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African Side-necked Turtles

East African Serrated Mud Turtle

Family: PelomedusidaePicture of an African Side-necked Turtle, Pelusios sinuatus Serrated Mud Turtle Pelusios sinuatusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Russ Gurley
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So, I got a Sideneck about two months ago, and he (I'm assuming it's a he, I have no guarantee) shares a tank with a Yellow Slider. He usually just hides under the... (more)  Joshua

   With a naturally upturned "smile" and a pug nose, the African Side-necked Turtle has a great face!

   The African Side-necked Turtles or African Mud Turtles have gained in popularity in recent years. There are 15 species in the Pelusios genus, along with a single member in the Pelomedusa genus, Pelomedusa subrufa, known as the African Helmeted Turtle. These active turtles are hardy and curious (and somewhat aggressive). They are also prolific breeders and live a long time. Shy at first, these turtles acclimate well and quickly exhibit their inquisitive nature.

   Most African Side-necked Turtle species can be kept in relatively simple enclosures as they have fairly modest requirements. They like to have a place to swim and also love basking, especially in groups. When basking they are alert but very shy, plopping into the water at the approach of their keeper. They will soon become tame however, and though they dive off into the water of the enclosure, will quickly surface to see if any food has been offered.

   Turtles don't instill the cautious concerns that some folks have when dealing with other types of reptiles. However adult females of most species of African Mud Turtles get larger than most first-time pet buyers realize, with adult females reaching 9-12" inches within five or six years. Also, when threatened these turtles can exude a horrible musk odor. This is most often exhibited by wild caught specimens. Fortunately after settling into captivity they rarely exhibit this behavior.

For more Information see:
Selecting and Caring for Your Turtle or Tortoise


Geographic Distribution
Pelusios sinuatus
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Data provided by GBIF.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Pelomedusidae
  • Genus: Pelusios
  • Species: sinuatus

Distribution:    This group of turtles are known as the African Side-necked Turtles or the East African Serrated Mud Turtles. They are classified in the genus Pelusios and Pelomedusa and belong to the family Pelomedusidae. There are fifteen species in the Pelusios genus found in Africa, the Seychelles, and Madagascar. Pelomedusa subrufa, the single species in this genus, is found throughout much of Africa and on Madagascar.

Status   These turtles are not listed on the IUCN Red List.

Description:    Some specimens are lighter in color, such as a dark brown and even tan, but generally the African Side-necked Turtles are gray to black overall with dark skin. They vary in size, P. castaneus adults grow up to 12" (30 cm) in length and P. sinuatus adults to 20" (50 cm). Pelomedusa subrufa remains small, reaching only 6" to 8" (15 cm to 20 cm) in length.

Care and Feeding:    African Side-necked Turtles feed eagerly on commercial aquatic turtle food and will eat fish, crayfish, worms, and even crickets. They will also pick at aquatic plants and especially enjoy taking bite-sized pieces from the leaves of water hyacinth and water lettuce.

Environment:
   In the wild, African Side-necked Turtles or African Mud Turtles are found in a variety of habitats from rivers and shallow pools to large lakes. In captivity most can be kept in relatively simple enclosures.
   They are tolerant of a wide variety of water conditions but will do best in 8 -10" of clean, filtered water. They are avid group baskers and will plunge excitedly into the water when approached. They usually swim a short distance and then quickly surface in case the visitor has food to offer. The enclosure should feature a variety of decorations including piles of rocks and driftwood for basking. Decorations and aquatic plants add variety and provide hiding places for smaller turtles, subordinate males, and females uninterested in the courtship advances of aggressive males.

  • Larger species: The larger turtles such as P. sinuatus and P. gabonensis can be set up in pairs or trios in large aquariums (75-gallon to 100-gallon) or larger tubs and stock tanks.
  • Smaller species: The smaller turtles such as P. subniger, P. castanoides, and Pelomedusa can be set up in pairs or trios in 60-gallon aquariums or medium tubs and stock tanks.

   Care must be taken that these, and any turtles, are not released into a wild habitat. The reasons are many. The introduction of non-native species can lead to the introduction of diseases and can lead to hybridization of introduced and native species. In addition, many turtles raised in captivity and released into wild situations are confused, unable to cope with extreme weather changes, and many surely fall prey quite quickly to the wary predators they may encounter.

