Righting behaviour in the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis)
Lateralization represents a key property of many behavioural traits, with the right and left sides of the brain providing different and integrative functions. Common ecological contexts where lateralization can be observed are foraging and predatory ones, where both visual and auditory lateralization may provide advantages such as faster response and increasing neural processing capacity. This is crucial in selecting a safe refuge during a predatory attack and may strongly affect the outcome of predator–prey interactions. For animals like turtles, a critical condition may occur when they are overturned on their own shell, which causes difficulties in breathing and thermoregulation, making them more vulnerable to predators. Therefore, the ability to right is a critical adaptive component related to survival in aquatic turtles, which has been observed to be lateralized. However, an overlooked feature of behavioural lateralization is its possible relationship with asymmetry in external morphology. Here we investigated this topic in freshwater European pond turtles Emys orbicularis, looking at a possible relation between lateralization in righting behaviour response and asymmetry in the shape of turtles’ plastron and carapace. Righting performance (total time needed to completely turn) appeared to depend on shell shape. We found that none of the morphometric variables was related to a lateralization index calculated as the first side from which turtles tried to right. However, a strong negative correlation between the asymmetry index of plastron and the turning direction emerged, with more symmetric animals tending to turn to the right side.