Friday, 20 April 2012

Turtles and Tortoises 6: Giant Pond Turtle

Orlitia borneensis
A new addition to Bristol Zoos’ collection of turtles this year is a pair of one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, the Giant Pond Terrapin Orlitia borneensis. With a shell length of 80cm and a maximum weight of 50kg (or as much as Cheryl Cole as the sign somewhat ungallantly puts it) this species is an impressive sight. As you might guess from the specific name, it is found in Borneo, but its range extends through Sumatra and through peninsula Malaya as well.

Throughout its range Orlitia appears to be a thinly distributed species, and although it has been little studied in the wild it appears to be rather aggressive to its own kind – or pair are currently separated because of the males’ aggression. They do not appear to bask much, and seem to spend a lot of time patrolling the mud at the bottom of still or slow moving waters. In this behaviour they somewhat resemble the Black Marsh Turtle Siebenrockiella that I described last week, which is interesting as they are believed to be each others closest living relatives.

Rare animals that live at the bottom of muddy waters are not exactly easy to study, and the ecology of the wild animal is little known. They appear to be omnivorous in captivity, happily feeding on fruit and other plant material, but they also eat snails, fish, and other aquatic life. They will also scavenge, which is how they get caught on hook and line and wind up in Asian food markets. In common with all the other Asian turtles, as a result they are Endangered throughout their range.
Orlitia for sale in an Asian market
I have only been able to find one account of breeding Orlitia, a clutch of four eggs at a rescue centre which produced a single youngster. Geoemydid turtles appear to produce small clutches for the most part, but may produce multiple clutches in a season, and it is probable that Orlitia does the same.Apparently they have been bred in warm climates in outside ponds, but I have not been able to find an account of them breeding in the UK. Hopefully Bristol will be a first for this species, but it may take a while to get the conditions right.

(images from Wikipedia, World Chelonia Trust)

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