugal
An European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis) on rocks and sand in Porto Ovelha, Portugal – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Emys orbicularis
  • Other Names: European pond tortoise, European pond turtle
  • Adult Size: 4.7 inches to 15 inches (12 to 38 cm)
  • Lifespan: 11 to 30 years
  • Global Conservation Status:  Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation, 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
  • Red Book of Vertebrates: In Danger

The European pond terrapin, also known as the European pond turtle or the European pond tortoise, is one of the more widespread turtles in Europe.

This species can be found from Portugal to turkey. The turtle is absent in the United Kingdom (it has been introduced here) and the northern parts of Europe such as Scandinavia.

The species can be found in freshwater bodies such as streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. The species prefer lentic ecosystems. Since the species is aquatic they are hardly found outside of their aquatic habitats. Females do come on land to lay eggs.

Females can be found nesting in sandy soils. The nesting area must be fertile, provide adequate amounts of food, and have few predators.

The length of the species ranges from 5 inches to 15 inches. The species is dark with yellow spots on the face.

The average lifespan of the species in captivity is estimated to be around 28 years. Records show wild European pond terrapins living to be 15 years or longer. The mortality rate is much higher for hatchlings due to the presence of predators and adverse conditions.

The protection offered captive-bred individuals results in captive European pond terrapins usually living much longer than wild individuals. The age of individuals can be calculated by counting annual growth rings found on the scutes.

The main threats that the species face include habitat degradation caused by road construction and urbanization, natural system modifications, and pollution. Invasive species such as pond sliders are also a major threat to the species.

The species is included in the CITES Appendix II. This regulates the international trade and importation of individuals of the species. Since the species is included in the CITES Appendix II, the species is automatically included in Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation. This offers stricter protection on the importation and movement of the species within the European Union.

The species is also included in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive. This designates the habitats of the species as ‘Special Area of Concern’ and also designates the species as endangered.

While species have commonly been kept as pets, this has been restricted because of protective legislation such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Ownership of wild individuals is prohibited by law. Captive-bred individuals have to be registered. In several places such as the UK and Switzerland, the species have been reintroduced.

Sea Turtles in Portugal

Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming in water off Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
A Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming in water off Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. – Source

3. Loggerhead Turtle  

  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Caretta caretta
  • Other Names: Loggerhead
  • Average Adult Length: 85 to 100 cm (33 to 39 inches)
  • Average Adult Mass: 170  to 1200 lb (77 to 545 kg)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 62 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

The loggerhead turtle can be found throughout the world and is endemic to almost all the tropical and temperate oceans. The turtle can be found as far north as Newfoundland as far south as southern Africa. It can be found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.

The species is called the loggerhead because of their huge heads and strong jaws. This turtle has a heart-shaped carapace.

The carapace is oftentimes covered with algae and barnacles, the carapace itself is reddish in coloration. The plastron of this turtle is cream or yellowish.

The turtle reaches an average mass of about 297 lb or 135 kg with a range mass of 170  to 1200 lb or 77 to 545 kg. The average length of the species ranges from 85 to 100 cm (33 to 39 inches). The turtle can reach a length of  213 cm or 84 inches.

Little is known of the lifespan of the loggerhead although the species have been estimated to be 30 to 62 years. The annual survival rate of adults is predicted to be about 88% for adults and 92% for immature individuals.

The generation length of the species is estimated to be 45 years. The generation length is the average age of parents.

The species is primarily carnivorous and feeds on several different animals but also feeds on algae. The strong jaws of the species allow them to effortlessly feed on hard-shelled animals such as conchs, barnacles, bivalves, and horseshoe crabs.

C. caretta faces several threats. While C. caretta used to nest on the beaches of the North Atlantic coast of Southern Iberia, this is no longer the case due to the extensive collection of the turtle for meat and coastal developments. Other threats that the species face include fisheries bycatch, pollution and pathogens, and climate change.

C. caretta is listed in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This prohibits the international transportation of the species.

