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Reptiles Guide

African helmeted turtle

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African Helmeted Turtle
Conservation status: Secure
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Pleurodira
Family: Pelomedusidae
Genus: Pelomedusa
Species: P. subrufa
Binomial name
Pelomedusa subrufa

The African helmeted turtle, also known as the Marsh Terrapin, is a small turtle (6 to 7 inches as an adult) withan olive-green or brown carapace (shell). The tops of the tail and limbs are a grayish brown, while the underside is yellowish. The male turtle is distinguished by its long, thick tail. Females tend to have a shorter tail and a broader carapace. Hatchlings have a shell size of about 1 and 1/4 inches in length, and are olive to black in color. It also has two small tubercles under the chin and musk glands in the sides of the carapace. The African helmeted turtles lacks a hinge at the front of its plastron, and so cannot cover its head with it like other turtles.

The African helmeted turtle is omnivorous and will eat almost anything. Some of the main items in its diet are insects, small crustaceans, fish, earthworms, and snails. They may also feed on carion. The fine claws on its feet help it tear its prey apart. Groups of these turtles have been observed capturing and drowning doves when they come to drink.

The range of Pelomedusa subrufa spreads over a large portion of central and southern Africa. It can be found as far west as Ghana and as far south as the Cape of Africa. It has also been found in Madagascar and Yemen. They are semi-aquatic animals, living in rivers, lakes, and marshes, and rain pools.

In spring, during courtship, the male will follow the female and extend his head touching her hindquarters and vent. If she is non-responsive he will nip and snap at her legs and tail. After mounting her carapace, he extends his head over hers swaying it in front of her face while expelling water from his nose.

The female will lay 13 to 16 eggs on average, normally during late spring and early summer. The eggs are covered with slime when laid, and placed in a flask shaped nest that is about 4 to 7 inches deep. The eggs hatch in 75- 90 days.

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