Saturday 15 June
Giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa)
Giant South American turtle fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Giant South American turtle description
The giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa) is the largest river turtle in South America (4). It has a broad, domed and streamlined carapace for active swimming in moderate river currents (3). The colour may be influenced by the algae that is attached to it (2), but is usually olive green to brown in colour (5). This turtle belongs in the family Pelomedusidae, which contains the side-necked turtles, and has a long neck which can be withdrawn horizontally within the shell, leaving it partly exposed, rather than retracting it in a vertical ‘S’ bend as in most other turtles (3).
- Also known as
- South American river turtle, tartaruga.
- Emys expansa.
- Podocnémide Élargie. Top
EMYSystem World Turtle Database:
Impact of Climate Change of Life and Ecosystems:
BBC Wildlife Finder:
- Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
- The top shell of a turtle. In arthropods (insects, crabs etc), the fused head and thorax (the part of the body located near the head) also known as ‘cephalothorax’.
- Dead flesh.
- Diet comprises only vegetable matter.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
CITES (October, 2004)
- Adler, K. and Halliday, T. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
WWF (October, 2004)
Animal Diversity Web (October, 2004)
EMYSystem World Turtle Database (October, 2004)
- Vanzolini, P.E. (2003) On clutch size and hatching success of South American turtles Podocnemis expansa and P. unfilis. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, 75(4): 415 - 430.
Proceedings: Conservation, Restoration, and Management of Tortoises and Turtles – An International Conference: Management Plan for the Giant Amazonian Turtle, Podocnemis expansa, in De La Tortuga Arrau Wildlife Refuge, Orinoco River, Venezuela (October, 2004)
Impact of Climate Change of Life and Ecosystems (October, 2004)
- Valenzuela, N. (2000) Multiple paternity in side-necked turtles Podocnemis expansa: evidence from microsatellite DNA data. Molecular Ecology, 9: 99 - 103.
- 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.
Giant South American turtle biology
The giant South American turtle nests during the low water season, laying from 75 to 125 leathery eggs per clutch. Large groups of females return to the same sandy riverbanks and sandbars every year to nest in groups that are thought to decrease loss of eggs to predators due to the sheer numbers present (7). The eggs take from 42 to 47 days to hatch (3), timed to avoid the rising of the rivers which will drown any unhatched turtles (7). As with most turtles, the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the average temperature at which they are incubated; females develop at higher temperatures and males develop at lower temperatures (3).
This species is mainly herbivorous, feeding on aquatic vegetation and plant matter that falls into the water. However, it is also known to be somewhat opportunistic, feeding on small, slow-moving prey and carrion (3).
Mutual cleaning behaviour between individuals of this species has been observed. One turtle will position itself at right angles to a second turtle and use its jaws to pull algae from its shell. The turtles will then switch position (2).Top
Giant South American turtle range
The giant South American turtle is found in the Amazon River drainages of South America, as far south as northern Brazil and northern Peru and as far west as eastern Peru. It is also found on the Islands of Trinidad and Tobago (1) (6).Top
Giant South American turtle habitat
The giant South American turtle inhabits freshwater rivers with sandy banks or sandbars, which are crucial for nesting (3).Top
Giant South American turtle statusTop
Giant South American turtle threats
Threats to this species include poaching of females, collection of eggs and hatchlings, accidental and intentional capture (for food and oil) of adult turtles by fishermen, urban and industrial development near nesting sites, and lack of conservation education (8). Logging and clearing of areas surrounding rivers and damming of rivers can cause the water cycle to be drastically altered. This can confuse the turtles’ natural seasonal cycle of nesting which is timed to the alternation of floods and low flows. In addition, premature rising of rivers can flood nesting sites causing reduced hatching success (7).
Climate change can potentially threaten turtle species as the sex of offspring is determined by the temperature at which they are incubated. Should the temperature rise two degrees Celcius, the ratio of males to females could be severely skewed, and a rapid rise of four degrees Celcius could possibly eliminate males altogether. Turtles are seen as indicator species that can reveal the effects of climate change on the natural world (9).Top
Giant South American turtle conservation
With high reproductive potential, the giant South American turtle is expected to be capable of rapid recovery in areas with limited human presence and an environmental management plan. The management plan implemented at Middle Orinoco River has included the protection of nesting beaches, a nursery program for the care and release of hatchlings, and an environmental education program for the public. It has resulted in the slowed decline of nesting turtles and a modest increase in total turtle numbers since 1992 (8). In addition, research has showed that eggs in a clutch laid by one mother may have different fathers, which helps to increase genetic variation and reduces the prevalence of inbreeding defects that result from small populations (10).Top
Find out more
For further information on turtles:
For more information on the possible impact of climate change on turtles:
For more general information on the giant South American turtle:
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:
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
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.