Wattle-necked softshell turtle (Palea steindachneri)

GenusPalea (1)
SizeAverage length: 25 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix III of CITES in China (3).

This small, peculiar-looking turtle belongs to the family Trionychidae, the softshell turtles; a group characterised by their relatively flattened shell which is covered with leathery skin instead of the bony plates (scutes) that other turtles have (4). The shell of the wattle-necked softshell turtle is oval and may be brown, olive-brown or grey-brown. In young turtles, this is covered with small, raised protuberances (tubercles), but the surface of the shell becomes smoother with age (5). The shell on the underside is yellow to cream or greyish and the head and paddle-like limbs are olive to brown (4) (5). Like other softshells, this turtle has a long, retractable neck and a distinctive elongated bony snout (4). The head is patterned with short black streaks and dots and a pale yellow stripe begins behind the eye and runs back along the side of the neck, although these head and neck markings often disappear with age. At the base of the neck is a cluster of rough tubercles, also known as wattles, which lends this species its common name. Male wattle-necked softshell turtles are smaller than females and can also be distinguished by their longer, thicker tail (5).

The wattle-necked turtle is native to northern Vietnam and southern China, including the island of Hainan (2). It has also been introduced to Mauritius and the Hawaiian Islands of Kauai and Oahu (5).

This threatened turtle inhabits freshwater habitats up to an altitude of 1,500 metres. In Hawaii, this species occurs in marshes and drainage canals (5).

Very little known is known about the ecology and biology of this turtle (2), and much of the available information comes from the introduced populations in Hawaii. Nesting is believed to take place in June in Hawaii, with clutches of 3 to 28 eggs hatching in late August or September. The shells of the hatchlings measure between 54 and 58 millimetres across and are orangish-brown with scattered black spots (5).

The wattle-necked softshell turtle is primarily carnivorous. In captivity, it has consumed a wide range of foods including fish, raw beef, horse meat, mice, crickets, molluscs, amphibians, and some plant materials (5).

In its natural range, the wattle-necked softshell turtle is highly threatened by its use in the food trade (1). Softshell turtles are widely eaten and are also used in Chinese medicine, kept as pets, or released into temple ponds (2). Chinese have used turtle products for thousands of years, but changes in the economy have resulted in a dramatic increase in the demand for luxury items such as turtles within the last 25 years (6).

The wattle-necked softshell turtle is listed on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in China, meaning that China has asked other countries for assistance in controlling the trade in this species (3). In addition, in China there are numerous turtle farms breeding large numbers of wattle-necked softshell turtles. While this may have the benefit of lessening pressure on wild populations, there are also a number of issues that need to be investigated further to ensure that turtle farms are not actually damaging wild populations. These issues include whether the breeding stock is replenished with wild individuals; and whether an increased availability of turtles through farming affects the demand for turtle products (6). A number of scientists have recommended that instead of attempting to adapt the farming industry for conservation purposes, protected areas should be established to preserve the remaining wild populations (6). Should such measures not succeed, the future survival of the wattle-necked softshell turtle may depend on those introduced populations in Mauritius and Hawaii (1).

For further information on the conservation of turtles in Asia 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:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2007)
  2. Jenkins, M.D. (1995) Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles: the Trade in Southeast Asia. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.
  3. CITES (June, 2008)
  4. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (1997) Turtles of the World. ETI Information Systems Ltd, Netherlands.
  6. Haitao, S., Parham, J.F., Zhiyong, F., Meiling, H. and Feng, Y. (2008) Evidence for the massive scale of turtle farming in China. Oryx, 42(1): 147 - 150.