Indian flapshell turtle

Lissemys punctata

SUBFAMILY

Cyclanorbinae

TAXONOMY

Testudo punctata Lacepede, 1788, India. Two subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This is a small turtle (maximum carapace length 11 in [27.5 cm]) with a relatively deep oval shell. This species is unique among softshells because the posterior margin of the bony carapace is ringed by peripheral bones. The evolutionary origins (primitive or derived) of this feature are unresolved; however, it provides additional protection for the hind limbs, which may be completely retracted when the plastral flaps are pulled tightly against the bony rim of the carapace. Seven plas-tral callosities develop on the hyoplastra and hypoplastra, xiphiplastra, epiplastra, and entoplastron.

DISTRIBUTION

The Indus and Ganges river drainages of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, southeastern Nepal, Bangladesh.

HABITAT

Shallow backwaters of rivers, ponds, and marshes with a soft muddy bottom, temporary ponds.

BEHAVIOR

The retractable flaps over the limbs and the thick callosities on the plastron may be adapted to long periods of drought. The protective shell enables these turtles to burrow deep into the mud and may prevent desiccation. They have been observed in India to survive for 160 days while buried during estivation.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Like many flap-shelled species, these turtles tend to be omnivorous. Small aquatic animals and carrion make up a large por-

Male Flapshell Image

tion of their diet; however, aquatic vegetation is also a common food item.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Courtship and mating have been observed in April and continue through the summer. The smaller male initiates mating by stroking the female's carapace with his chin. While facing the male, a receptive female extends her neck and they both bob their heads in a stereotypical pattern before settling to the bottom for copulation. The elaborate courtship observed for this species may be rare among softshells, but it is similar to that of many sexually dimorphic species where the larger female chooses her mate. The spherical, brittle-shelled eggs range from 0.9 to 1.3 in (24 to 33 mm) in diameter. Multiple clutches of two to 14 eggs are produced annually.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

These turtles constitute the largest volume of any species in Indian food markets. They are consumed locally in Bangladesh, but also may be exported to Chinese markets. ♦

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