Friday 24 May
Bell’s hinged tortoise (Kinixys belliana)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Bell’s hinged tortoise fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Bell’s hinged tortoise description
Bell’s hinged tortoise is a medium-sized tortoise whose common name derives from the unique, moveable ‘hinge’ at the rear of its elongated carapace (upper shell), which allows the tortoise to cover up its rear legs and tail when threatened (2) (4) (5). This species is one of only four tortoises in the world, all within this genus, to possess this unusual structure (2). The carapace of Bell’s hinged tortoise is domed, with sloping sides, and is quite variable in colour, though typically bears a pattern of yellow or reddish-brown scutes with dark brown or black edges (2) (3) (4). The lower shell, or plastron, is usually yellow with black radiations, while the limbs and tail are greyish brown, the tail ending in a claw-like tip (2) (3). The head, which is brown or black to yellow or tan in colour, is relatively small, with an upper jaw that may or may not be hooked (3). The male Bell’s hinged tortoise tends to be more faded in colour than the female and also has a larger tail and a concave plastron (2) (3) (4), while juveniles lack the distinguishing hinge of the adult’s shell (5).
Two subspecies of Bell’s hinged tortoise are usually recognised: Kinixys belliana belliana, which has five claws on each of its forefeet, and Kinixys belliana nogueyi, which has only four claws on each of its forefeet (3) (4) (6). Some also recognise a third subspecies, Kinixys belliana zombensis (6) (7), but others include this form with K. b. belliana (3).
- Also known as
- Bell’s hingeback tortoise, Bell’s hingebacked tortoise. Top
World Chelonian Trust:
Turtle Conservation Fund:
Turtle Survival Alliance:
Turtles of the World (CD-ROM), by Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W.:
- To become dormant during the summer or dry season, analogous to hibernation in winter.
- The flesh of a dead animal.
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- A large, bony plate or scale on the upper or lower shell of a turtle or tortoise.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
CITES (January, 2009)
- Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
Turtles of the World (CD-ROM), by Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (January, 2009)
- Branch, B. and Branch, W.R. (1998) Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
Harris, M. (2002) Assessment of the status of seven reptile species in TOGO. Report to the Commission of the European Union. Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Peterborough, UK. Available at:
Kingsnake.com: Natural History and Care of Bell’s Hinged Tortoise (January, 2009)
World Chelonian Trust (January, 2009)
- Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Luiselli, L. (2009) Pers. comm.
- Luiselli, L. (2003) Seasonal activity patterns and diet divergence of three sympatric Afrotropical tortoise species (genus Kinixys). Contributions to Zoology, 72(4): 211 - 220.
- Luiselli, L. (2003) Comparative abundance and population structure of sympatric Afrotropical tortoises in six rainforest areas: the differential effects of “traditional veneration” and of “subsistence hunting” by local people. Acta Oecologica, 24(3): 157 - 163.
- Luiselli, L., Politano, E. and Akani, G.C. (2003) Seasonal incidence, sex-ratio, and population cohorts of hinge-back tortoises (genus Kinixys) in the wild and in bush-meat markets of the Niger Delta, southern Nigeria: are human predation effects random. Revue de Ecologie - La Terre et la Vie, 58(2): 243 - 248.
- IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. (1991) Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles: An Action Plan for their Conservation. Second Edition. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Bell’s hinged tortoise biology
Bell’s hinged tortoise is active during the wet season, spending the dry season aestivating in a burrow or in the mud at the bottom of drying waterholes (3) (5). The diet is varied and includes vegetation, such as leaves, grasses and sedges, as well as fallen fruits, sugarcane, fungi, insects, millipedes, snails and even carrion (3) (5) (10). Breeding is thought to occur during the wetter months, when the female excavates a hole into which up to ten elongate, brittle-shelled eggs are laid (2) (3) (5). Laying can occur at 40 day intervals, up to 45 eggs being laid in total over the breeding season (2) (4). Incubation may last between 90 and 110 days, or possibly up to a year (4) (5). The hatchlings measure a mere four centimetres or so in length (3) (4) (5) and are often uniformly yellowish, reddish or olive brown in colour, or with dark brown scutes surrounded by yellow borders (3). Bell’s hinged tortoise can live up to 22 years in captivity (4) (5).Top
Bell’s hinged tortoise range
Bell’s hinged tortoise is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Eritrea and Somalia, and south to South Africa, and may have also been introduced to Madagascar (2) (3). K. b. belliana occurs in eastern Africa, from Somalia and Ethiopia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and south to Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, as well as Madagascar, while K. b. nogueyi occurs in western Africa, from Senegal eastward to Cameroon and Central African Republic (3).Top
Bell’s hinged tortoise habitat
Savanna, savanna woodland, open grassland, coastal plain and dry brush (2) (3) (5), up to elevations of about 3,000 metres (8). In southern Nigeria, Bell’s hinged tortoise may also occur at the border between forest, Guinea savannas and forest-derived savannas, although it is apparently uncommon in these marginal habitats (9). The species tends to occur in areas which have distinct wet and dry seasons (3).Top
Bell’s hinged tortoise status
Listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).Top
Bell’s hinged tortoise threats
Bell’s hinged tortoise is actively hunted for food and for traditional medicine throughout its range (5), particularly in parts of Nigeria (11) (12), although in some areas it is traditionally venerated as a “holy animal” which brings happiness (11). Bell’s hinged tortoise may also be threatened by the pet trade. Although not generally recommended as a pet for beginners (6), bans on trade in European tortoises have meant that West African species such as Bell’s hinged tortoise have increasingly featured in the wild pet trade (13).Top
Bell’s hinged tortoise conservation
Bell’s hinged tortoise is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in Bell’s hinged tortoises should be carefully monitored and controlled (1). However, more research may be needed to better understand the ecology and conservation needs of Bell’s hinged tortoise, and to ensure that it is not being adversely affected by overhunting or collection for the pet trade. In particular, populations of Bell’s hinged tortoise in the Niger Delta in Nigeria are thought to be extremely threatened and in need of urgent conservation action (11).Top
Find out more
For more information on tortoises and turtles and their conservation, see:
Authenticated (06/08/09) by Dr Luca Luiselli, Senior Researcher in Ecology, Institute Demetra, Rome, Italy.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.