Painted terrapin

Callagur borneoensis


Emys borneoensis Schlegel and Müller, 1844, Borneo. No subspecies are recognized.


English: Painted batagur, saw-jawed turtle, three-stripe batagur, Sungei tuntong.


This is a large geoemydid turtle (up to 30 in [76 cm] carapace length) with a rigid plastron and bridge (i.e., no plastral hinge); a fourth vertebral scute that is wider than long; crushing surfaces of the upper jaw that are broad along their entire length and bear a single, well-developed medial ridge; five claws on the forefeet; and no neck stripes.


Southern Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo. HABITAT

Tidal sections of rivers and estuaries.


The females migrate considerable distances to nest (e.g., 9-31 mi [15-50 km] in the Malay Peninsula).


This species is primarily herbivorous, feeding on leaves and fruits, but also apparently eating clams and other shellfish on occasion.


There are color differences between the males and females; those colors intensify incredibly during the breeding season. For example, nonbreeding males have a gray head, whereas during the breeding season the male's head becomes white with a black-edged red stripe between the eyes. Courtship and mating have not been described, but apparently occur in at least January and February on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula. Females migrate great distances to nest, either upstream on river sandbanks above tidal influence or on coastal beaches. Nesting occurs from late May to August, is nocturnal, and apparently peaks during the night at low tides. During the nesting season, one to three clutches of six to 25 (usually 10 to 15) large, elongate, hard-shelled eggs (measuring 2.4-3.1 in X 1.4-1.8 in [61-79 mm X 36-45 mm], and 2-3 oz [56-83 g]) are laid. The female digs no body pit, but rather uses her hind legs to dig a nest chamber to a depth of 9-13 in (24-34 cm). The internesting interval averages 26 days. Incubation requires 85-98 days at 88°F (31°C). The means by which hatchlings produced on sea beaches migrate to freshwater rivers is unknown, as is the effect of incubation temperature on sex.


This species is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. A government-sponsored hatching program in the Malay Peninsula seeks to counteract local exploitation in the wild.


The eggs and meat of these turtles are relished by local people. In addition, since it is believed by some that this turtle brings good luck to its owner, a local pet trade has developed. ♦

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