The species is also included in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive. C. caretta is the only marine turtle included in Annex II as this turtle nests in Europe. While the species used to nest in Portugal, this is sadly no longer the case. The species’ inclusion in Annex IV of the Directive identifies the turtle as an endangered species.

4. Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) on wet, dark sand in Equatorial Guinea, Africa
A Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) on wet, dark sand in Equatorial Guinea, Africa. – Source
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Other Names: leathery turtle, the luth, lute turtle 
  • Average Adult Length: 145 to 160 cm (57 to 63 inches)
  • Average Adult Mass: 250 to 900 kg (551 to 1982 lb)
  • Generation Length: 30 years
  • Global Conservation Status: CITES Appendix I, Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species, Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: IV

Dermochelys coriacea can be found in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. This turtle is native to most parts of the world and the species can also be found in the waters off the coast of Portugal and Spain.

D. coriacea is pelagic and can be found throughout the world. The species is known to live in temperate, tropical, and subarctic waters. It has been found deep, as deep as 1230 m. Individuals of the species have even been seen in coastal waters.

D. coriacea is the largest reptile in the world by mass. The turtle is capable of reaching a mass of 900 kg or 1982 lb. The species is massive. Adults can also be as light as just 250 kg or 550 lb. This might seem heavy but for a leatherback, this is light. Automatically, D. coriacea is also the largest turtle still extant.

The species is known as the leatherback, because of the tough leathery carapace of the species. Instead of having a hard shell, D. coriacea has a leathery shell. The species can be identified by their leathery carapace, their massive size, the seven ridges on its carapace & the five on the plastron, and its flippers.

Very little is known about the lifespan of the species however, the generation length of the species is 30 years.  The generation length is the average age of parents.

D. coriacea is included in Appendix I of CITES. This legislation prohibits the international transportation of the species. The species is also included in Annexes IV of the Habitats Directive. D. coriacea is not included in Annex II as it doesn’t nest in Europe.

The species’ inclusion in Annex IV of the Directive, however, identifies it as an endangered species. D. coriacea is also included in Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species. This identifies the species as a threatened migratory species.

As with other marine turtles, D. coriacea faces several threats both in Portugal and the rest of Europe. These include fisheries bycatch, pollution, and climate change. Fisheries bycatch involves the accidental capture of the turtle in fishing gear that targets other marine species.

In places around the world where the species nest, the collection and consumption of leatherback eggs and meat, and coastal development are significant threats to the global population.

5. Green Turtle

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming by some coral in Malaysia, Asia
A Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming by some coral in Malaysia, Asia. – Source
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
  • Other Names: Green sea turtle
  • Adult Length: 100 cm to 120 cm or 39 to 47 inches
  • Adult Mass:  120 to 200 kg or 330 to 441 lb
  • Lifespan: 75 years
  • Global Conservation Status: Endangered on the IUCN Red List, CITES Appendix I, Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: IV

Chelonia mydas presence in Portugal and Spain is uncertain or vagrant at best as the species are rarely spotted. However, between 1978 and 2013 about 8 green turtles have been stranded on the Portuguese coastline according to research conducted as part of the  LIFE+ MARPRO project. This indicates that the green turtle may yet still be extant in the waters of Portugal.

C. mydas is native to the Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea. The turtle can be found in subtropical and tropical waters. This sea turtle prefers shallow waters and coastal areas.

C. mydas is a large turtle although nowhere as large as the luth. The green turtle is capable of reaching a mass of 200 kg or 441 lb. the range mass of adults is 120 to 200 kg or 330 to 441 lb. the range length of the species is 100 cm to 120 cm or 39 to 47 inches. The green turtle is the second largest marine turtle behind the leatherback.

The green turtle is actually not green in coloration. The common name is gotten from the greenish of the species subdermal fat.

The scales of the species are black when born. The coloration lightens as the turtle ages.

As with other sea turtles, the lifespan of the species is difficult to determine as there is little research conducted on the lifespan and expectancy of the species. The species is however estimated to have a lifespan range of 75 years.

Factors that threaten the wild populations of the species include entanglement in marine fishery gear. Fishing practices that threaten wild populations include longlining, dynamite fishing, shrimp trawling, and drift netting.

