Spanish Leprous Pond Turtle (Mauremys leprosa). Great Malaga Path
It is an Aquatic turtle (pond turtle) with an oval carapace (about 18 cm long), wider at the back and dorsally compressed. The dorsal area of the carapace (back) has a brown, olive or black pattern on which appear yellow, orange or reddish brown aligned pigments, which fades as the specimen grows old. The ventral area (breastplate or plastron) is yellow, green or cream, with black spots disappearing with age (especially in females). It exhibits inguinal plates in the breastplate (differentiating characteristic) which is completely floored, thus lacking mobility. The skin of the head and legs is greenish. Young specimens have orange or yellow stripes on their necks and a small circular, orange or yellow spot, between the eye and the eardrum. These stripes and spots are less visible in adults. The front legs have five fingers, while the hind legs only four, with inter digital membranes.
WHERE DOES IT LIVE (HABITAT)?
The Spanish leprous pond turtles prefer stagnant or slow flowing water masses. They are present in all kinds of ponds, natural or artificial, reservoirs, dams, park and garden lakes, as well as ditches, irrigation canals, pools, marshes, streams and large rivers. It is not very demanding in terms of conservation status although it prefers low salinity, being able to live in highly contaminated wetlands. It usually occupies the areas with the greatest depth of the wetland, with very sunny shores and, if possible, with submerged and terrestrial aquatic vegetation in the perimeter border. It is adapted to live in water masses suffering summer stress and drought.
HOW DOES IT LIVE?
It is an aquatic species. It feeds and mates in water. It needs meadows, rocks or trunks to take long sunbaths by the shores or inner islands in the wetland. It can make land trips to change wetlands during the drought periods. Its diet is mainly carnivorous: crabs, amphibian larvae, insects, small fish or carrion; although adults can also complement it with plant material (algae and grasses).
HOW DOES IT REPRODUCE?
The Spanish leprous pond turtles starts mating in the early spring, although they may have a new mating period in late summer and early autumn. They usually lay 3 to 10 eggs in June. The female chooses a sunny place, clear of vegetation and near the water to excavate a nest in which she lays and buries its eggs. The incubation lasts for 2 or 3 months; the newborn turtles emerge between August and September or hibernate in the nest until the next season if the environmental conditions are not favourable.
WHERE CAN WE SEE IT IN MALAGA AND ON THE STAGES OF THE GREAT PATH?
It is a very abundant and common species. It is present in wetlands throughout the province, highlighting its absence or less abundance in more mountainous areas, such as the Tejeda and Las Nieves mountain ranges. It is a very thermal species, so the limiting factor in these areas is not so much the altitude but the cold. It is present in almost all stages of the Great Path (Gran Senda), except on parts 6,7 and 8.
LEVEL OF PROTECTION - THREAT (INVENTORY)
This turtle is part of the Andalusian Wildlife Species under Special Protection List. Although it is a very resistant species to its habitat's quality deterioration, it also suffers some threats: elimination of water sources and the introduction of competing species, such as the Florida pond slider, or exotic predators (pike, black bass, catfish).
The Spanish leprous pond turtles are neither sick nor a suffering leper. Although on some specimens there can be a massive algae proliferation giving it an unpleasant aspect, the leper term was assigned by the German naturalist August Friedrich Schweigger in 1812. This author noticed the number of nodules or warts that the animal carried in its carapace. Nowadays it is known that they are due to the back skin flaking off: the oldest skin of each plate is separated by the edges, giving the animal a dirty and deteriorated appearance.
SIMILAR SPECIES (IT CAN BE MISTAKEN WITH...)
It can be mistaken with the European pond turtle. The yellow pigmentation of the skin and the absence of inguinal plates in the European species are the key clue. It can also be mistaken with the Florida pond slider. They are distinguished by the smaller size of the Florida type, the absence of the "ear" or orange yellowish spot behind the eye in adults Spanish leprous pond turtles, and the pigmentation of its breastplate: much simpler or absent.