Gulf snapping turtle

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Gulf snapping turtle
E lavarackorum 2.jpg
Elseya lavarackorum
Not evaluated (IUCN 2.3)
Scientific classification
E. lavarackorum
Binomial name
Elseya lavarackorum
(White & Archer, 1994)[1]

see text

The Gulf snapping turtle or Lavaracks' turtle (Elseya lavarackorum) is a large species of freshwater turtle in the sidenecked family Chelidae.[3] The species is specific to northern Australia in northwest Queensland and northeast Northern Territory.[4] The species, similar to other members of the Australian snapping turtles in genus Elseya, only comes ashore to lay eggs and bask.[5] The Gulf snapping turtle is a herbivore and primarily consumes pandanus and figs.[6]


The specific name, lavarackorum (genitive plural), is in honor of Australian paleontologists Jim Lavarack and Sue Lavarack who discovered the fossil remains of this species.[7]


The species was first described in 1994 as Emydura lavarackorum after fossil material was found in Riversleigh in northwest Queensland.[1] It was later demonstrated anatomically that because of its anterior bridge struts that it actually belonged to the genus Elseya and further to a living, although undescribed form.[4] The species was also declared at this time to be Australia's first living fossil freshwater turtle and an extant population of a Pleistocene taxon.[4] The latter gained significant public attention to this species after a story was published in Discover Magazine in January 1997.[8] After placing this species in the correct genus, it was possible to look at the deeper phylogeny of the Elseya. This species lends its name to the group within the Elseya known as the Queensland Elseya or Elseya lavarackorum group.[9] This is a unique group of species that includes Elseya lavarackorum along with Elseya albagula and Elseya irwini, and all three are divergent from the Elseya dentata group.[3][4][9]


  • Emydura lavarackorum —White & Archer, 1994
    • Elseya lavarackorum —Thomson, White & Georges, 1997
    • Elseya lavarakorum —Cann, 1998 (ex errore)
    • Elseya lavackorum —Georges & Thomson, 2006 (ex errore)
    • Elseya dentata lavarackorum — Artner, 2008
    • Elseya (Pelocomastes) lavarackorum — comb. nova. Thomson et al. 2015[10]


The turtle is a large, brown to dark brown, short-necked turtle. Its carapace, or upper shell, reaches 35 centimetres (14 in) in length; it has an undulating suture between the hemeral and pectoral shields in the white plastron, or under shell.[11] The undulating (rather than straight) suture in the plastron distinguishes it from the northern snapping turtle (Elseya dentata).[6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The turtle is restricted to rivers draining into the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory and Queensland. These rivers range from the Nicholson to Calvert River systems in the Northern Territory to the Gregory River in Queensland.[6][11]


The turtles are primarily herbivorous and eat fruits, flowers, leaves, bark and Pandanus roots, and the juveniles also eat insect larvae. Figs are also an important food for the turtles. Despite their usually herbivorous diet, these turtles are readily trapped using meat as bait. Their eggs are laid in soil near the edge of the water.[6]

Status and conservation[edit]

The turtle is listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act 1992,[12] as Vulnerable under Queensland's Nature Conservation Act 1992, and as of Least Concern under the Northern Territory's Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2000.[11]

The main threats to the turtle include disturbance to nesting sites by feral animals such as pigs, habitat destruction by grazing and watering cattle, and potentially through changes to hydrology, disturbance, and climate change.[11] In addition to these main threats, they've been shown to sometimes get caught in fishing nets.[6]


  1. ^ a b White, A.; Archer, M. (1994). "Emydura lavarackorum, a new Pleistocene turtle (Pleurodira: Chelidae) from fluviatile deposits at Riversleigh, Northwestern Queensland". Records of the South Australian Museum. 27: 159–167.
  2. ^ Fritz, Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 329. ISSN 1864-5755. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 December 2010. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  3. ^ a b Georges, A., & Thomson, S. 2010. Diversity of Australasian freshwater turtles, with an annotated synonymy and keys to species. Zootaxa 2496: 1–37.
  4. ^ a b c d Thomson, S.A.; White, A.; Georges, A. (30 June 1997). "Re-evaluation of Emydura lavarackorum: identification of a living fossil" (PDF). Memoirs of the Queensland Museum. 42: 327–336. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 July 2008.
  5. ^ Cann, J 1998, Australian freshwater turtles, Beaumont, Singapore.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Threatened Species of the Northern Territory: Gulf Snapping Turtle" (PDF). John Woinarski (compiler). Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, Northern Territory. May 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 October 2009. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
  7. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael. 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Elseya lavarackorum, p. 152).
  8. ^ Zimmer, C. 1997. Shell Game Discover Magazine 1997(1)
  9. ^ a b Thomson, S., Georges, A. and C. Limpus (2006). A New Species of Freshwater Turtle in the Genus Elseya (Testudines: Chelidae) from Central Coastal Queensland, Australia. Chelon. Conserv. Biol. 5 (1): 74–86. PDF fulltext Archived 29 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Thomson, S., Amepou, Y., Anamiato, J. & Georges, A. 2015. A new species and subgenus of Elseya (Testudines: Pleurodira: Chelidae) from New Guinea. Zootaxa 4006(1):59-82. Preview (PDF)
  11. ^ a b c d "Approved Conservation Advice for Elseya lavarackorum (Gulf snapping turtle)" (PDF). Department of the Environment and Water Resources, Australia. 3 July 2008. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
  12. ^ "Elseya lavarackorum — Gulf Snapping Turtle". Species Profile and Threats Database. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. 12 February 2010.

Further reading[edit]