Short-necked sideneck turtles of Australia: genus Emydura

The six species of the genus Emydura are webbed-footed and semi-aquatic river turtles. They are characterized by unusually short necks, especially as compared to another group of Australian side-necked turtles called "snake necks" of the genus Chelodina. All are chelid turtles of the family Chelidae. Only the Red-bellied short-necked turtle (E. subglobosa) is regularly kept as pets outside of Australia or New Guinea, although the Murray River Turtle (E. macquarrii) is occasionally seen. Emydura turtles that appear in the captive trade are from New Guinea or captive bred as Australia forbids exportation.

Red-bellied short-necked turtle: Emydura subglobosa

Also known as the Northern short-necked turtle, Emydura subglobosa lives in tropical Australia and New Guinea. (E. albertisii is an alternate name for this same species.) It is a medium/large sized turtle, up to 10 inches (25cm). Hatchlings and juveniles have a bright pink or red plastron which fades to pale yellow-orange with age. There are also bright markings on the head of youngsters which will fade with age. It is a somewhat shy and skittish turtle, but can be a hardy captive with good care.

To create a comfortable aquarium for a young short-necked turtle, start with a 30 gallon long aquarium (or larger.) Add 5 - 8 inches of water, and build a land area with flat rocks (or other means) in a third of the area. E. subglobosa are most comfortable at 76 - 82 degrees F. An underwater heater is required to maintain the correct temperature range. The short-necked turtle is an enthusiastic basker, so a warm basking light is required. This turtle is subject to skin and shell infections if high water quality is not maintained. A powerful filtration system is required. Feeding the turtle in a separate container will help keep the vivarium cleaner. Also, adding small amounts of aquarium salt to the water may help prevent bacterial or fungal infections.

Red-bellied short-necked turtles are primarily carnivorous. They sport broad jaws as adults which are used to crush mollusks. Snails, fish, insects and worms are eagerly eaten, as are leafy greens, fruits and aquatic plants. Trout chow, and dog or cat kibble would be healthy additions to the diet of a captive short-necked turtle. This species tends to eat voraciously in captivity and appreciates a good variety of diet choices.

Photo and more information at the CTTC website

Murray River turtle: Emydura macquarrii

This short-necked sideneck turtle is a fairly large turtle which can grow to 12 inches (31cm) as an adult. While young Murray turtles are often nearly round, adults become more oblong. The carapce is olive to brown and features many fine striations which give the the shell a rough look. There are yellow or cream stripes on each side of the head and yellow spots on the chin. Females are larger overall and have higher domed carapaces than males.

The Murray turtle lives in southeastern Australia, in the Murray River and its tributaries. Since this region of the continent is temperate, this turtle will not require additional heat for an indoor vivarium. It should do well in an outdoor enclosure year-round in areas where severe cold is unlikely. The E. macquarrii will hibernate in the water much like North American painted turtles.

Kept inside, this turtle would require a large aquarium, and care should be taken to provide progressively larger aquariums as the turtle grows. A basking area and light should be provided, and plenty of water for swimming. Although the turtle is primarily carnivorous, it will enjoy nibbling aquatic plants.

Feeder fish, earthworms, slugs, snails and insects will be eagerly eaten. The Murray turtle may also enjoy aquatic turtle sticks and trout chow. Dog or cat food in kibble form and cuddlebone will give this turtle the pleasure of crunching its food with its powerful jaws and provide some of its essential dietary needs. One keeper from Australia states that her Murray turtle also enjoys a variety of aquatic plants in addition to many types of live food.

See photos and more info at these two webpages:
Australian Freshwater Trutle Research Page
Australian Capital Territory Herpetological Association Website

Other Emydura species include: E. australis, E. krefftii, E. E. victoriae and E. signata, The Brisbane Short-necked turtle.


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Cann, John. 1998. Australian Freshwater Turtles. Beaumont Publishing Pte Ltd., Singapore.

Ernst, C. H. and Barbour, R. W. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Highfield, A. C. 1996. Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Carapace Press, London, England.

Iverson, John. 1992. A revised checklist with distribution maps of the turtles of the world. Privately published, Richmond, Indiana.

Iverson, Kiester, Hughes, Kimerling & Sahr. 1998. Turtles of the World website.

Pritchard, P. C. H. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. TFH Publications, Neptune, New Jersey.

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