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Turtles in Turkey 

There are several species of turtles in Turkey. These include sea turtles, freshwater turtles, and tortoises. 

Sea turtles in Turkey include the green turtle and the loggerhead. Turkey is an important country to the wild population of both species as both sea turtles nest on the coastline of Turkey. 

Three freshwater turtles can be found in Turkey and these are the European pond turtle, the Euphrates softshell, and the African softshell. There are several subspecies of the European pond turtle endemic to Turkeys such as the central Turkey pond turtle and the western Turkey pond turtle.

Two tortoises are endemic to Turkey and these are the Hermann’s tortoise and the common tortoise.

Table of Contents

  1. Freshwater Turtles
  2. European Pond Turtles
  3. Tortoises
  4. Sea Turtles
  5. FAQ
  6. Conclusion

Freshwater Turtles in Turkey

There are three species of freshwater turtles endemic to Turkey and these are the Euphrates softshell, the African softshell, and the European pond turtle. 

1. Euphrates Softshell 

Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) sitting by the water in Diyarbakir, Turkey
A Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) sitting by the water in Diyarbakir, Turkey. – Source
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Rafetus euphraticus
  • Maximum Length: 68 inches (172 cm)
  • Maximum Mass: 20 kg (44 lbs)
  • Lifespan: 24 to 45 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

The Euphrates softshell is a large freshwater turtle that can reach weights of 20 kg or 44 lbs. As a softshell, this chelonian has a smooth leathery carapace which is dull olive in coloration.

The rest of the body is similarly colored. Some individuals may be brown or even black. 

In Turkey, R. euphraticus can be found in Anatolia which is in the southeast. The geographic range of the Euphrates softshell extends further towards the southeast and encompasses Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

The Euphrates softshell can be found in the Euphrates River and Tigris River and their drainage areas which include tributaries, marshlands, ponds, and lakes. The species occurs from near sea level to 1000 m above sea level. 

the Euphrates softshell inhabits river habitats most of the time. They can be found in both temporary and permanent tributaries and ox box lakes. They can also be found in the slow-moving sections of large rivers. The species thrive at high temperatures and is referred to as thermophilic. 

The species is primarily carnivorous feeding mainly on fish, insects, crabs, and carrion./. It also eats plant matter once in a while. 

In terms of breeding, mating occurs in march. After which, the Euphrates softshell nests from April to June. the eggs hatch in early July. Gravid females late 30 to 40 eggs per clutch. 

The main threat to the species is habitat degradation. This includes the alteration, fragmentation, and destruction of the habitats within the species’ geographic range. The construction of dams has led to changes to the water quality of the species’ habitat which has made it impossible for the turtle to survive.  

The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is also included in CITES II. 

2. African Softshell 

African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis) in clear green water in Antalya, Turkey
An African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis) in clear green water in Antalya, Turkey. – Source
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Trionyx triunguis
  • Average Length: 33 inches or 83 cm
  • Average Mass: 73 lbs or 33 kg
  • IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

In Turkey, the species can be found in the coastal regions of the south from Dalyan to the Asi River. Outside of Turkey, the species is widespread across West and Central Africa, East Africa, and the Middle East. 

The species is endemic to deep waters and can be found in even brackish and seawater. The species inhabit lagoons, rivers, estuaries, and lakes and can be found at depths of up to 80 m. in Turkey, they may even be found in hot springs. 

The species feed almost exclusively on animal prey such as fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and mollusks. They are also known to eat fruits and palm nuts. 

The species can reach a carapace length of 95 cm or 37.5 inches, although a specimen with a carapace length of 108 cm has been caught in Iskenderun Bay in Turkey. This is the largest African softshell on record. 

In Turkey, the main threat to the species is local fishermen who kill the softshells and destroy their nests. The species is perceived as a competitor for the fish that the fishermen harvest.

In the Çukurova delta, bycatch mortality is an issue as the turtles are often trapped in trawlers meant to catch other species. In the Dalyan region, boat traffic and pollution have become a threat to the pollution.

The species collide into boats and water pollution impacts the reproductive rate of the species. Another threat to the species in Turkey is habitat degradation. 

Trionyx triunguis is included in Appendix II of the CITES. The species is determined o be Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In Turkey, Trionyx triunguis is protected under national wildlife laws. 

