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Yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle

Class: Reptilia
Order: Chelonia
Family: Pelomedusidae
Genus and Species: Podocnemis unifilis
  • Yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle swimming underwater
  • Yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle swimming and eating underwater
  • Yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle swimming underwater
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Yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle

A long-lived turtle native to the Amazon River, only the males and juvenile females have yellow head markings. They are considered vulnerable due to hunting, but the indigenous Yekuana Indians, who eat these turtles and their eggs, are now trying to hunt the turtles sustainably.

Physical Description

The yellow-spotted turtle has a domed and dark colored shell. They have yellowish-orange head markings. There is usually a single barbel on the chin. These side-necked turtles cannot retract their head into their shell. Hatchlings have very obvious yellow spots on their heads, which shrink as they grow. Males keep some of the yellow spotting; females lose their spots altogether.

Size

The average adult length is 15 to 27 inches (38 to 69 centimeters), with females outgrowing males. Adult males weigh 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilograms) and females weigh 2.5 to 6.5 pounds (1 to 3 kilograms).

Native Habitat

Yellow-spotted Amazon River turtles are native to the Amazon River basin and can be found in the Amazon and Orinoco river systems in Venezuela, eastern Colombia, eastern Ecuador, northeastern Peru, the Guianas, Brazil and northern Bolivia.

These turtles spend time basking along the riverbanks and in the calm waters of big rivers and streams. They avoid fast-moving waters.

Food/Eating Habits

They are omnivorous, feeding on both vegetation and small animals. They have also been known to occasionally use an inertial feeding mechanism to extract fine particulate matter from the water surface.

The turtles are fed fruits and vegetables at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

Reproduction and Development

Mating season varies depending on location, but nesting has been recorded for most months of the year. The clutch size averages between 15 and 25 eggs but as many as 40 are possible.

A male yellow-spotted side-necked turtle courts a larger female by nipping at her feet and tail. A few weeks later, in the evening, the female lays about two dozen (20 to 30) hard-shelled, slightly elongated eggs in a shallow nest she has dug on the riverbank. The nest is about 26 centimeters deep and contains seven to 52 eggs, depending on female body size. The babies, which are slightly larger than a quarter, hatch out in a little over two months.

Sleep Habits

The turtles are diurnal, meaning they are most active in mid-morning and afternoon.

Lifespan

The oldest known yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle living in human care reached 23 years of age. They can live up to 70 years.

The indigenous Yekuana Indians, who eat these turtles and their eggs, are now trying to hunt the turtles sustainably. The 12 main nesting sites of these turtles are now protected from poachers by armed guards.