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African Side-necked Turtles

East African Serrated Mud Turtle

Family: Pelomedusidae Picture of an African Side-necked Turtle, Pelusios sinuatus Serrated Mud Turtle Pelusios sinuatusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Russ Gurley
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I just inherited a 9yr old male ASN and he has only ate raw meat ( beef, pork, and chicken ) for at least the last several yrs. They also fed him bologna and hot... (more)  Cristi Jennings Wilson

   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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  • 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.

   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

Cristi Jennings Wilson - 2014-10-10
I just inherited a 9yr old male ASN and he has only ate raw meat ( beef, pork, and chicken ) for at least the last several yrs. They also fed him bologna and hot dog. Also the fellers water temp was kept at around 72. I have raised his water temp to 76 and will try to raise it more, I'm just taking it slow. What about his diet? I've read that they eat more veggies and greens the older they get but Gilbert won't eat them. I wanna do right by my new man but he seems to be breaking all the rules


  • Clarice Brough - 2014-10-11
    What a great new pet, sounds like you are going to be a great keeper too. These turtles will continue to eat proteins, and snack on some veggies.  General foods as listed above are'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.' I don't know that I would feed processed foods like bologna and hot dogs though.
  • Nikki Bee - 2016-03-02
    Ive read chicken and beef are bad for them. As they get older they prefer plants more but dried or live proteins like shrimp krill and minnows are good, along with the pellets that have more vitamins. However I've just been doing extensive research because I just bought two juveniles, and dont have much personal experience.
Alexa - 2015-10-21
I just recently ( on Monday) got two ASN turtles. I believe one is a boy and one is a girl. I work as a middle school teacher and I had intended on keeping one at school and one at home. Then over the summer, just setting the other tank up at home for the school one. Because the tanks water at school was so dirty at first, I let the filter run for two days. Due to this, I ended up putting both turtles in the tank together at home until the other tank was clean. They seem to really like each other and I often see them laying on or near each other on the log or under the log in the tank. Will they be HAPPY and HEALTHY as individual turtles or are they more social and need to be together? Everything I have read has said they are only social when basking and for mating and otherwise are happy alone but I am still so new to the turtle world.

Amanda - 2015-09-01
I am new to the turtle world! We got our African side-neck turtle about 2 months ago. He has a big terrarium with a filter, heat lamp and uvb light. His temp and humidity are all monitored and look good. We went to the beach about a week and a half ago and my hubby put a sand dollar in his tank. Well, about 48 hours later my turtle started acting different, sluggish and not interested in his food. I feed him about 15 pellets every morning and the occasional minnow. We took the sand dollar out and cleaned the tank, thoroughly. He is a little better, eating now but not back to normal yet. He doesn't ever bask. He has a rocky area to do it but never does. He is hiding under his rock where he usually sleeps. Had his water tested and we have hard water but we treat it. Any ideas on what is going on with him? Not sure our local vet takes care of turtles.

Leonardo Luna - 2015-08-23
I just got my African Sideneck a few days ago and when I got him I saw some odd looking spots, like its peeling. I thought it was probably nothing since they were okay selling him to me at the pet store. Now the spots are whitish and his shell is getting black around the spots. Im worried and not sure what it is.

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-08-24
    Thoes white spotes could be a mild case of shell rot, which can often clear up with good basking. If you think that is what it is, an antiseptic  called Nolvasan (chlorhexidine) can help the spots heal more quickly. Nolvasan can be gotten from vets (non-prescription), and some pet stores and herptile stores will also carry it.