Sunday 19 May
Pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Pig-nosed turtle fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Pig-nosed turtle description
The pig-nosed turtle is the sole surviving member of an ancient and once widespread family (4) (5) (6) (7), and is unusual in that, with its long, paddle-like forelimbs, it more closely resembles the marine turtles than other freshwater turtle species (8) (9). A large and heavy-bodied turtle (7) (9) (10), it is superbly adapted to swimming (9). In addition to the flipper-like forelimbs, the webbed hind limbs are used for both paddling and steering, while the carapace is quite streamlined, and lacks hard protective scutes, instead being covered with soft, pitted, leathery skin. Perhaps the most unique feature of this species, which leads to its common name, is the elongated, fleshy, pig-like snout, which acts like a snorkel, allowing the turtle to breathe while the rest of the body remains submerged (4) (7) (8) (9) (10).
The body of the pig-nosed turtle is grey, olive-grey or grey-brown above, whitish below, and there is a whitish blotch behind each eye (4) (7) (8) (9) (10). The male is generally slightly smaller than the female, with a longer, thicker tail (7) (8) (9). Juveniles often have a somewhat translucent underside, through which the underlying blood vessels may show, lending it a pinkish colour, and may also bear small light patches on the carapace (7) (9). The tail bears a single line of scales on the upper surface, and each limb bears two claws (7) (8).
- Also known as
- Australasian pig-nose turtle, Fly River turtle, hog-nosed turtle, New Guinea plateless turtle, pig-nose turtle, pitted-shell turtle, pitted-shelled turtle, warradjan. Top
Barone, S. (2004) The pig-nosed turtle, Carettochelys insculpta, underwater glider. Reptilia, 33: 56-60. Available at:
Turtle Conservation Fund:
Carettochelys.com - Australasian Turtle Information:
Asian Turtle Conservation Network:
- Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
- The top shell of a turtle or tortoise. In arthropods (insects, crabs etc), the fused head and thorax (the part of the body located near the head), also known as the ‘cephalothorax’.
- The flesh of a dead animal.
- Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
- Home range
- The area occupied by an animal during routine activities, which is not actively defended.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- Horny scales of keratin that cover the bony shell of a turtle or tortoise.
IUCN Red List (October, 2009)
- Bonin, F., Devaux, B. and Dupré, A. (2006) Turtles of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
CITES (October, 2009)
- Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Turtle Conservation Fund (2002) A Global Action Plan for the Conservation of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Strategy and Funding Prospectus 2002-2007. Conservation International and Chelonian Research Foundation, Washington, DC. Available at:
- Georges, A. and Rose, M. (1993) Conservation biology of the pig-nosed turtle, Carettochelys insculpta. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 1: 3-12.
- Georges, A., Doody, J.S., Eisemberg, C., Alacs, E.A. and Rose, M. (2008) Carettochelys insculpta Ramsay 1886 - pig-nosed turtle, Fly River turtle. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A. and Iverson, J.B. (Eds.) Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs No. 5. Chelonian Research Foundation, Massachusetts.
Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (1997) Turtles of the World. ETI Information Systems Ltd, Netherlands. Available at:
Barone, S. (2004) The pig-nosed turtle, Carettochelys insculpta, underwater glider. Reptilia, 33: 56-60. Available at:
Australian Government: Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts - Pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta): Advice to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) on Amendments to the List of Threatened Species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (October, 2009)
The Reptile Database (September, 2010)
- Georges, A. and Kennett, R. (1989) Dry-season distribution and ecology of Carettochelys insculpta (Chelonia: Carettochelydidae) in Kakadu National Park, Northern Australia. Australian Wildlife Research, 16: 323-325.
- Doody, J.S., Young, J.E. and Georges, A. (2002) Sex differences in activity and movements in the pig-nosed turtle, Carettochelys insculpta, in the wet-dry tropics of Australia. Copeia, 1: 93-103.
- Doody, J.S., Georges, A. and Young, J.E. (2003) Twice every second year: reproduction in the pig-nosed turtle, Carettochelys insculpta, in the wet-dry tropics of Australia. Journal of Zoology, 259: 179-188.
- Webb, G.J.W., Choquenot, D. and Whitehead, P.J. (1985) Nests, eggs, and embryonic development of Carettochelys insculpta (Chelonia: Carettochelidae) from Northern Australia. Journal of Zoology, 1(3): 521-550.
IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1991) Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles: An Action Plan for their Conservation. Second Edition. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
WWF: Species under threat from exploitation in New Guinea (October, 2009)
- Doody, J.S., Georges, A. and Young, J.E. (2000) Monitoring Plan for the Pig-nosed Turtle in the Daly River, Northern Territory. Unpublished report, Applied Ecology Research Group, University of Canberra.