In Dalyan, the wild population is a tourist attraction and is protected by marine turtle protection measures. In addition to this, there is also a reproductive ecology study of the wild population in the Seyhan River and in Dalyan. 

European Pond Turtles in Turkey

European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis) looking into the camera in Antalya, Turkey
A European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis) looking into the camera in Antalya, Turkey. – Source

There are several subspecies of the European pond turtle endemic to the Anatolia region of Turkey and these are the Emys orbicularis luteofusca (central Turkey pond turtle), E. o. orbicularis (common European pond turtle), E. o. colchica (Colchis pond turtle), E. o. hellenica (western Turkey pond turtle), and E. o. eiselti (Eiselt’s pond turtle).

3. Western Turkey Pond Turtle

Western Turkey Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis hellenica) in straw above water in Thessaly, Central Greece
A Western Turkey Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis hellenica) in straw above water in Thessaly, Central Greece. – Source
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Emys orbicularis hellenica
  • Length: 4.7 inches to 15 inches (12 to 38 cm)
  • Lifespan: 11 to 30 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Lower Risk/Near Threatened 

Emys orbicularis hellenica is a subspecies of the European pond turtle. There is little information on this subspecies and even on the species itself. 

The carapace of the western Turkey pond turtle is dark in coloration, unlike the central Turkey pond turtle.

The turtle is endemic to freshwater areas such as rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. The species prefer slow-flowing water bodies. The species come to land to nest. The nesting site the species prefer is open, high, and sandy spots. The species breed from spring to early summer. 

The age of this turtle is determined by counting the growth rings on the scutes of the turtle. It is determined that the average lifespan of the species can be anywhere from 11 to 30 years. 

The species is primarily carnivorous and feeds on aquatic worms, mollusks, insects, fish, and amphibians. These turtles have sharp claws which they use in tearing their prey to pieces before eating. Although the species is carnivorous, they have been known to accept vegetables and fruits in captivity. 

4. Central Turkey Pond Turtle

Central Turkey Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis luteofusca) in grass and flowers in Samsun, Turkey
A Central Turkey Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis luteofusca) in grass and flowers in Samsun, Turkey. – Source
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Emys orbicularis luteofusca
  • Length: 4.7 inches to 15 inches (12 to 38 cm)
  • Lifespan: 11 to 30 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Lower Risk/Near Threatened 

The central turtle pond turtle can be found in Anatolia. Unlike other European pond turtles, this turtle’s carapace coloration is mostly or entirely yellowish-brown, this makes it stand out from other European pond turtles. Other European pond turtles have dark black carapaces with tiny yellow spots. The light-colored nature of E. o. luteofusca makes it easy to identify. 

The carapace of the western Turkey pond turtle is dark in coloration, unlike the central Turkey pond turtle.

Tortoises in Turkey

There are two tortoises endemic to Turkey and these are two Mediterranean tortoises, namely the common tortoise and the Hermann’s tortoise. 

5. Common Tortoise

Green Tortoise (Testudo graeca) in grass in Diyarbakir, Turkey
A Green Tortoise (Testudo graeca) in grass in Diyarbakir, Turkey. – Source
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Testudo graeca
  • Other Names: Greek tortoise, Spur-thighed tortoise
  • Length: 7 to 8 inches (18 to 21 cm)
  • Lifespan: 50 to 120 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

The common tortoise is also known as the greek tortoise or the spur-thighed tortoise. The species can be found in Turkey. In fact, Turkey has one of the largest and most secure tortoise populations in the Mediterranean. 

The subspecies of Testudo graeca mostly found in Turkey is the  T. g. ibera which is sometimes considered to be its own species. The  T. g. terrestris has also been found in Turkey. 

The most common subspecies of the common tortoise are T. g. graeca which is found in southern Spain, northern Morocco to Libya, and in Sardinia and Sicily; T. g. terrestris which is found in Libya, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and southern Turkey; T. g. zarudnyi which is found in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran; and T. g. ibera which is found in the northern Aegean islands, Iraq, Iran, Balkans, Greece, and Turkey. 

The species is a moderately sized turtle and has a length ranging from 18 to 21 cm (7 to 8 in) for T. g. ibera, and 13 to 16 cm (5 to 6 in) for  T. g. Graeca

The carapace of the species is yellowish-brown with black spots. T. g. ibera has a lighter carapace. 

