Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines (turtles)
Family: Pelomedusidae (Afro-American Side-necked Turtles)

Genus/species: Podocnemis expansa

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: The side-necked turtles have a long neck which can be withdrawn horizontally within the shell, leaving it partly exposed.  P. expansa is the largest river turtle in South America. Its Carapace is broad, flat; wider in the back than the front and olive-green to brown in color. Males smaller than females, which can weigh up to 90 kg (200 lbs). 

Carpace length up to: 80 cm (32 in)

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Northern South America: Amazon, Negro and Orinoco River basins. Found in freshwater; large rivers and their tributaries, lagoons and forest ponds. Restricted to calm waters of large rivers during the dry season, but move into the flooded forest where food is plentiful during the high-water season.

DIET IN THE WILD: Aquatic vegetation and fruit, insects and slow-moving prey and carrion. 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

REPRODUCTION: During the dry season the Arrau River turtle migrates to nesting sites on beaches. Females dig a nest in which they lay 75-125 spherical eggs, and then cover them with sand. After about 45 days, hatchlings emerge, usually at night or early morning to avoid midday heat and predators, and head directly to water. Colonial nesting and simultaneous hatching helps maximize survival numbers of this perilous journey.

MORTALITY: Can live up to 50 years.

CONSERVATION:  IUCN: Lower Risk/conservation dependent. CITES Appendix II. P. expansa eggs and adults have been over-collected for food. These turtles are considered rare throughout the Amazon. 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.

REMARKS: A fossil Pelomdusid is thought to be the largest freshwater turtle to have ever lived (carapace length: 230 cm). Even today, the Arrau is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. As a side-necked turtle it has a long neck which can be withdrawn horizontally within the shell, leaving it partly exposed a vertical ‘S’ bend , rather than retracting it as in most other turtles (all North American turtles are not side-necked). 

“Art,” as we call our senior turtle (Weight: 20 kg or 44 lbs. Age: unknown.) was confiscated in Miami and came to the SF Zoo via the Miami Metro Zoo in 1997 by government import authorities . The turtle is on loan to us until the zoo has an appropriate location for it.  Several younger turtles ha subsequently joined our senior turtle.


California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium Amazon Flooded Tunnel 2018

Ron’s flickr link

eol Encyclopedia of Life

IUCN Red List and CITES Appendix II


Ron’s WordPress Shortlink:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Pleurodira (side-necked turtles)
Family: Chelidae (“snake-necked turtles”)

Genus/species: Chelus fimbriata

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Color is faded yellow, washed out browns, oranges, and greys. The carapace has three lengthwise knobby keels with algae covering much of the carapace resembling a piece of bark, camouflaging it from possible predators. The head is widely triangular with large lateral flaps of skin and three barbels on the chin and four additional filamentous barbels at the upper jaw, The snout is a long protuberance used as a snorkel.  Carapace length to up to 45 cm (18 inches). Weight to 15 kg (33 lb).

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Tropical. Amazon Basin, South America. Found near the bottom of turbid waterways in lakes, ponds and sluggish creeks. Rarely leaves the water.

DIET IN THE WILD: Carnivore. A “lay-in-wait” predator. Fishes and aquatic invertebrates are captured with the “gape and suck” technique. The opening of its mouth creates a vacuum to draw in prey with the mouth snaping shut, expelling the water and the fish swallowed whole.

REPRODUCTION: Fertilization is internal. They excavate their nests in decaying vegetation at the forest edge laying 12 to 28 eggs with an incubation periods of around 200 days.

LIFESPAN: To 15 years in captivity.

CONSERVATION: IUCN and CITES No special status.




REMARKS: The common name “matamata” is said to have the meaning “I kill” in one of the South American native languages.
C.fimbriatus has extremely poor eyesight. It can sense sound through a well developed tympanum on both sides of the head.


Ron’s WordPress shortlink 

 U. of Michigan ADW

Encyclopedia of Life

Ron’s flickr





KINGDOM  Animalia

PHYLUM    Chordata

CLASS    Reptilia

ORDER    Testudines

FAMILY    Chelydridae  (Snapping Turtles)

GENUS/SPECIES  Macrochelys temminckii



Largest freshwater turtle in the world weighing 70-80 kg (155-175 lb) with a shell length up to 79 cm (32 in). Their  big head can be over 9 in wide with three ridge keels on the broad carapace rising to knobby keels. They usually have algae covering their backs since they spend most of their time under water coming to the surface sometimes as little as 50 min between breaths.

The largest individual turtle in the exhibit is over 55 kgs (121) pounds. The rest are likely ~45 kg (100 pounds)



Southeastern United States in primarily quiet, muddy freshwater rivers, streams, lakes and ponds that drain into  the Gulf of Mexico. Females leave water only to deposit eggs and male occasionally will bask in the sun.



Lie-in-wait predator. Rests on substrate with its mouth open and lures fish to its mouth with a movable, pink wormlike tongue appendage. Also takes crayfish, crabs, snails, freshwater mussels, salamanders, snakes, very small alligators, small mammals, water birds, briar roots, wild grapes, acorns, and scavenges as well.  



They are fed cut trout 2-3 times per week.



Males climb onto the female’s carapace from behind. As in all reptiles, fertilization is internal. Female’s terrestrial nest is approximately within 50m (160 ft). of water. A single clutch of 8-52 eggs (35 average) is laid per year with a 3.5 to 4.5 month incubation period.  Warm and low incubation temperatures result in all female neonates. Intermediate incubation temperatures produce mostly males.  They mature in 11-13 years and can live to 70 years of age in captivity.


Swamp SW02




Class: Reptilia, Order: Testudines. Family: Emdidae, Clemmys guttata  

DISTRIBUTION: Southern Maine west to extreme northeastern Illinois and south along the coastal plain to northern Florida. 

HABITAT: Swamps, bogs, fens, marshes, woodland streams, and wet pastures.  

APPEARANCE: Carapaces are overall black with a few, to many scattered yellow spots. Their faces are adorned with splotches of orange and yellow. Adults, especially males, have orange coloration on the legs. Adults will reach an overall length of approximately 12 cm (5 in). 

DIET: Omnivorous and eats exclusively in the water, consuming plant material including aquatic vegetation, green algae.  Animal food includes aquatic insect larvae, worms, slugs, milipedes, spiders, crustaceans, tadpoles, salamanders and small fish. 

REMARKS:  Spotted turtles shed their scutes in small pieces occasionally resulting in completely smooth shelled specimens. C. guttata are very intelligent turtles and have been tested like the Wood Turtles in mazes and have been proven to have the brain capacity of a mouse.

Swamp SW05  11-10-11

flickr LINK


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