There’s an Emys orbicularis, in the garden

Emys orbicularis side

This afternoon my husband found a tortoise in the garden.

Emys orbicularis front (1)

I had never seen a tortoise like this before.  I could only guess that it was an exotic species someone had bought as a pet.  I had only heard of people keeping the Mediterranean type of tortoise that will breed in captivity here and it certainly was not one of those.  For a start it was much more vigorous and active than your average tortoise.

Emys orbicularis back

In addition, we could think of no-one nearby who would keep and exotic tortoise.  I felt that if I could identify it that it might be useful, as I was concerned that someone might be missing their pet.  Perhaps I could put an advertisement in the local pet shop?

I started searching on Google but I did not get very far so I decided to email my granddaughter, Daisy as she is into reptiles, amongst most other animals.  She replied immediately that it was a European pond turtle.  Disappointed, I replied that it could not be a turtle as it had feet with claws just like a tortoise.

However, I did do an internet search and, of course, I had to send her my apologies.  Emys orbicularis is the European pond turtle, cistude, tortue boueuse or tortue des marais in French.  European pond turtles do have clawed feet!  However, I have yet to meet anyone around here who has seen one or heard of them.  I was unaware of their existence.

Actually, it is not so surprising as they are very rare in the area and like most wildlife, getting rarer.  They live in marshy areas, ponds or slow moving water channels.  There are populations in the Charente Maritime but I can imagine that they would be very difficult to see on the banks of a river or in in wetlands.  The heavy rain we have experienced of late had perhaps swept it from the known colonies although the Seudre, which runs at the bottom of the garden, is known to possess them.  The poor beast was only enjoying a sunbath in the back garden border when it was pounced on.

Once we had realised what it was and that far from being a lost pet, that it is a protected species, we decided to put it back in the river.

Emys orbicularis in back garden

He (from the length of his tail and his concave underside, I deduced it was a male) did not seem in a rush to get into the water and we had to point him in the right direction as we did not want him to find his way onto the road.

Emys orbicularis to the water

But as soon as he saw the river he took to it like a turtle to water!

All gone

He was soon gone!

A ring

His head did break the surface again to look back, then disappeared under again leaving only the ripples.

I wonder if he liked the garden?  Will he come back?  Will I spend a long time staring into the river instead of getting on with the gardening?

The big release was filmed on this short video (15 secs)


Hierophis viridiflavus
Hierophis viridiflavus

When you live in an old stone house you have got to accept that you will not be the only occupant.  It’s just a matter of when you meet the other lodgers.

A head pops out of a hole
A head pops out of a hole

As usual I find myself looking into a hole when something starts looking back at me.

Testing the sunshine
Testing the sunshine

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch the little flickering black tongue that repeatedly tested the air.

Decision taken
Decision taken

I was please to see him come out as he will quickly return if he feels any movement.

Nearly out
Nearly out

You will note that precaution has won and the last little bit of the tail is still in the hole.  Well after that I must have moved and he was off like a shot back into the hole.

He does move fast and his speed is what gives him his common name of Western Whipsnake – fast as a whip.

We’ve had a couple of sunny days and he likes to sunbathe at the edge of the house.  He is well hidden by the bunches of white Alyssum that grow in the cracks, and O.K. the odd bit of chickweed too.  Reptiles and Amphibians of France say that they hatch at about 30 centimetres and that was my guess of his length although I am very surprised that they would hatch as big as that.  It would mean that my lodger is this year’s hatchling which seems  a bit early.

These snakes are common throughout France and we have seen larger ones before (A Snake in the House).  They are not aggressive snakes nor are they venomous so they are very welcome to share the garden with everybody else.

Another visit
Another visit

This picture was taken five years ago and the snake made a remarkably rapid retreat mounting the wall vertically and disappearing over the roof.

Bat on wall
Bat on wall

It was a month ago exactly that we had another visitor in almost the same position on the wall.  A bat took up residence behind the shutters of the living room window that we leave almost permanently in the open position.

The bat only stayed a couple of nights, probably put off by people taking photographs of him but I don’t really think that behind the shutters would have been a good site for a permanent roost.