The common tortoise is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is also included in Appendix II of the CITES II. As such, the international trade of the turtle is regulated. 

Common tortoises are commonly kept as pets throughout the world, especially in the United States. If you wish to keep the common tortoise as a pet, I advise that you get one that is captive bred as the species is considered Vulnerable. Wild populations in North Africa are considered to be in danger. 

6. Eastern Hermann’s Tortoise

Eastern Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri) on a rock in grass in Dubrovnik, Croatia
An Eastern Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri) on a rock in grass in Dubrovnik, Croatia. – Source
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Testudo hermanni boettgeri
  • Other Names: Boettger’s Tortoise
  • Length:  5 to 11 in (13 to 28 cm)
  • Mass: 7 to 9 lbs (3 to 4 kg)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened 

The eastern Hermann’s tortoise can be found in western Turkey, Greece, eastern Italy, and the Balkans. 

There are two other subspecies which are the western Hermann’s tortoise which can be found in Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Minorca, Majorca, southeast France, northeast spa, western Italy, and southern Italy; and T. h. hercegovinensis found in Croatia and Bosnia. 

The species is moderately sized similar to the common tortoise. The average adult size is  5 to 8 in (13 to 20 cm). The eastern Hermann’s tortoise is the larger of the two main subspecies and can reach a length of 11 inches and a mass of 4 kg. 

This tortoise can be found in Mediterranean evergreen forests, oak forests with dry rocky hills, and scrubby plants which the tortoise eats.

The species is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.  Testudo hermanni is also included in Appendix II of the CITES. 

These tortoises are commonly kept as pets because they are hardy. If you wish to acquire a Hermann tortoise, I recommend you get a captive-bred.

Sea Turtles in Turkey

There are two sea turtle species that nest on the coastline of turtles and these are the green turtle and the loggerhead. 

Turkey is an important geographic range of the sea turtles. In fact, Akyatan Lagoon hosts about 46% of the entire nesting population of green turtles in the Mediterranean region.  

7. Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming in the ocean in Mulga, Turkey
A Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming in the ocean in Mulga, Turkey. – Source
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
  • Length: 39 to 47 inches (100 to 119 cm)
  • Mass: 330 to 441 lb (150  to 200 kg)
  • Lifespan: 75 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

The green sea turtle can be found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. They nest in tropical and subtropical waters as well along the coastlines.

In the Mediterranean, they nest in large numbers in Cyprus and Turkey. As already mentioned, Turkey is an essential location for green turtles in the Mediterranean.

The green turtle isn’t actually green in color, instead, the species is named after the greenish color of its body fat. The species is also referred to as the black sea turtle because of the black coloration of the shell, limbs, and head. Hatchlings are black in color however, the color lightens with age. 

C. mydas is quite a large turtle with an adult mass of 150  to 200 kg (330 to 441 lbs) and an adult length of 39 to 47 inches (100 to 119 cm). 

In recent times, the main nesting sites for the green turtle, from west to east, include Patara Beach, Belek, Kızılot, Demirtaş (east of Antalya), Anamur, Göksu, Alata, Kazanlı, Akyatan Lagoon, Akyayan Gölü,Yumurtalık, and Samandağ. All these locations are along the mediterranean coast. 

Akyatan Lagoon is the most important nesting site for green turtles in the Mediterranean as it hosts 43% of all green turtle nesting populations in the Mediterranean. It is the largest green turtle rookery in the Mediterranean. Akyatan Lagoon is designated as a Ramsar Wetland. 

In Turkey, green turtles nest over the summer usually beginning in July. 

The green turtle faces several threats. These include the collection of the eggs for consumption, the collection of the turtles for their meat and shell, habitat degradation caused by human modification such as the construction of commercial and residential structures, pollution, and diseases. 

The species is considered Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is listed on the CITES Appendix I. this prohibits the international trade of C. mydas as well as any parts of the turtle. 

8. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) coming out of the water in Mulga, Turkey
A Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) coming out of the water in Mulga, Turkey. – Source
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Caretta caretta
  • Length: 35 inches (90 cm)
  • Mass: 300 to 400 lbs (136  to 181 kg)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 62 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

The loggerhead is the other sea turtle endemic to Turkey. The loggerhead is the smaller of the two marine turtles that nest on the shores of Turkey. The specimen that nest on the Turkish coastline weighs 300 to 400 pounds. As you can see, they are still quite large with an average mass of 135 kg (297 lbs).  