Handling:    Captive-hatched specimens, as always, are the best to keep as pets and most will become so docile that they can easily be fed by hand. These and all aquatic turtles should be considered wonderful display animals and not pets that are easily held.

Breeding:    African Side-necked Turtles are prolific breeders and females can lay multiple clutches each year. While egg-laying, females bury themselves deeply, even up to the base of their front legs. The depth achieved could be a defensive strategy against monitors or other egg-eating predators or could be a safety measure to allow eggs to avoid the extreme heat and drying potential of the hot African sun close to the surface of the laying area.
   Baby African Side-necked Turtles are hardy and grow quickly. Keep them in an aquarium with clean filtered water, warmth, UVB rays, and a few sturdy basking sites. They feed well on a variety of food. They relish small invertebrates, especially worms, and they quickly begin eating commercial aquatic turtle food. Keep aquatic plants such as Cabomba, Anacharis, or duckweed in their enclosure to satisfy their herbivorous needs.

Ailments / Health Problems:    None if kept properly, these are tough turtles! Once their parasites have been removed they settle well into captivity.
Shell Damage: Typically, African Side-necked Turtles arrive with varying amounts of shell damage. Minor cases heal well if treated with a Betadine® scrub and if the turtles are kept in a warm, sunny environment. More serious cases may require treatment with Silvadene® cream. Access to direct sunlight helps immensely with treating most shell problems.
Parasitic worms: (nematodes) are often found in newly imported specimens and they should be deparasitized with Panacur® within a short time after they have established and started feeding well.
Eye problems: Occasionally, imported African Side-necked Turtles exhibit a variety of eye problems. These are typically the result of dehydration and poor conditions during shipping and can range from a minor filmy covering to more severe swelling. Filminess will usually disappear within a few days of placing them into clean, filtered water. More severe problems may require the application of an ophthalmic antibiotic. A good basking spot and plenty of sunlight as well as good water quality will prevent most eye-related problems.
Respiratory problems: Though somewhat cold hardy, when exposed to cold weather for an extended period of time, these turtles are prone to respiratory problems.

Availability:    African Side-necked Turtles or African Mud Turtles are commonly imported from Africa, but captive-hatched specimens are the best pets. These can be purchased from better pet stores, from breeders at the larger reptile shows across the country, and on-line.


Author: Russ Gurley
Edited by Animal-World.
Lastest Animal Stories on African Side-necked Turtle

Joshua - 2014-01-14
So, I got a Sideneck about two months ago, and he (I'm assuming it's a he, I have no guarantee) shares a tank with a Yellow Slider. He usually just hides under the basking platform and eats very little. I've tried varying the water temperatures, different foods, all sorts of things. He is incredibly inactive, and how little he is eating is worrying me. He doesn't mind being handled, and will even let me pet his neck while I'm holding him. Any help would be welcome

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-01-16
    It could be the time of year as they may hibernate or become inactive during the cooler months.
Reply
Kimberly - 2012-05-01
I have now an African Side-necked Turtle and his name is Butters. Butters has been with me for about 3 weeks now and at first he was very shy. After setting the tank and putting in piled rocks he dived right into the water. It took him about a week to really get comfortable with his surroundings. I added plants for him to nibble on. Def. do not want to over feed, it may seem like they're really hungry but they're turtles, in general if you keep feeding them, they won't stop eating! Now at the 3 weeks mark, Butters let my boyfriend and I both touch his head while he's in the water but not on the dry bridge! We even feed him by hand with pellets. As long as we approach him softly and not run up to the tank he won't swim behind the rocks and hide. Very curious and active turtles and I love them! Especially when he pokes his head up right up against the tank to take a breath and stares at me for a bit! Cutest ever!

