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African Helmeted Turtle Fact File

Pelomedusa subrufa

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

2.5kg

(5.5lbs)

Length

20-32cm

(8-12.5in)

Lifespan

Wild 50 years

Captive 50 years

Diet

Carnivore

Insects, Fish, Birds

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The African helmeted turtle is a species of freshwater turtle which lives in temporary watercourses across Africa and Madagascar.

They are carnivores and will feed on a range of water-going invertebrates, birds and mammals which are seized at the water's edge.

These reptiles will deposit their eggs in to sandy soil where they incubate for 75 days.

African helmeted turtles are present in the pet trade.

Read on to learn more about remarkable reptiles.

Appearance

What does the African helmeted turtle look like?

African helmeted turtles are known as side-necked turtles. Their long neck is not pulled back in to the shell. Instead it is tucked along the edge of the shell to protect it from attack.

Their back is covered by a shell made up of hard scales. This is colored brown but may be discolored by mud or slime. The underside is colored yellow or cream with brown seams.

The skin on the neck, limb and tail are gray brown.

The African helmeted turtle is a small species of turtle with an average length between 20 and 32cm (8-12.5in) long with a weight of 2.5kg (5.5lbs).

Males and females are similar in appearance but the males have a longer tail.

Diet

What does the African helmeted turtle eat?


These animals are carnivores and will feed on invertebrates, fish and small birds. Carrion is consumed in small amounts.

They will wait at the edge of the water and ambush the birds when they come for a drink. Groups of these turtles have been observed working together to bring down larger prey items.

Prey is seized in the mouth and then torn in to pieces using their front feet.

African helmeted turtle

Credit: Public Domain

Range

Where can you find the African helmeted turtle?

African helmeted turtles are as their name suggests found in Arica. Here they can be found in Ethiopia, Saudi-Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa. They can also be found on the island of Madagascar.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the African helmeted turtle live in?

These turtles are semi-aquatic. They will take up residence in temporary marshes, creeks and rain holes. All of their habitats are freshwater. When the temporary pools they live in dry up they will bury themselves in the mud at the bottom until the next rainy season.

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Reproduction

How does the African helmeted turtle produce its young?

Breeding takes place in spring. A male will follow a female and rest his head on her shell. Often he bites at the back of her legs as he follows her around.


After a successful mating she will dig a hole in sandy soil where she can deposit up to 30 eggs with a soft shell. A single clutch is laid each season.


These hatch after a 75 day incubation period.

Behavior

What does the African helmeted turtle do with its day?

In sub-tropical areas these reptiles will spend part of their day basking in the sun but in tropical areas it is too hot.

If an African helmeted turtle falls on to its back it can use its muscular neck to right itself.

African helmeted turtle

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the African helmeted turtle?

When threatened these birds can emit a musky odor from the glands on their underside.

This species has become a popular pet partly due to their unusual head tucking behavior.

Quick facts

These animals may also be known as the marsh terrapin, crocodile turtle or the African side-necked turtle.

Three subspecies of the African helmeted turtle have been recognized.

African helmeted turtle

Credit: Public Domain

References

Turtles.linnaeus.naturalis.nl. 2021. Turtles of the World: Pelomedusa subrufa. [online] Available at: <https://turtles.linnaeus.naturalis.nl/linnaeus_ng/app/views/species/taxon.php?id=7900&epi=11> [Accessed 6 November 2021].

All Turtles. 2021. African Helmeted Turtle (Crocodile Turtle). [online] Available at: <https://www.allturtles.com/african-helmeted-turtle/> [Accessed 6 November 2021].

Mulhouse Zoo, zoological and botanical park. 2021. African helmeted turtle. [online] Available at: <https://www.zoo-mulhouse.com/en/le-parc/animaux/african-helmeted-turtle/> [Accessed 6 November 2021].

King British. 2021. African Helmeted Turtle. [online] Available at: <https://www.kingbritish.co.uk/help-advice/popular-turtle-terrapin-species-profiles/african-helmeted-turtle> [Accessed 6 November 2021].

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