The loggerhead is named after its large, thick head. The neck of this turtle is broad and short. 

The lifespan of the loggerhead is unknown but is estimated to be between 30 to 62 years. There is insufficient data on the matter, currently. 

In recent times, the main nesting sites for the green turtle, from west to east along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, include Ekincik Bay, Dalyan, Dalaman, Fethiye, Patara Beach in Patara (also known as Arsinoe), Kale, Kumluca, Çıralı, Tekirova, Belek, Kızılot, Demirtaş, Gazipaşa, Anamur, Göksu, Alata, Kazanlı, Akyatan Lagoon, Akyayan Gölü, Yumurtalık, and Samandağ. 

The most important nesting sites for the loggerhead is Dalyan, Fethiye, Patara, Belek and Kızılot.

In Turkey, loggerheads nest over the summer. Gravid females may nest 2 to 5 times during the nesting season. Each nest generally has 110 to 130 eggs which incubate for 45 to 80 days before hatching. 

The species is omnivorous and consumes a wide variety of foods. The powerful jaws of the species allow it to eat hard-shelled animals such as conchs, barnacles, bivalves, whelks, and crabs. The species also feed on jellyfish, sponges, insects, shrimps, and any other food it can find. The loggerhead is a dietary generalist. 

C. caretta is considered Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is listed on the CITES Appendix I. this prohibits the international trade of Caretta caretta and any body parts of the chelonian. 

The species face several threats, some of these threats include incidental capture in fishing gear targeting other species, the exploitation of the turtles and their eggs for human consumption, habitat degradation, and pollution. 

With incidental capture, fishing gear such as shrimp trawls, gill nets, and long lines sometimes trap the turtle. Since the loggerhead needs to breathe air, if trapped underwater for long enough, it will drown. 

Habitat degradation is usually caused by beachfront developments. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Turkish turtles make good pets?

Several of the turtle species found in Turkey are kept as pets. These include the European pond turtle and the two tortoise species. 

If you wish to acquire a Turkish turtle as a pet, it is essential to get one that is captive-bred. This ensures that the wild populations are unaffected. Aslos captive-bred has fewer pests and carries fewer pathogens. 

The common tortoise and Hermann’s tortoise are great tortoises for beginners. They are easy to care for and keep. Their medium size means that they do not require a lot of space. 

Are turtles in Turkey dangerous?

The turtles found in Turkey are not dangerous. However, all turtles carry salmonella and this includes the turtles found in Turkey. Salmonella bacteria can cause salmonella infection which can lead to complications or even death in people with compromised/weakened immune systems. 

To prevent salmonella infections, wash your hands with soap after touching a turtle or things associated with the turtle such as its enclosure and its content. 

Turtles also include tortoises.

Humans are more of a threat to turtles than they are to us. Many of the turtles in Turkey are threatened. Some are endangered or vulnerable, while others are near threatened. 

How difficult is it to keep Turkish tortoises as pets?

The eastern Hermann’s tortoise and the common tortoise are both easy to keep. These tortoises are moderately sized and hardy. However, just like any other reptile pet, the care can be quite expensive as they require specialized care.

It is also essential to remember that turtles live long lives. You may need to care for the turtle for several decades. So while caring for the tortoises may not be difficult, it requires commitment. 

Where can you watch sea turtles in Turkey?

Sea turtles nest in many places across the coastline of Turkey. Many of these beaches where sea turtles nest are protected. During nesting season, which is in the summer, you can watch sea turtles come to shore. 

Places such as Akyatan and Dalyan are popular tourist destinations where you can watch sea turtles. 

Conclusion

Several species of turtles can be found in Turkey and these include sea turtles, freshwater turtles, and tortoises. 

Turkey is an important country for sea turtles in the Mediterranean because of its numerous nesting habitats. Akyatan Lagoon hosts about 46% of the entire nesting population of green turtles in the Mediterranean region.  

Three freshwater turtles make Turkey their homes and these are the European pond turtle, the Euphrates softshell, and the African softshell. 

Lastly, two tortoises can be found in Turkey and these are the common tortoise and the hermann’s tortoise. These tortoises are commonly kept as pets across the world. However, it is ill-advise to try and kept any wild-caught tortoise as a pet. 

If you have any questions or extra information, leave a comment. 

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