:)

Reply
AnitaR. - 2010-08-11
I liked this site and found it very helpful. I have a side neck turtle handed down from a family member, we think she is about 15+ years old. We thought she was a male, Max, but today I was very surprised to find 3 eggs in her pond! Unfortunately they are not fertile since we do not have a male. I am going to look into getting her one though. I just put her in a large fiberglass tub(round) and put plants and rocks in there, I have some tank heaters in there to keep the temp. at 70 degrees, sometimes higher. She has some goldfish too. I have been trying to get info on her so that I can get her habitat as close to her natural environment as I can. I guess I succeeded since she laid eggs and we have had her for 5 years and no eggs in the past. Maybe she has just reached her maturity, I really don't know, I will be coming back to this sight for any other info. I can get. Thank you for your research and time investigating/studying of the African sideneck Turtle!

  • Christine - 2010-08-28
    I have an african sideneck turtle I have had her for 1 year. I finally decided to mate hero. Do you know how long it takes for them to have eggs?
  • Wendy - 2010-10-11
    I also have an African side Neck that I received as a pet from a friend. We also thought she was a He.. Named Toney.. After about 3 years, she too laid eggs. I talked to a local reptile shop near home and they said that once they start to lay eggs, they will lay them annually. She first laid her eggs back in Feb. 2009, and now again, Oct. 2010. I would like to get her a male too, but not sure how to go about finding one. I also don't think I have a home large enough to accommodate a larger tank...
Reply
TurtleHedgehog - 2013-04-21
We recently bought a turtle from a pet store -- noticed she had a R/I after 4 days, so we took her bought so the pet store so they could pay for all her vet bills which they did. She was at the vet for over a month and the vet also stated she had a Vitamin D problem (when she was returned her skin was peeling). It has been about a month and she is a full grown female African Sideneck. We decided to add more water to her tank b/c she shares it with a RES, but now it looks like she doesn't know how to swim. We added lots of river rocks for her to crawl up on, but appears to have difficulty swimming or floating up for air unlike our RES, who seems to be doing fine. Water temp is 78 degrees (they have a water heater to maintain temperature plus we have an external thermometer for the tank to check daily). Basking Area is about 93 -95 degrees for daytime and about 78 - 80 for nighttime. Please Help! I don't want to have to take her back to a vet after she just went to one so recently. She seems to be scared of us currently, which she wasn't before we took her to the vet.

  • Jeremy Roche - 2013-04-22
    Is it being picked on by the other turtle?  Is it in an heavy traffic area of the house.  May tak a while for the turtle to come around.  How is it eating?
  • TurtleHedgehog - 2013-04-29
    She is in a low to medium traffic area of our household. She is eating fine but doesn't like to eat the food that floats and refuses to eat in a separate container. It actually makes her more stress it seems. The other turtle is actually following her lead. Before my RES was fine w/ basking w/ us watching her or passing her. And she was fine eating from tongs, but now she isn't like that. I imagine whatever they did at the vet made her really scared of any humans. My Sideneck does bask but only when it's nighttime.
  • Jennifer Lynne Marques - 2013-10-06
    It sounds like what we just went through with ours. I took him to a reptilian vet, who took x-rays. We found out he had the beginning stages of pneumonia. He is on .2ml of Batrol for 10 days. We also had his stool checked and found he had worms and tons of protozoans. He has also been on strongid for the worms. Good luck. It has been a long, expensive, tedious process. He is about 12 and it doing much better now. He is on the second does of batrol. Please note it has to be injected, intramuscually, not swallowed. It also has to be given everyday in opposite legs.
Reply
Karmalet Lundin - 2013-07-10
My african sidenecked turtles nose turned red last week.  What is wrong his it?

  • Jasmine Brough Hinesley - 2013-07-11
    Hmmm, is it possible your turtle rubbed his nose raw on something? Does it look inflamed or infected?  Is there any discharge? Are there signs of redness or infection anywhere else on his body? It sounds to me like he has just irritated his nose somehow. I would keep an eye on it for a few days and see if it looks like it's getting worse. If he has any type of discharge it is most likely a respiratory infection, which can be treated.
Reply
Kiki - 2012-05-20
My African side neck has a red nose ? It hasn't been like this long. I was cleaning its tank when I noticed this. So I'm wondering if he's having a respiratory problem or something? I'm kinda concerned cause I dont want him to be sick or anything :(

  • karmal - 2013-07-10
    Mine is having the same issue. I'm worried about it.
Reply

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