Indian flapshell turtle
|Indian flapshell turtle|
The Indian flapshell turtle (Lissemys punctata) is a freshwater species of turtles found in South Asia. The “flap-shelled” name stems from the presence of femoral flaps located on the plastron. These flaps of skin cover the limbs when they retract into the shell. It is unclear what protection the flaps offer against predators. They are widespread and common in the South Asian provinces.
The carapace of L. punctata viewed from above is broadly oval in adults, but more circular in young, widest just anterior to hind limbs. The width of the disc is 77-86 of its length, the carapace is moderately arched, shell height is 35.0-40.5% of carapace length, the margin of the carapace is smooth and slightly flared posteriorly, the marginal bones are not united with the pleurals, the plastron is large but mostly cartilaginous, and its length is 88-97% of thecarapace length. A pair of large flaps can be closed over the hind limbs and a smaller flap over tail; seven plastral callosities are present, and the head is large, its width is 21-25% of the carapace width. The proboscis is short and stout; the nasal septum has no lateral ridge, the edges of the jaws are smooth, the alveolar surfaces are expanded and granular. The claws are large and heavy; the penis is thick and oval, with deep dorsal cleft and four pointed, soft papillae; the tail is very short in both sexes.
The Indian flapshell turtle was placed in Appendix I of CITES in 1975 at the request of Bangladesh. However, L. p. punctata was the taxon listed, not L. p. andersoni. Subsequent reviews of the literature and available data could find no evidence to support this endangered status. Some scientists now classify L. p. punctata and L. p. andersoni as a single subspecies. This subspecies is the most common aquatic turtle in India. Consequently, the Indian flapshell turtle was removed from the endangered species list in 1983 (48 FR 52740). This action, however ,did not affect the turtle's status on Appendix I of CITES.
The Indian flapshell turtle is found in Pakistan, India (common in lakes and rivers), Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh (Indus and Ganges drainages), and Burma (Irrawaddy and Salween Rivers). It has been introduced to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is also found in the desert ponds of Rajasthan, where hundreds are killed every year during the dry summers. The race L. p. andersoni is found in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.
Habitat and ecology
- Habitat and environmental impact
L. punctata lives in the shallow, quiet, often stagnant waters of rivers, streams, marshes, ponds, lakes and irrigation canals, and tanks. Waters with sand or mud bottoms are preferred because of the turtle’s tendency to burrow. L. punctata turtle plays an important role to reduce pollution in aquatic ecosystems by feeding on snails, insects, and fragments of dead animals.
- Drought survival
These turtles are very well adapted, both morphologically and behaviorally, to drought conditions. The turtle uses mainly burrowing and moving from water hole to water hole to avoid desiccation. The femoral flaps that cover the retracted legs help the turtle survive dry conditions. During a time of drought, the turtles enter a time of estivation in an attempt to survive the dry conditions. Although many turtles die during drought conditions, some turtles have been reported to survive up to 160 days.
- Courtship routines
The turtles become reproductively active at age 2 or 3. Courtship and mating behavior is unique. Courtship begins when the male begins stroking the female’s carapace with his neck and limbs extended. When receptive, the female faces the male with her neck extended and they begin bobbing their heads vertically three or four times. This behavior is repeated, then mating begins when the female settles to the bottom and is mounted by the male. Near the end of mating, the male releases his grip and rotates to face the opposite direction from her. They remain attached in this position for as long as 15 minutes. During this time, the female may drag the male about. The pair then separates and copulation ends.
Nesting times occur during many periods in the year depending on habitat and location. Swampy areas with soil and exposure to sunlight are common nesting sites among these turtles. Eggs are usually laid two or three times per year in clutches of two to 16. These eggs are buried in soil for protection.
Scientific interest and potential value
- Medicinal value
The shell of this species is believed to be of medicinal value in both China and India. The shell is burnt and ground with oil to produce a medicine in China used to treat certain types of skin diseases. In India, the shell is used to make a remedy believed to be a medicine for tuberculosis.
Specific dangers and threats to species survival
- Economic and environmental factors
In many South Asia provinces, freshwater turtles and their eggs are commonly used as a source of food and protein. As a result, these turtles are often exploited as a source of profit. In Bangladesh and India, this is especially evident as the Indian flapshell turtle is larger and has more meat than other turtles in the area. The value of this meat along with the efforts in the conservation of this species has driven the price of meat higher and has led to an increase in the illegal international exploitation and killing of these animals. Changes to the turtle's natural habitat by the construction of dams and barrages, cultivation along river banks and pollution are also major threats to the survival of this turtle.
Care sheet and additional information
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- Verma, Anil K. and D. N. Sahi. 1998 Status, range extension and ecological notes on Indo-Gangetic flapshell turtle, Lissemys punctata andersoni (Testudines: Trionychidae) in Jammu shiwaliks, J&K State. Cobra. 34 (Oct.-Dec.):6-9
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