Factors affecting the predation of otter (Lutra lutra) on European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis)


József Lanszki, University of Kaposvár, Ecological Research Group, H-7401 Kaposvár, PO Box 16, Hungary. Tel: 36-82-31-41-55; Fax: 36-82-32-01-75
Email: lanszki@mail.atk.u-kaposvar.hu


In this case study, the ecological background of an unusual hunting behaviour was investigated, when otters Lutra lutra preyed upon European pond turtles Emys orbicularis in a Hungarian fish pond system during an 18-month period. Predation on turtle was found only during cold periods (established by spraint analysis and also by the collection of 182 turtle carcasses in 2003). The relationship was not close between fish availability and turtle consumption (rP=−0.325, P=0.19). The crude protein content of the turtle head and leg was higher than that of fish, frog and turtle body, whereas the energy content of the samples was similar. The mean body weight of the killed turtles (460 g) fell within the range of the optimal prey size of the otter. Turtles were used as cache foods by otters during extreme environmental conditions (as in the long winter), but occurred only rarely as buffer foods during moderate winter. In fish ponds, the conservation of the coexistent otter and turtle depends on pond management. The maintenance of a higher fish availability in ponds during winter makes it possible to avoid the need to acquire a proper hunting technique on turtle, indicated by the scarcity of primary fish food.