pelomedusa ( African helmeted turtle )

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pelomedusa ( African helmeted turtle )

The pelomedusa ( African helmeted turtle ), also known commonly as the marsh terrapin, the crocodile turtle, or in the pet trade as the African side-necked turtle, is a species of omnivorous side-necked terrapin in the family Pelomedusidae. The species naturally occurs in fresh and stagnant water bodies throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in southern Yemen.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Suborder: Pleurodira
  • Family: Pelomedusidae
  • Genus: Pelomedusa
  • Species: P. subrufa
  • Binomial name: Pelomedusa subrufa


The African Helmeted Turtle is a relatively small species that reaches around 20cm (8 inches). They have a smooth black to brown shell, the top of limbs are greyish in colour whereas the underside is more yellowish.

One characteristic we like about this species is their face. They have a small pig-like nose and a large smiling mouth, giving them the appearance of always being happy.


Subrufa is a semiaquatic animal, living in rivers, lakes, and marshes, and it also occupies rain pools and places that are fertilized.

Its preference seems to be for standing water, such as swamps, pans, dams, and lakes. However it is found to a lesser extent along rivers. It is generally absent from regions that are mountainous, forested, or desert.


Compared to the female’s head the male turtle has a very big and broad head. Copulation takes place in water, the male shakes his head and clasps the female’s shell with his feet. The African helmeted turtles nest once in every year.

They dig a nest around 15 cm deep and drop the egg in it. The eggs, coated with clear slime have a size of almost 28 – 31 mm x 15 – 18 mm and weighs 4 – 6 grams. The eggs are grayish/ white in color. After fertilization, white spots develop on the top portion. The eggs hatch in 65 – 68 days. A medium clutch amounts to 7-17 eggs. When incubated at 290C they hatch in as early as 55 days.


The African helmeted turtle is an omnivorous eater and will eat almost anything. It may feed on carrion. The fine claws on its feet help it tear its prey apart.

Groups of P. subrufa have been observed capturing and drowning larger prey such as doves that come to drink; the commotion caused by these group attacks is often mistaken for crocodiles. All food is taken underwater to be eaten.

As a Pet

Pelomedusa are violent with other species of turtles so never house them together. They are likely to attack and hurt or murder other turtles. Similarly, you would do well not to house African helmeted turtles of various sizes together because they will fight.

pelomedusa images

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