- 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.
Pig-nosed turtle biology
The pig-nosed turtle feeds on a wide variety of foods, including aquatic plants and the leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds of riverside vegetation, as well as insects, crustaceans, molluscs, worms and fish. Mammals may also sometimes be taken, possibly as carrion (4) (7) (8) (9) (12), and younger individuals tend to eat a higher proportion of animal material than adults (9). In addition to its use as a snorkel, the unusual snout is equipped with sensory receptors that allow the turtle to locate prey in murky water or sand (9). The pig-nosed turtle does not swim like other freshwater turtles, but instead ‘rows’ itself through the water with the paddle-like forelimbs, in the manner of marine turtles (8). It also occupies a much larger home range than other freshwater turtles, covering up to ten kilometres of river, and may move into adjacent wetland areas during the wet season (13).
The pig-nosed turtle reaches maturity at about 14 to 16 years, at a carapace length of around 30 centimetres (9). Nesting usually occurs in the dry season, from July to November in Australia, or September to February in Papua New Guinea (7) (8) (9) (12), and each female will lay two clutches a year, but only breed every other year (14). The nest is built at night, the female excavating a shallow chamber in sand or mud close to water, into which are laid around 4 to 39 white, spherical eggs (7) (8) (9) (12). The sex of the offspring is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, with higher temperatures producing females, and lower temperatures producing males (7) (8) (9) (15). Incubation lasts from around 64 to 102 days (7) (8) (15), but, unusually, the fully developed embryos often delay hatching, entering a period of arrested development until stimulated to hatch by rain or flooding, which usually signals the start of the wet season (4) (7) (15). Hatchlings measure between 5.2 and 5.9 centimetres in length (8).Top
Pig-nosed turtle range
The pig-nosed turtle occurs in southern Irian Jaya (Indonesia), southern Papua New Guinea, and the major river systems of the northwestern Northern Territory in Australia (1) (7) (8) (9) (11). One of the alternative names of this species, ‘Fly River turtle’, comes from the Papuan river where it was first discovered (9).Top
Pig-nosed turtle habitat
The pig-nosed turtle is almost entirely aquatic, with only the female ever leaving the water to nest. The species inhabits rivers and streams, as well as lakes, swamps, lagoons and water holes, usually in water up to seven metres deep. It can also tolerate brackish water to an extent, and is sometimes found in estuaries and river deltas (4) (7) (8) (9).Top
Pig-nosed turtle statusTop
Pig-nosed turtle threats
This unusual turtle is under threat from overharvesting for its meat and eggs, and from over-collection for the international pet trade, particularly in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (1) (5) (8) (16) (17). Although exportation from these countries is officially regulated, an illegal market still exists (7) (9), and the problem has been exacerbated by the introduction of modern technology such as outboard motors (6) (7). In Australia, the main threat to the species is habitat loss and alteration (1), with nest sites having been trampled and riverside vegetation destroyed by water buffalo (6) (7) (9) (10), although numbers of this introduced species are now being reduced (7). Agricultural and pastoral activities are causing changes in vegetation and water flow, and increased siltation of rivers (6) (7) (10) (16), while activities such as mining, mineral and oil exploration, logging and fishing are also potential problems (6) (7) (8). The pig-nosed turtle is still a relatively poorly known species (16), and its rather restricted range and predictable nesting habits make it particularly susceptible to overexploitation (6) (7).Top
Pig-nosed turtle conservation
In addition to its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning international trade in the species should be carefully controlled (3), the pig-nosed turtle is legally protected in Australia, where it occurs in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory (7). In light of planned agricultural development in the Daly River system in Australia, a monitoring plan was developed to assess the potential impacts on the pig-nosed turtle (18). However, further research is needed to better determine the status and distribution of the species in Australia, and to identify critical areas of habitat for future management and protection (6) (7) (16).
Domestic exploitation of the pig-nosed turtle in Papua New Guinea is largely unregulated (7), and additional research is required into population trends, the level of exploitation, and the potential for sustainable harvest systems (6) (7) (8) (16). As the sole remaining member of its family, the pig-nosed turtle is of considerable interest to scientists and conservationists, and may also serve as an important flagship species for conservation (18), helping to conserve not only this unique turtle but also the other species which share its habitat.Top
Find out more
To find out more about the conservation of this and other turtle species see:
Authenticated (26/08/10) by Ryan M. Bolton, Freshwater Turtle Ecologist, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
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.