Asian giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys bibroni)

GenusPelochelys (1)
SizeCarapace length: up to 102 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Softshells (Trionychidae) are unusual-looking, flattened turtles, with long, protruding snouts and a reduced bony shell covered with thick, leathery skin instead of the more usual bony shell which is covered with horny scutes (4). The Asian giant softshell turtle is easily recognisable by its broad head and eyes close to the tip of its snout (5). The smooth, brown carapace bears distinctive irregular yellow to buff markings, often appearing as wide bars, and there are similarly coloured longitudinal stripes on the neck and irregular marks on the limbs. Juveniles, by contrast, show no pattern and their pale brown carapace has a rougher texture (2).

Native to southern Irian Jaya, Indonesia, and southern Papua New Guinea on the Island of New Guinea (2) (6).

Found primarily in inland freshwater rivers and streams, estuaries, swamps and mudflats in lowland areas, but coastal records also exist (2) (5).

The Asian giant softshell turtle is primarily carnivorous, feeding on crustaceans, molluscs and fish, although some aquatic plant matter may also be eaten (6). The Asian giant softshell turtle has a habit of burying its body in the sand with only its head protruding out, suggesting that it is an ambush feeder (6).

The Asian giant softshell turtle nests from June to August, and possibly September. Reports exist of clutches of up to 27 eggs, although not all deposited at one time, while other sources report clutches comprising 20 to 45 eggs, and there is even an unconfirmed record of a clutch containing 100 eggs! At least two clutches are thought to be laid each season. While a number of species may prey on eggs and juveniles, crocodiles are apparently the only natural predators of adults (2).

Like many other freshwater turtles in the region, the greatest threat to the Asian giant softshell turtle is hunting for trade, followed by habitat destruction due to deforestation, logging, forest fires, and conversion of land for agriculture, settlements and transmigration areas. The Asian giant softshell turtle is prized in Papua New Guinea for its eggs and meat and consumed locally or sold in local or regional food markets. There is also a growing demand for turtles for pets and medicine in East and Southeast Asia, although the impact this is having on this species is unknown (6).

The Asian giant softshell turtle is listed on Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), regulating international trade in the species (3).

Authenticated (17/12/07) by Dr. Gerald Kuchling, Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation and Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the University of Western Australia.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)