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Natural habitat

Tortuga Mora, the black turtle in Spain


The natural habitat of the Mediterranean turtles can look very different. Basically, the occurrence is limited in the Mediterranean area  on chalky tracts of land in areas with favorable temperature conditions. Depending on the location, these are lower-lying areas near the sea with sandy soils, but also valley locations inland. Especially river valleys with sandy, stony limestone soils or deposited limestone washouts from the mountains. The turtles also live on adjacent ranges of hills up to plateaus and in mountainous regions.

However, all tortoise biotopes have one thing in common.


Basically, they are areas with limestone, often shallow, very stony, barren soils with good heat storage in all day sunny southern locations.

The nature of the soil is heavily dependent on the individual location.


Near the coast or near rivers there are purely sandy,  sandy stony or sandy rocky soils made of very fine weathered rock.


Ground section through a turtle habitat. The plants take root in a thin layer of soil on porous, water-storing limestone rocks.

In the interior of the country, sandy soils containing humus are often found, which, however, cannot be compared with deep arable soils.  The lush growth of the primeval macchia growing on nutrient-poor soils and the diverse “forage plants” still work through a simple closed system then as now. Here, the actively circulating nutrients are used by soil arthropods immediately after the biomass has decomposed and are not washed into deeper soil layers that are usually non-existent anyway. The roots usually even form a fine, mat-like network. In this open system, the plants do not get their nutrients from deep layers of the soil, as is the case with nutrient-rich, rich soils, but directly from the surface.
As is well known, agriculture as an invention of man works according to a completely different system, even in the Mediterranean region nothing works without fertilization and tillage. A maximum of one harvest is possible on cleared areas and then plowing and vigorous fertilization have to be helped. Arable soils, even if they lie fallow at some point, have nothing to do with the soil on which wild turtles usually live. The rich soils that we know exist in the Mediterranean, at least not in turtle habitats. Sparse, lean and poor in nutrients does not mean emaciated.


The entire area is literally littered with a multitude of empty large and small houses of the bush snail, the snail and the dune snail. Bird egg shells and bones from dead wild animals and sheep or goats are also lying around. The turtles eat the snail shells and gnaw on the bones as we are only used to dogs.


Often there is a stream, a river or some other pool of water nearby, to which the turtles can sometimes travel longer distances. There the animals drink extensively and always bathe with their heads submerged.


After the once extensive hardwood forests were completely cut down in the entire Mediterranean area, especially near the sea, the original habitat of the Mediterranean tortoises no longer exists. The vegetation in the turtle biotopes today consists, depending on the area of occurrence, of low shrubbery, garrigue, bush forests, macchia and occasionally also sparse trees. Only in a few countries there are still extensive old stone and cork oak forests with bushy hornbeams as an undergrowth and macchia and garrigue merging into one another in the rocky clearings.


However, especially in Greece, due to the heavy overgrazing of some areas, there are already very bare mountain slopes in which the population density is decreasing more and more because the turtles can no longer hide sufficiently from predators and in midsummer cannot hide from the scorching sun.

Durch Pflug "skalpierte" Schildkröte.

In cultivated areas, such as in olive groves, in vineyards, in fields or in their peripheral vegetation, turtles can also still be found sporadically in some areas, but not because the turtles have settled in these cultivated areas, but because these cultivated areas were created in the original turtle habitats . These turtles are animals that have not yet been killed directly by slash and burn or plowing, killed by humans as pests or indirectly poisoned by pollutants such as fertilizers and pesticides. So it is only a matter of time before these remaining stocks are also available  have disappeared in some cultivated areas.

European tortoises are not culture followers.

Adult turtles are so connected to their traditional space that they cannot leave it to find new habitats. The pasture and cultivated land obtained from the maquis is therefore inevitably the new habitat of the turtles that have survived this reclamation.

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