Pig-nosed Turtle
C insculpta
Physical description
Binomial nameCarettochelys insculpta
Average Size70 cm
Average weight20.0 kgs
Conservational Status
IUCN statusIUCN 3.1
Scientific classification
SpeciesC. insculpta
Distribution of speciesAustralia, New Guinea

The pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta Ramsay, 1886)[1], also known as the pitted-shelled turtle or fly river turtle, is a species of turtle native to freshwater streams, lagoons and rivers of the of Australia and New Guinea. This species is the only living member of the genus Carettochelys, the subfamily Carettochelyinae and the family Carettochelyidae; however, numerous extinct carettochelyid species have been described from all over the world.


The pig-nosed turtle is unlike any other species of freshwater turtle in the world. It is the best adapted turtle to an aquatic lifestyle, with the exception of marine turtles. The carapace is typically grey or olive in color, with a leathery texture, while the plastron is cream-coloured. The feet are flippers, resembling those of marine turtles. The nose looks like that of a pig, having the nostrils at the end of a fleshy snout, hence the common name. Males can be distinguished from females by their longer and narrower tails. Pig-nosed turtles can grow to about 70cm shell-length, with a weight of over 20kg.


C. insculpta in captivity

Unlike the softshell turtles of the family Trionychidae, pig-nosed turtles retain a domed bony carapace beneath their leathery skin, rather than a flat plate. They also retain a solid plastron, connected to the carapace by a strong bony bridge, rather than the soft margin of the trionychids.[2]

The species is omnivorous, eating a wide variety of plant and animal matter, including the fruit and leaves of figs as well as crustaceans, molluscs and insects. They are also well known to eat the bodies of kangaroos, cattle and any other dead animals that make their way into the river systems where they live. In captivity, different individuals show very different tastes, some preferring fish, while others might like kangaroo meat.[2] Females reach maturity after 18 or more years old, and males at around the 16 year mark. They lay their eggs late in the dry season on sandy river banks. When the offspring is fully developed, they will stay inside the eggs aestivating until conditions are suitable. Hatching may be triggered when the eggs have been flooded with water or by a sudden drop in air pressure signaling an approaching storm. Using these triggers along with vibrations created by other hatching turtles in the same clutch gives a better chance for survival. Using a universal trigger rather than simply waiting for incubation to finish means that they all hatch at the same time. This provides safety in numbers; also, the more turtles that hatch, the more help they have to dig through the sand to the surface. Additionally, this technique means that regardless of how late the wet season is, they will not hatch until it has started to rain.

Behaviour Edit

Pig-nosed turtles are almost entirely aquatic. Little is known about general behaviour as there have been few studies in the wild. Their aggressive behavior in captivity suggests that this species is markedly more territorial than most other turtles and tortoises. They seem to display a degree of social structure during the cold dry season around the thermal vents that line some river systems they inhabit.


C. insculpta are native to freshwater streams, lagoons and rivers of the Northern Territory of Australia and the Trans Fly savanna and grasslands of southern New Guinea.[2]


This species is the only living member of the genus Carettochelys, the subfamily Carettochelyinae and the family Carettochelyidae; however, numerous extinct carettochelyid species have been described from all over the world.

Some literature claims that there are two subspecies; however, a recent paper refutes this.[3]

Captive careEdit

Pig-nosed turtles have become available through the exotic pet trade, with a few instances of captive breeding. While juveniles are small and grow slowly, their high cost and large potential size makes them suitable only for experienced aquatic turtle keepers. They tend to be shy and prone to stress. They get sick easily, which can cause problems with their feeding, but they are known to eat commercially available processed turtle pellets or trout chow, as well as various fruits and vegetables. Breeding is rarely an option to the hobbyist, as adults are highly aggressive and will attack each other in all but the largest enclosures.

Conservation statusEdit

The species has experienced a 50% decline in the past 20 years.[4] Although pig-nosed turtles are protected in Indonesia under Law No. 5/1990 on Natural Resources and Ecosystems Conservation, smuggling occurs. Some 11,000 turtles captured from smugglers were released into their habitats in the Wania River, Papua Province, Indonesia on 30 December 2010. In March 2009, more than 10,000 turtles retrieved from smugglers were also released into the Otakwa River in Lorentz National Park.[5]

References Edit

  1. Ramsay, E.P. 1886. On a new genus and species of fresh water tortoise from the Fly River, New Guinea. proceedings of the Linnaean Society of New South Wales. (2)1:158-162.(Read Full Paper)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Obst, Fritz Jurgen. 1998. in Cogger, H.G. & Zweifel, R.G. Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. San Diego p118
  3. Georges, A. & Thomson, S. 2010. Diversity of Australasian freshwater turtles, with an annotated synonymy and keys to species. Zootaxa 2496: 1–37.
  4. Unique Pig-Nosed Turtle Reaches Brink of Extinction TreeHugger
  5. Over 10,000 pig-nose turtles released into habitat Antara News 2010-12-31

External links Edit

Gondwanan Turtle Information Edit