Gulf snapping turtle

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Gulf snapping turtle
E lavarackorum 2.jpg
Elseya lavarackorum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Pleurodira
Family: Chelidae
Subfamily: Chelodininae
Genus: Elseya
Species: E. lavarackorum
Binomial name
Elseya lavarackorum
(White & Archer, 1994)[2]
  • Emydura lavarackorum White & Archer, 1994
  • Elseya lavarackorum Thomson, White & Georges, 1997
  • Elseya lavarakorum Cann, 1998 (ex errore)
  • Elseya lavackorum Georges & Thomson, 2006 (ex errore)

The Gulf snapping turtle or Lavarack's turtle (Elseya lavarackorum) is a large species of freshwater turtle in the sidenecked family Chelidae.[4] It is endemic to northern Australia in north-west Queensland and north-east Northern Territory.[5] The species is totally aquatic coming ashore to lay eggs and bask only, as is typical of the members of the Australian snapping turtles (Elseya).[6] The Gulf snapping turtle is chiefly a herbivore consuming pandanus and figs.[7]


The species was first described in 1994, as Emydura lavarackorum, from fossil material from Riversleigh in North West Queensland.[2] It was later demonstrated on the basis of the anatomy of the anterior bridge struts that it actually belonged to the genus Elseya and further to a living, although undescribed form.[5] 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.[5] The later managed significant public attention to this species with a story appearing in Discover Magazine in January, 1997.[8]

After placing this species in the correct genus it became possible to look at the deeper phylogeny of the Elseya and 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 that are all highly divergent from the Elseya dentata group.[4][5][9]


The turtle is a large, brown to dark brown, short-necked turtle. Its carapace, or upper shell, reaches 35 centimetres (14 in) in length;[1] it has an undulating suture between the hemeral and pectoral shields in the white plastron, or under shell.[10] The undulating (rather than straight) suture in the plastron distinguishes it from the northern snapping turtle (Elseya dentata).[7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The turtle is restricted to rivers draining into the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory and Queensland, from the Nicholson to Calvert River systems in the Northern Territory, to the Gregory River in Queensland.[7][10]


The turtles are mainly herbivorous, eating fruits, flowers, leaves, bark and Pandanus roots, with the juveniles also eating insect larvae. Figs may be an important food. They are readily trapped using meat as bait. Their eggs are laid in soil near the edge of the water.[7]

Status and conservation[edit]

The turtle is listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act 1992,[1] 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.[10]

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.[10] They are sometimes caught in fishing nets.[7]


  1. ^ a b c "Elseya lavarackorum — Gulf Snapping Turtle". Species Profile and Threats Database. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. 12 February 2010. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Fritz Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 329. ISSN 18640-5755. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Georges, A. & Thomson, S. 2010. Diversity of Australasian freshwater turtles, with an annotated synonymy and keys to species. Zootaxa 2496: 1–37.
  5. ^ a b c d Thomson, S.A.; White, A.; & Georges, A. (1997-06-30). "Re-evaluation of Emydura lavarackorum: identification of a living fossil" (PDF). Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 42: 327–336. 
  6. ^ Cann, J 1998, Australian freshwater turtles, Beaumont, Singapore.
  7. ^ 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. Retrieved 8 January 2010. 
  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
  10. ^ 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. 

Further reading[edit]