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Entering a new world: my first experience (ever) with a turtle!

Fast Facts on Pelomedusa subrufa

 by Francesco Zezza

Foreword: This is actually my VERY FIRST ATTEMPT to keep an aquatic turtle as a pet. Hence this fast fact chart will be in some ways different from the ones I’m used to writeing (i.e.: on cichlids) and posting. Anyway, I do hope you’ll enjoy it and appreciate my effort.

Taxonomy: Quickly! Just for the sake of knowing it!!!

·        Kingdom Animalia

·        Phylum          Chordata

·        Class        Reptilia

·        Subclass       Anapsida

·        Order        Testudines

·        Suborder       Pleurodira

·        Family       Pelomedusidae

·        Subfamily      Pelomedusinae

·        Genus       Pelomedusa

·        Species    Pelomedusa subrufa

Common name(s): Same way!!!

·        English      African helmeted turtle;

·        French       Pélomèduse roussâtr;

·        German     Starrbrust-Pelomedus;

·        Dutch         Afrikaanse moerasschildpad

Biotope: It’s found mainly, but not only, in Africa: Ethiopia, southern Saudi-Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and from there iup to  the border of Ghana and then Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, and more southern South Africa (Cape Provinces). It is reported to be found also in Madagascar. Up to now, three geographic morphs are known:

·        Pelomedusa subrufa subrufa:: living in the area ranging from Somalia/Sudan up to Ghana and (going south) to South Africa and Madagascar.

·        Pelomedusa subrufa olivacea: occurring in Ethiopia/Sudan until Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon. It’s retrieved from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well.

·        Pelomedusa subrufa nigra : found only in South Africa

I’ve learned that the pectoral scutes and carapace (upper “shell”) shape are two of the main elements (beyond place of discovery) to detect what kind of geographic variant is under investigation. I’m NOT that clever. I haven’t identified my specimen at this point, and I’m NOT aware of any captive hybridization!

Tank (Terrarium): with a size, generally speaking, in the 20 cm range (8 inches) and “max size” (recorded in South Africa) of 32,5 cm (almost 13 inches) the “final” terrarium size is NOT at all difficult to guess. At the moment, my turtle is kept in a 50 lt (814 US gal) unit. F.Y.I.: my turtle is now (May 2003) about 7 cm (roughly 2,5 inches) in T.L. For its aquascaping, I relied on statements reported in the following points. Namely: rocks, granite slates, extremely small gravel at bottom. SO FAR SO GOOD!!! I’ve tentatively added a few plants, such as a small Anubias cutting and Limna minor.

Water chemistry: This turtle is reported to reside in temporary marshes, creeks, and rain holes in large parts of Africa. This make me think of basic/slightly acidic environments (but this is, simply, my guess!!!). It’s also reported as being present in forested areas, as well as in coastal areas and upland savannahs (up to of 3100 m of elevation).

Spawning (nesting): Nesting, I’ve been told, occurs in late spring or early summer. Long migrations to “nesting areas” are reported. A single clutch can reach up to 42 eggs (average number: 13-16), with incubation lasting 75-90 days and an incubating facility is said to be a MUST for captive breeding. NOT, to me, a foreseeable target, besides the fact that I have ONE unsexed specimen.

Food: Turtles of genus Pelomedusa are reported to be mainly carnivorous, feeding on insects, earthworms, crustaceans, snails, fish, amphibians, small reptiles, birds, and mammals. I feed my turtle live insects, chopped fish fillets and meat as well as pelleted food. For a complete vitamin supply, I mix some vegetable matter (tiny particles otherwise won’t be accepted) into the meat/fish.

Tank Mates: the above issue (food) makes Pelomedusa a “debatable” tank-mate (actually Terrarium mate). Just in case, try with other turtles of roughly the same size. But ALWAYS consider that the attempt could end with a disaster. BEWARE!

Odd facts: many (real!) experts DO suggest to consider Pelomedusa subrufa as a variable monotypic species (at present), waiting for a possible re-evaluation of the recognized subspecies. Looks like – at least to me! - that herp expert (like cichlidiots) are divided into “lumpers” and “splitters”. Nihil novo sub sole!!!

Some images.

Old terrarium set-up (the VERY FIRST set-up. Note cloudy water),

New terrarium set-up (added better, external, filter. Still NO PLANTS),

Filter (filter media are clearly in sight),

Hikari (pellets) food (an excellent discovery),

Top View: carapace,

Bottom View: plastron,

Pelomedusa subrufa entering the water.

·        Feeding: grabbing a pellet (videoclip). & fighting with a fish fillet (videoclip).

You can see more about my turtle's new tank here !!

  Many thanks to Carli De Busk for her editorial help.

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