The species doesn’t nest in Portugal, however, in places where it nests, nesting habitat degradation plays a significant role in the declines of wild population numbers. Habitat degradation is caused nu residential and commercial development.

C. mydas is listed in CITES Appendix I and this protects the species from international transportation. The importation and exportation of the species and products made from the parts of the turtle are prohibited and considered criminal. C. mydas is also included in Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species.

This identifies the species as a migratory species threatened with extinction.  The species is also listed in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive. This denotes that the species requires strict protection within European Habitats Directive.

6. Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming along coral off Queensland, Australia
A Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming along coral off Queensland, Australia. – Source
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Adult Length: 87 cm or 34 inches
  • Adult Mass: 36 to 137 kg or 79 to 280 lb
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Global Conservation Status: Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, CITES Appendix I, Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: IV

Eretmochelys imbricata is quite rare in the waters of Portugal and Spain.

In fact, the species is quite rare everywhere around the world as the species is considered to be critically endangered. The species is found mainly in the tropical waters of the Atlantic and Pacific.

E. imbricata is usually found in reef habitats and hard-bottomed habitats. Other habitats that these species have been found in include continental shelves, lagoons of oceanic islands, and shoals. They go no deeper than 18 meters or 60 feet.

Compared to the leatherback that can be found as deep as 1230 meters, E. imbricata is a surface dweller. They are normally found near the surface of the waters in which they inhabit.

E. imbricata is quite large and can reach a mass of 127 kg or 280 lb. the species have an average adult mass of 80 kg or 176 lb. The range mass of the species is 36 to 137 kg or 79 to 280 lb. The average length of the species is 87 cm or 34 inches.

E. imbricata has an undetermined lifespan due to a lack of data. The lifespan is believed to be 30 to 50 years. This is however an estimate.

Eretmochelys imbricata is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. the species is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species.

Threats that the species face include oil pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, ingestion of marine debris, destruction/degradation of nesting and foraging habitats, collection of eggs, collection for meat, and the trade of turtle shells.

7. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) on the sand beached in Brevard County, Florida, USA
A Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) on the sand beached in Brevard County, Florida, USA. – Source
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Lepidochelys kempii
  • Other Names: Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, Atlantic Ridley
  • Adult Length: 55 to 75 cm or 22 to 30 inches
  • Adult Mass: 30 to 50 kg or 66 to 110 lb
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Global Conservation Status: Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, CITES Appendix I, Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species
  • EC Habitats Directive Annexes: IV

Lepidochelys kempii can be found in the Atlantic from the Americas to Europe. The species is endemic to Mexico, the United States, Canada, Bermuda, the United Kingdom, France, Madeira (which is part of Portugal), and mainland Portugal.

In Europe, the species is found on the Northern Atlantic coasts. While individuals may occur in the Mediterranean, this is quite rare.

The Atlantic Ridley is known as the smallest marine turtle and has an adult length of 55 to 75 cm or 22 to 30 inches. The adult mass of the species is 30 to 50 kg or 66 to 110 lb.

For a turtle, this turtle is still quite large. However, for a marine turtle, the species is tiny. The average length of the species is 65 cm.

The carapace of the species is heart-shaped and gray. The plastron is light yellow to off-white in coloration.  As with the other sea turtles, the Atlantic Ridley has flippers for limbs. These ensure that the species is an excellent swimmer. The shell is also hydrodynamic.

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the rarest and most endangered sea turtle species in the world.

The extremely rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is omnivorous and feeds on sea urchins jellyfish, shrimp, mollusks, floating crabs, algae, and seaweed.

The species is the only sea turtle species that nest mostly during the day. The species however do not nest in Portugal.

The lifespan of the species is difficult to determine however, the typical lifespan of specimens that reach maturity is estimated to be 30 to 50 years. The species reach reproductive maturity at ages 10 to 12 years. The species’ generation length is 18 years. The generation length is the average age of reproductive mature males and females that mate and produce viable eggs.

The species face a large number of threats that affect the wild populations. These include fisheries bycatch (top, midwater, and bottom trawls, hook and line, and demersal gillnets), predation, pollution including oil spills and toxins, cold stunning, the harvest of eggs and individuals for meat, ecosystem degradation, and climate change.

