Saw-shelled turtle - Myuchelys latisternum

With the previous post being all about our pet turtle, I thought we'd get back on track by having a look at one of our local wild turtle species - the invaluable latisternum.

I'm not sure what it is about turtles, maybe it's their enduring 'smile'. But something about them always manages to lift my spirits.

These particular animals live in a secret little tributary in the rainforest - and no, I'm not going to say where (wouldn't be a secret then, would it?).

I counted at least four but perhaps five, with a nice mix of males and females (in general the females have deeper shells) - makes sense as they have to have room for their eggs when the time comes and it's not like they can loosen their belts or throw on a pair of sweat pants eh?.

On occasion they seemed to seek each other out, almost as if they were looking for reassurance, or perhaps they just like to know that no one has latched on to any good meals without sharing.

Myuchelys latisternum

Getting a decent snap of fresh-water turtles is always a bit hit and miss. They're acutely aware of their surroundings and at the slightest provocation will dive out of sight in a flurry of furiously flapping feet (try saying that after a couple of beers).

The saw-shelled turtle, Myuchelys latisternum, is a species of turtle in the Chelidae family endemic to Australia, ranging along rivers and streams and connected swamps and lagoons from coastal Cape York Peninsula to northern New South Wales, with populations also noted as far south as Newcastle - (Williams River Catchment site of the former Tilligra Dam).

They are thought to have been introduced to Lake Eacham in the Atherton Tablelands. Other common English names are: serrated snapping turtle or common sawshell turtle.

Myuchelys latisternum belong to the genus "Myuchelys", derived from the Aboriginal word "myuna" ("clear water"), and the Greek word "chelys" ("turtle"). Males of the species sometimes end up as road kill as they have the unfortunate habit of wandering off in search of prospective mates.

There's nothing quite so pathetic as the sight of a turtle crushed on a road.

The good news though, is that this turtle doesn't seem to be under threat, at least here in the North (the same cannot be said for many other species around Australia).

Around 20 juvenile eastern long-necked turtles with tiny trackers glued to their shells were released into lagoons at the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus, ABC News reports.

The campus is part of the wider Hawkesbury catchment, about 50 kilometres west of Sydney city.

The research was led by zoologist Ricky Spencer, who is worried about the decline in turtle numbers in the Hawkesbury and in other habitats such as the Murray River.

“There’s been a decline of freshwater turtles throughout south-eastern Australia largely because of introduced predators like the fox, which destroy 95 per cent of turtle nests each year,” he said.

Fighting decline with tracker turtles

If you're interested in turtles - esp if you're considering keeping one as a pet, make sure to do your research. Jo tells me that a local(ish) pet shop is selling turtles under the name 'penny-turtles'. There is no such thing in Oz.

It's a catch all phrase for at lease five species and it's also a sign that the shop in question is either to lazy to identify the animals, or they're simply ignorant with regard to what they sell.

Either way it's not a good look is it?.

So like I said - have a look around before you decide a turtle is for you. Here's a couple of links to get you started:

Australian Freshwater Turtles

A Listing of Australian Turtles

Turtle Care Guide

Well dudes, that's about it - hope all's well with you. So until next time and as always - Take care, Paul :)

This turtle is one of the few native animals able to eat the toxic cane toad

The Myuchelys latisternum female is considerably larger than the male, with a carapace up to 28 cm long compared to the males which rarely get longer than about 18 cm. The carapace is roughly oval and broad at the rear.They are not usually aggressive, but can bite fiercely. They can also emit a strong smell.

The shell has marginal serrations which are the reason for its common name. It retains some of these serrations throughout its life. "The head shield extends down the side of the head to just above the tympanum, and the top of the neck has prominent pointed tubercules (many of these with an apical sensory pit)."

The carapace is mainly brown to dark brown, commonly with some dark blotches. The plastron (underside) is yellowish. The head is large with a projecting snout and a horny plate on the top. The neck can fold sideways. The feet are webbed and also clawed. Hatchlings have serrated hind legs which become smooth as they mature. ^

Macleay River Turtle

At the outset, let me explain that yes, I realise the Macleay river is no where near N.Queensland - not even in the same state - so shaky finger off the comment button okay?.

We do however, have at least one of its turtles here in the wet tropics.

We're gonna need some background:

Friends of ours were moving inter-state. And one of them was round having a cuppa and discussing the ins and outs of the move.

The subject of the turtle came up and general agreement was made that it's not very pleasant for these guys to travel long distances, not to mention the license muck about and the bastardry of moving glass bloody aquariums ...

But I honestly didn't think that much more about it.

Long story short, a while later we were asked if we'd take on the little bloke. And, of course - we said yes.

Anyway, today I sent through a pic to his previous carers which got me thinking:

This fellow is so, so groovy - that he deserves his very own post, (as out of keeping with the overall 'theme' of this blog that may be).

Anyway - it's my blog, I guess that means I can post whatever the hell I choose right?.


So here he is:

Emydura macquarii

And breathe ...

Being ferociously handsome

with a winning smile

Pacific blue-eye F

Pacific blue-eye M

As you have no doubt surmised, these turtles are a fresh-water species, although some salt should be added to their water as it helps prevent infections and generally makes for a happier turtle.

The fish pictured are native to N.QLD - the Pacific blue-eye (Pseudomugil signifer). These pics don't quite do them justice, esp the male who flares his beautiful fins when displaying to females and or rival males.

We have nine in the tank with the turtle, there used to be ten ... but you know - 'turtle'.

Actually, they're in the tank not just for decoration, but to add a little stimulation for our Testudines friend.

He does try to snack on them and as I mentioned - seems to have succeeded on one occasion. Still, try as he might - the fish are more than a match.

I have to say that watching the earnest little reptile attempt to sneak up on his fishy tank-mates is one of those 'Look! - look, he's doing it again' kinda moments.

I've never cared for a turtle before, but Ryder (the chap who kindly asked us to look after him), filled us in on the general do's and don'ts ... so far things seem to be going swimmingly (ahem ... sorry).

Like all pleurodirous turtles, the chelids withdraw their necks sideways into their shells, differing from cryptodires that fold their necks in the vertical plane.

They are all highly aquatic species with webbed feet and the capacity to stay submerged for long periods of time. The snake-necked species (genera Chelus, Chelodina, and Hydromedusa) are largely strike-and-gape hunters or foragers feeding on fish, invertebrates, and gastropods.

There is an absolute wealth of info regarding turtle husbandry to be found on the interwebnet and the ice in my glass is beginning to melt so here's a couple for your perusal:

Caring For Australian Turtles

Macleay river turtle

Seriously, a frog has just landed on a plant next to me, so I've got to go. Huge thanks and big hugs to Ryder and Erin for introducing us to such an amazing turtle.

As always, until next time - take care, Paul :)

Fun Fact
Turtle shells are made up of about 60 bones that are covered by plates, (scutes) made of keratin - as is your hair, fingernails and skin!

The Chelidae are one of three living families of the turtle suborder Pleurodira and are commonly called the Austro-South American side-neck turtles.

The family is distributed in Australia, New Guinea, parts of Indonesia, and throughout most of South America. It is a large family of turtles with a significant fossil history dating back to the Cretaceous.

The family is entirely Gondwanan in origin, with no members found outside of Gondwana, either in the present day or as a fossil.^