Black pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii)

Also known as: Black spotted turtle, Hamilton’s terrapin, spotted pond turtle
  
French: Géoclemmyde D' Hamilton, Tortue De Hamilton
Spanish: Galápago Rayado
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderTestudines
FamilyGeoemydidae
GenusGeoclemys (1)
SizeLength: up to 35 cm (2)

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

With its polka dot skin and prominently patterned shell, the black pond turtle has an incredibly striking appearance. It is instantly recognisable by the small orange, cream or yellow wedge-shaped marks on the top of its shell (the carapace). These markings often fade with age, meaning while hatchlings are brightly patterned, older adults are mainly black in colour. The large head, neck and limbs are dark brown or black, and decorated with numerous white or yellow spots, and the underside of the shell (the plastron) is yellow with numerous dark radiations (2). The black pond turtle has a short tail and webbed toes that aid with swimming and moving around in its swampy habitat. The male black pond turtle can be distinguished from the female by its concave plastron, (the female’s is rather flat) and slightly larger and thicker tail (2).

The black pond turtle is a relatively rare species, found only in the Indus and Ganges river drainages in Pakistan, northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal (4).

The black pond turtle occurs in large rivers, forest ponds, oxbow lakes and marshy areas, favouring clear, shallow waters with abundant aquatic vegetation (4).

This attractive turtle has a carnivorous diet, feeding predominantly on small invertebrates, such as snails, whose shells are easily crushed by the black pond turtle’s powerful jaws which are armed with rows of cusps and ridges. However, this turtle also feeds on small fish and amphibian larvae (2).

Female black pond turtles lay eggs twice a year, in February and October, just before and just after the monsoon season. At night, the female black pond turtle uses its powerful legs to dig a pit, up to 18 centimetres deep, into which are laid 20 to 24 eggs (5). After around 74 days, the brightly patterned young (measuring about 3.5. centimetres long), hatch from the eggs (5).   

The most significant threat to the black pond turtle is the common and largely uncontrolled trade in freshwater turtles in Asia. Individuals are captured and exported to food markets in China, although, in India at least, turtles and their eggs are also often eaten locally (6).

Compounding the impact of this exploitation is the threat of habitat destruction, much of which occurs as a result of river flood plains being used for agriculture. The clearance of aquatic vegetation results in a loss of cover, soil erosion, and a reduction in the abundance of aquatic snails, on which this turtle feeds. Furthermore, the construction of hydro-electric dams and other barriers restricts the movement of adults to nesting sites (6).

The black pond turtle is protected by laws throughout its range (6), and it is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in this species is prohibited (3). However, despite these measures, illegal exploitation for the food industry remains a considerable problem (1).

Populations of the black pond turtle seem to have benefited from the creation of several sanctuaries in northern India (6), and there are several captive breeding programmes underway in Europe, including at Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands, Walsrode in Germany, Universeum Gotenborg in Sweden, and at two private locations in Germany and Austria (7). However, this species is still declining in both numbers and the extent of its range (6), and tougher measures, particularly to control the rampant illegal trade in freshwater turtles, is required if this species’ future is to be secured.

To learn more about the conservation of freshwater turtles see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Ernst, C.H. (1989) Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC.
  3. CITES (May, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (1997) Turtles of the World. ETI Information Systems Ltd, Netherlands.
  5. Rotmans, H.J. (1997) Geoclemys hamiltoni. European Studbook Foundation, Schalkwijk, Netherlands. Available at:
    http://www.studbooks.eu/speciespages/ghamiltoni/Geoclemys_hamiltoni.pdf
  6. Hill, W. and Lee, D.S. (2004) Husbandry and Captive Breeding of the Spotted Pond Turtle, Geoclemys hamiltonii. The Asian Turtle Consortium, Online. Available at:
    http://www.asianturtle.org/speciesinfo/geoclemys_hamiltoni.htm
  7. Zwartepoorte, H. (2004) Captive Reproduction of Geoclemys hamiltonii and its Chances for an Ex-Situ Assurance Colony in Europe. European Studbook Foundation, Schalkwijk, Netherlands. Available at:
    http://www.studbooks.eu/speciespages/ghamiltoni/GeoclemyshamiltoniiEAZAnews.pdf