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  Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
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Asiatic Soft-shell Turtle

Fig 1

Fig 2

Fig 3

Fig 4

Fig 5


Species : Amyda cartilaginea
Maximum Carapace Length : 75 cm

The Asiatic Soft-shell Turtle is a widespread species of the genus Amyda. This large freshwater turtle mainly inhabits lowland streams in forested areas. It appears to be both diurnal and nocturnal.

The diet of this species is variable and includes insects, crustaceans, fish, vegetation and carrion.

Its leathery carapace is flat and rounded, and its neck is long, thick and flexible. The forefeet bear extremely sharp claws used for digging in muddy or sandy sediments. The snout is rather pig-like.

There may be a broad, dark saddle which extends across the front part of the carapace, and this may occur in juveniles as well as adults. The carapace, neck, head and limbs of juveniles are covered with numerous yellow speckles, but these tend to fade in adults.

The Asiatic Soft-shell Turtle is genetically confirmed in Sumatra, Java and Borneo (Fritz et al, 2014), and appears likely to have been introduced to parts of Sulawesi. Populations from Sumatra and northern Borneo belong to the subspecies Amyda cartilaginea maculosa, whilst the remaining population is of the subspecies Amyda cartilaginea cartilaginea.

Populations of Amyda in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia have not been genetically verified, however the presence of a broad, dark saddle on the carapace, as evidenced in these photos, shows some similarity with Amyda cartilaginea maculosa.

Fritz et al (2014) proposed that Amyda in other parts of Southeast Asia represent two other species, which are Amyda ornata (Burma, Thailand, Indochina) and an undescribed species in northern Borneo.

Fig 1 : Juvenile with a carapace length of around 15 cm, which bears 6-8 dark 'ocelli' or eyes.  Seen in a shallow forest stream filled with leaf litter, Singapore.  

Figs 2 and 3 : Another specimen from Singapore. This one lacks the dark ocelli, but possesses an obvious dark saddle running across the forward part of the carapace.

Fig 4 : The snout of this juvenile is elongated and pig-like.

Fig 5 : Adult specimen with a carapace length of around 40 cm, seen in a lowland river at Taman Negara, Pahang, Peninsular Malaysia. The dark saddle across the carapace is clearly evident in this turtle.

References : H1, H2, H3

Fritz, U., Gemel, R., Kehlmaier, C., Vamberger, M. & Praschag, P. (2014): Phylogeography of the Asian softshell turtle Amyda cartilaginea (BODDAERT, 1770): evidence for a species complex Vertebrate Zoology, 64(2): 229 243.