East African black mud turtle

Pelusios subniger

TAXONOMY

Testudo subnigra Lacepede, 1788, no type locality [restricted to Tamatave, Madagascar]. Two subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Pan hinged terrapin, pan terrapin; Afrikaans: Pan-waterskilpad.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

East African black mud turtles are small turtles, with a maximum shell length of 7.9 in (20 cm), and an elongate, oval, unkeeled, unserrated carapace. The medium-sized plastron is posteriorly notched, has a well-developed hinge between the pectoral and abdominal scutes, and the pair of meosplastral bones between the hyo- and hypoplastra are in contact on the midline. The anterior plastral lobe is much broader than the posterior lobe, and it is only slightly longer than the interabdominal seam. The plastron is strongly constricted at the level of the abdominal-femoral seam. Axillary scutes are not present on the bridges.

DISTRIBUTION

Eastern and southeastern Africa (Tanzania to South Africa), Madagascar, and the Seychelles Islands.

HABITAT

These turtles inhabit nearly any freshwater aquatic habitat, from permanent lakes and rivers to streams, marshes, swamps, and even temporary pools.

BEHAVIOR

These turtles are reported to be nocturnal, but they are known to bask at the water's edge and to migrate overland between bodies of water. They are also known to estivate underground until favorable conditions return.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

This species is primarily carnivorous, eating worms, mollusks, insects, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, and carrion. They also occasionally consume aquatic plants, as well as ripe fruit that has fallen into the water.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Little is known about the biology of this species. Courtship has not been described. One captive female laid eggs in February and March, but nesting in nature probably occurs during the summer (December and January). Clutch size ranges from eight to 12 eggs, which are elliptical, leathery, and average 1.4 by 0.8 in (36 by 21 mm). Incubation in the laboratory at 86°F (30°C) lasted 58 days.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened, but the actual status in nature has not been formally surveyed.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

These turtles are occasionally eaten by humans. ♦

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