Lepidochelys kempii is listed in Appendix I of CITES. This legislation prohibits the international transportation, importation, and exportation of the species and products manufactured using parts of the species.

The species is also included in Annexes IV of the Habitats Directive. This indicates that the species is of interest to Europe and as such requires strict legislative protection.

The species is also included in Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species. This identifies the species as a threatened migratory species.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many turtle species are native to Portugal?

There are seven turtle species native to Portugal. However, only two species can be found on mainland Portugal and these include the European pond terrapin and the Mediterranean pond turtle.

The other five are marine species. These include Loggerhead sea turtle (C. caretta), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (L. kempii), Hawksbill sea turtle (E. imbricata), and Green sea turtle (C. mydas).

Marine turtles can be spotted in the waters of Portugal and Spain. Regardless of this, sightings are rare.

On the mainland, the European pond terrapin and the Mediterranean pond turtle are relatively common in the freshwater bodies.

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

Once your captive-bred turtle has been registered you can now legally keep a turtle as a pet. However, the journey doesn’t end there. Turtles are aquatic/semi-aquatic and this can make them quite challenging to care for and keep.

You need to build an aquatic setup for the turtle. The water within the aquarium or tank needs to be filtered continuously so you will need to change the water within the tank regularly.

You would also need to provide the turtle with a sufficient amount of UVA and UVB radiation. As such, you will need to install UVA/UVB lamps. To provide the turtle with the needed heat, you will need to heat the tank with an aquarium heater and install heat lamps.

Feeding the turtle the right foods is also essential to the healthy growth of the turtle. You do not want to overfeed the turtle or feed it foods that contain too much sugar or fat as this can lead to obesity. Underfeeding the turtle can also result in poor growth and poor health.

Keeping a turtle requires commitment since their care can be expensive and specimens generally have long lifespans. It is essential that you are committed before acquiring a turtle as a pet and this includes turtles endemic to Portugal.

Is It Easy To Buy A Portuguese Turtle?

Ownership of wild turtles is prohibited by law in Portugal. Additionally, captive-bred individuals have to be registered. Legislation as the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations prohibits the sale of wild turtles endemic to Portugal.

Similarly, the export of wild-caught turtles out of Portugal is also monitored and is only allowed in special cases. The same applies to the importation of the Mediterranean pond terrapin and the European pond turtle into Portugal.

However, the European pond turtle is quite popular among hobbyists, especially in the United States, and has been successfully bred in the States. While the European pond turtle is not as popular as other species native to North America, captive-bred individuals can still be acquired by getting in touch with a breeder.

Are Portuguese Turtles Dangerous?

The turtles native to Portugal aren’t dangerous, however as many of you may know, all turtles carry the bacteria salmonella. This bacteria is responsible for salmonella infection also known as salmonellosis.

Most people recover from the infection without any symptoms and treatment. However, others show symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Other symptoms include headache, chills, vomiting, blood in stool, and nausea.

When symptoms are severe enough, the infection can cause complications that can be life-threatening. The elderly, young children, pregnant women, transplant recipients, and individuals with weakened immune systems are most at risk.

To prevent salmonella infection, thoroughly wash your hands after handling a turtle or objects the turtle comes in contact with.

Conclusion

There are two species of freshwater turtles to be found in Portugal and these include the Mediterranean pond turtle and the European pond terrapin. Also, there are five marine turtle species to be found in the waters of Portugal and these include the Loggerhead sea turtle (C. caretta), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (L. kempii), Hawksbill sea turtle (E. imbricata), and Green sea turtle (C. mydas).

Out of all the marine turtles found in Portugal, only one species is known to nest on the beaches of the mainland and that is the loggerhead turtle. However due to the extensive collection of the turtle for meat and coastal developments the loggerhead no longer nest in Portugal.

The European pond terrapin, also known as the European pond turtle, is kept as pets both within Europe and outside the continent. This species is classified as in danger according to the Red Book of Vertebrates in Portugal.

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