Wildlife in Italy: American marsh turtle

Wildlife in Italy: American marsh turtle

Systematic classification and distribution

Class: Reptiles
Order: Testudines
suborder: Cryptodira
Superfamily: Testudinidae
Family: Emididiae
Kind: Trachemys
Species: T. scripta

Species introduced in Europe.
They are Emydidae originating from North America, where they are bred in the Turtle farms for commercial purposes. In nature they live in marshy areas rich in vegetation, where they can hunt small fish and amphibians and hide at the slightest sign of danger. They supplement their nutrition by retaining tiny food particles suspended in the water using the neustophagy technique: they take the water in the mouth and expel it through the nostrils, which in the turtles are communicating with the mouth.
In captivity the Trachemys sp. reach 30 years of age.

The care of aquatic turtles

Distinctive characters

The shell or armor is flattened to allow good hydrodynamics.
Carapace and skin appear green with yellow streaks, while the plate is yellow with greenish spots. They reach 30-40 cm in length as adults.
The two best known subspecies are the Trachemys scripta scripta and the Trachemys scripta elegans, also called "red-eared turtle" for the red spot that shows at the height of the eardrum.


Sexual maturity in turtles is not strictly linked to age, but is reached when the plate reaches a certain size. Males reach sexual maturity when the plate measures 9-10 cm in length, while females are sexually mature when the plate is 15-19 cm.
Adult females are larger in size than males and their tail is shorter and stocky. The courtship is characteristic: the males dance in the water in front of the female and wave their nails in front of the female's muzzle, stroking her neck and head.
The actual mating lasts 10-15 minutes and after about 6 weeks the female lays her eggs on the mainland, in a nest dug in the ground. The eggs have a flexible shell to facilitate deposition. A female can sustain up to three depositions per year, with a maximum of 20-25 eggs for each; they hatch in 2-3 months. Infants measure from 2 to 3.5 cm.


Trachemys scripta elegans was intensively marketed from America to Italy from the 70s to the 90s, until a CITES standard prohibited its imports into Europe, with the inclusion of the species in Annex B of the EC Regulation. n. 338/97.
This rule was established because many adult subjects, difficult to manage at home because of their size, were freed by owners in rivers and lakes, with serious damage to the native biodiversity of the ecosystem. The Trachemys, by procreating uncontrollably, have threatened and still threaten the survival of the less aggressive European marsh turtle, Emys orbicularis, since they occupy the same ecological niche.
Today only specimens born on European farms and in possession of the documents attesting to the birth in captivity are marketable in Europe. All specimens born in captivity must be entered in the Detention Register (Ministerial Decree 22.02.01) and reported to the CITES Office of the State Forestry Corps.

Trachemys scripta scripta (photo John White)

Trachemys scripta elegans

curated by Ivana Stella

Video: Divers Fight the Invasive Lionfish. National Geographic (January 2022).