Chinese softshell turtle

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Not to be confused with Northern Chinese softshell turtle.
Chinese softshell turtle
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Family: Trionychidae
Subfamily: Trionychinae
Genus: Pelodiscus
Species: P. sinensis
Binomial name
Pelodiscus sinensis
(Wiegmann, 1835)[1]

See text

The Chinese softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis) is a species of turtle that was first described by Arend Friedrich August Wiegmann in 1835 as Trionyx (Aspidonectes ) sinensis. The species is also referred to as the Asiatic soft-shelled turtle. There is a subspecies, P. s. japonicus, which is sometimes erroneously listed as Pelodiscus japonica.


Pelodiscus sinensis distribution map, showing the northwestern part of its range (easterns and southern not included)

The Chinese softshell turtle can reach a carapace length of 1 ft (30 cm). It has webbed feet for swimming. They are called "softshell" because their carapace lacks horny scutes (scales). The carapace is leathery and pliable, particularly at the sides. The central part of the carapace has a layer of solid bone beneath it, as in other turtles, but this is absent at the outer edges. The light and flexible shell of these turtles allows them to move more easily in open water, or in muddy lake bottoms.[3]

The carapace of these turtles is olive in color and may have dark blotches. The plastron is orange-red, and may also have large dark blotches. The limbs and head are olive dorsally with the forelimbs lighter and the hind-limbs orange-red ventrally. There are dark flecks on the head and dark lines that radiate from the eyes. The throat is mottled and there may be small, dark bars on the lips. A pair of dark blotches is found in front of the tail as well as a black band on the posterior side of each thigh.[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Pelodiscus sinensis


The Chinese softshell turtle is found in China (including Taiwan), North Vietnam, Korea, Japan and Russia.[1][2][5]

It is difficult to determine its native range due to the long tradition of use as a food and "tonic"[6] and subsequent spread by migrating people.[4] The Chinese soft-shelled turtle has been introduced to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Timor, Batan Islands, Guam, and some of the Hawaiian Islands,[7]


Chinese softshell turtles live in fresh and brackish water.[8][9] In China these turtles are found in rivers, lakes, ponds, canals and creeks with slow currents, and in Hawaii they can be found in marshes and drainage ditches.[4]

Ecology and behavior[edit]


These turtles are predominantly carnivorous and the remains of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and seeds of marsh plants have been found in their stomachs.[4] They forage at night.


With their long snout and tubelike nostrils, these turtles can "snorkel" in shallow water.[10] When resting, they lie at the bottom, buried in sand or mud, lifting their head to breathe or snatch at prey. Their basking habit is not well developed.[4]

Chinese softshell turtles often submerge their heads in water.[10] This is because they carry a gene which produces a protein that allows them to secrete urea from their mouths. This adaptation helps them survive in brackish water by making it possible for them to excrete urea without drinking too much salty water. Rather than eliminating urea by urinating through their cloaca as most turtles do, which involves significant water loss, they simply rinse their mouths in the water.[9][11]

When provoked, certain populations of these turtles are capable of excreting a foul smelling fluid from pores on the anterior edge of their shells.[12]

Life cycle[edit]

These turtles reach sexual maturity sometime between 4 and 6 years of age. They mate at the surface or under water. A male will hold the female's carapace with its forelimbs and may bite at her head, neck, and limbs. Females may retain sperm for almost a year after copulation.[4]

The females lay 8–30 eggs in a clutch and may lay from 2 to 5 clutches each year. The eggs are laid in a nest that is about 3–4 in (76–102 mm) across at the entrance. Eggs are spherical and average about 20 mm (0.79 in) in diameter. After an incubation period of about 60 days, which may be longer or shorter depending upon temperature, the eggs hatch. Average hatchling carapace length is about 1 in (25 mm) and width is also about 1 in (25 mm).[4] Sex of the hatchlings is not determined by incubation temperature.[12]


Wild populations are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.[2]

Relations with humans[edit]

The Chinese softshell turtle is the most commonly raised species in China's turtle farms.[8][13] According to the data obtained from 684 Chinese turtle farms, they sold over 91 million turtles of this species every year; considering that these farms represented less than half of the 1,499 registered turtle farms in China, the nationwide total could be over twice as high.[14] These turtles are considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia.[10] Turtle soup is made from this species. In Japan, they may be stewed with hōtō noodles and served as a winter delicacy. Many Koreans, even today, generally have a taboo against eating turtles which has origins in native Korean Shamanism.

