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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 have an African Sideneck Turtle and she is acting like she can't swim and is going to drown? She only seems happy when I have her in a blanket. She is eating... (more)  Katie Sharkey

   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

Katie Sharkey - 2013-04-13
I have an African Sideneck Turtle and she is acting like she can't swim and is going to drown? She only seems happy when I have her in a blanket. She is eating though. HELP! :)

  • Clarice Brough - 2013-04-17
    First look at her environment, make sure she has an adequate basking area and the right lighting/heating. If all that is proper, then she may have an internal parasite or other problem and you may want to take her to a veterinarian.
  • Christie - 2014-06-07
    They aren't very good swimmers. You should try to slope your underwater environment so she can easily reach the surface.
  • colleen - 2014-07-11
    I think turtles are so cute
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!

:)

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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...
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Kym - 2014-07-08
I have an African Sideneck Turtle, and I have never owned a pet before. I have followed all instructions that I have been given about caring for him as well as cleaning his tank. However, lately I've noticed that there is this mucous-like slime in my filter and I don't know what it's from. Like I said, I'm new at this, so if I may be doing something wrong or if he's sick please let me know so I can make him better.

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-07-22
    I'm not sure why there is a mucous-like slime in your filter, but it definitely sounds like your tank needs a good cleaning. Water turtles need a clean tank and a good basking area to prevent them from getting sick. It may just be that you have a dirty tank, but also check your turtle carefully to see if anything is wrong. If mucous slime develops in its nose or mouth, it causes a bubbling out of the nose or wheezing and indicates a serious respiratory problem, in which case you'll want to take it to a vet immediately for treatment.
Reply
Worried in Detroit - 2014-06-24
My African Side-neck turtle's head is peeling--that is to say that the skin on top of her head is peeling and she is spending days at a time on her basking area. When I passed by her tank she fell off the basking area and I am scared that she is sick. I have had her for about two months and she is just a baby. Her tank is about 70 and she seems to like that temperature when she is in there. Any ideas about how I can moisturize her head? Do you know if she is sick and what I can do to make her get better?

  • African Sideneck Turtles - 2014-06-28
    The first thing is maybe heat your tank a little. Most aquatic turtles including Sidenecks prefer a temperature of 75+. And by peeling do you mean it's actually peeling? If it's just shedding that is pretty normal for a Sideneck. It's a sign of growth if it sheds. I'm not sure about the falling part, but from what I am hearing it sounds like it is just shy and prefers to bask alone. Mine was like that for a while. Hope I helped!
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