Chinese softshell turtle

Pelodiscus sinensis

SUBFAMILY

Trionychinae

TAXONOMY

Trionyx (Aspidonectes) sinensis Wiegmann, 1835, small island in the Tiger River near Macao. No subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES Japanese: Suppon.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This is a small to medium turtle (maximum leathery shell length 10 in [25 cm]) with an oval carapace. The shell is rela-

tively smooth; however, the anterior portion of the carapace is studded with blunt knobs. Up to seven plastral callosities may develop on the hyoplastra and hypoplastra, xiphiplastra, and epiplastra. The tubelike proboscis has a horizontal ridge that projects from either side of the septum.

DISTRIBUTION

Widespread in the lowland areas of southern China, northern Vietnam, Hainan Island, Taiwan, and Japan.

HABITAT

Rivers, streams, lakes, marshes, and rice fields. BEHAVIOR

Although this species occasionally basks on the banks, it remains buried at the bottom of its aquatic habitat for most of the day. The Chinese softshell remains submerged for long periods by absorbing oxygen through the skin (33%) and lining of the throat (67%), while most carbon dioxide passively diffuses out across the skin. In Japan this species hibernates from October to April.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

This species is primarily carnivorous, ingesting all available aquatic animals, especially fish and crustaceans; however, the seeds of marsh plants are also consumed.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Mating has been observed from May to July in Japan. The male uses the claws of the forelimbs to clasp the front rim of the female's shell during copulation and may bite at her neck and limbs. Females begin nesting early in the spring and continue through the late summer. A shallow, boxlike nest is excavated and a clutch of 15-28 brittle, spherical eggs (average 0.8 in [20 mm] in diameter) is deposited. As many as four clutches are produced in a single year. Although incubation is generally completed in 60 days, hatching may occur after 40 to 80 days.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Chinese softshell turtles are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Despite the heavy consumer pressure on this species, it is still relatively abundant in eastern China and northern Vietnam.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

This species is consumed locally throughout its range; however, it is intensively farmed in Southeast Asia to supply the food and medicine market in China. Hatchlings are reared to subadult-hood in two to three years before being shipped for processing into prepared soups, or more commonly to restaurants and markets where they are bought fresh and butchered alive. ♦

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