These turtles can be injured if they are dropped or hit, and are susceptible to shell fungus. Within Europe, the turtle is a popular pet, particularly in countries such as Italy and the Czech Republic. Captives of this species will eat canned and fresh fish, canned dog food, raw beef, mice, frogs, and chicken.[4]


  • Testudo rostrata Thunberg, 1787 (nomen suppressum)
  • Testudo striata Suckow, 1798
  • Testudo semimembranacea Hermann, 1804 (nomen suppressum et rejectum)
  • Emydes rostrataBrongniart, 1805
  • Trionyx (Aspidonectes) sinensis Wiegmann, 1834 (nomen conservandum)
  • Trionyx japonicusTemminck & Schlegel, 1835
  • Trionyx tuberculatus Cantor, 1842
  • Pelodiscus sinensisFitzinger, 1843
  • Tyrse perocellata Gray, 1844
  • Trionyx perocellatusGray, 1856
  • Trionyx schlegelii Brandt, 1857
  • Potamochelys perocellatusGray, 1864
  • Potamochelys tuberculatusGray, 1864
  • Landemania irrorata Gray, 1869
  • Landemania perocellataGray, 1869
  • Trionyx peroculatus Günther, 1869 (ex errore)
  • Gymnopus perocellatusDavid, 1872
  • Gymnopus simonii David, 1875 (nomen nudum)
  • Ceramopelta latirostris Heude, 1880
  • Cinctisternum bicinctum Heude, 1880
  • Coelognathus novemcostatus Heude, 1880
  • Coptopelta septemcostata Heude, 1880
  • Gomphopelta officinae Heude, 1880
  • Psilognathus laevis Heude, 1880
  • Temnognathus mordax Heude, 1880
  • Trionyx sinensis newtoni Bethencourt-Ferreira, 1897
  • Tortisternum novemcostatum Heude, 1880
  • Temnognanthus mordaxBoulenger, 1889
  • Tyrse sinensisHay, 1904
  • Amyda japonicaStejneger, 1907
  • Amyda schlegeliiStejneger, 1907
  • Amyda sinensisStejneger, 1907
  • Amyda tuberculataSchmidt, 1927
  • Trionyx sinensis sinensisSmith, 1931
  • Trionyx sinensis tuberculatusSmith, 1931
  • Amyda schlegelii haseri Pavlov, 1932
  • Amyda schlegelii licenti Pavlov, 1932
  • Amyda sinensis sinensisMertens, Müller & Rust, 1934
  • Amyda sinensis tuberculataMertens, Müller & Rust, 1934
  • Trionyx schlegeli Chkhikvadze, 1987 (ex errore)
  • Trionix sinensisRichard, 1999
  • Pelodiscus sinensis sinensisFerri, 2002
  • Pelodiscus sinensis tuberculatusFerri, 2002
  • Pelodiscus sinensis japonicusJoseph-Ouni, 2004



The genome of Pelodiscus sinensis was sequenced in 2013 to examine the development and evolution of the softshell turtle body plan.[16]


  1. ^ a b c Rhodin 2010, p. 000.128
  2. ^ a b c Asian Turtle Trade Working Group (2000). "Pelodiscus sinensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  3. ^ Obst, Fritz Jurgen (1998). Cogger, H. G.; Zweifel, R. G., eds. Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 117–118. ISBN 0-12-178560-2. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h C.H. Ernst, R.G.M. Altenburg & R.W. Barbour - Turtles of the World - Pelodiscus sinensis [1]
  5. ^ "Khankaisky Zapovednik". The Center for Russian Nature Conservation (CRNC). 
  6. ^ Louis A. Somma. 2009. Pelodiscus sinensis. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL. [2] Revision Date: 6/29/2004 Accessed: 15/05/2009
  7. ^ Brock, V. E. (1947). "The establishment of Trionyx sinensis in Hawaii". Copeia. 1947 (2): 142. doi:10.2307/1438656. 
  8. ^ a b Trionyx sinensis, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, retrieved 5 September 2016 
  9. ^ a b Kaufman, Rachel (12 October 2012). "Turtles Urinate Via Their Mouths—A First". National Geographic. Retrieved 14 October 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c Davies, Ella. "Chinese turtle passes waste urea through its mouth". BBC Nature. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  11. ^ Give us a kiss! The turtle that urinates through its mouth... and is a delicacy in Chinese restaurants | Mail Online
  12. ^ a b Bonin, Frank (2006). Turtles of the World. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 146–147. 
  13. ^ Dharmananda, Subhuti, Endangered species issues affecting turtles and tortoises in Chinese medicine, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon, retrieved 5 September 2016 
  14. ^ Shi, Haitao; Parham, James F; Fan, Zhiyong; Hong, Meiling; Yin, Feng (2008-01-01), "Evidence for the massive scale of turtle farming in China", Oryx, Cambridge University Press, 42, pp. 147–150, doi:10.1017/S0030605308000562, retrieved 2009-12-26 
  15. ^ Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 319–320. ISSN 1864-5755. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  16. ^ Wang Z.; Pascual-Anaya J.; Zadissa A.; et al. (2013). "The draft genomes of the soft-shell turtle and green sea turtle yield insights into the development and evolution of the turtle-specific body plan". Nature Genetics. 45 (6): 701–706. doi:10.1038/ng.2615. PMC 4000948Freely accessible. PMID 23624526. 


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