East African Black Mud Turtle

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Species group:

Other common names: African Mud Turtle

Scientific name: Pelusios subniger

The basics:
The East African Mud Turtle inhabits much of eastern Africa, from Burundi and Tanzania south and west to Congo, Zambia and Botswana. It also occurs on Madagascar and the Seychelles, and has been introduced to Mauritius. The Seychelles population is considered to be a distinct subspecies. Largely aquatic, it lives in well-vegetated rivers, marshes, swamps and seasonally flooded pans within savannas. Individuals occupying temporary water bodies burrow into the mud and aestivate (become dormant) or travel across land when their habitats dry out.

Appearance / health:
These broad, oval-shaped turtles average 6-8 inches in length. The carapace is dark brown to black in color.

Behavior / temperament:
African Mud Turtles evolved in harsh environments, and with proper care are among the hardiest of reptile pets; longevities in excess of 30 years have been recorded. In time, most will rush over for food when you approach the aquarium. All turtles are capable of administering powerful bites and scratches when frightened, and must be handled carefully. African Mud Turtles are rather aggressive, and must be watched carefully if housed in pairs or groups; males fight viciously and cannot be kept together.

African Mud Turtles spend most of their time foraging in the shallows, are not active swimmers. The water in their aquarium should be of a depth that allows the turtle to breath while it is standing on the bottom of the tank (i.e. without having to swim to the surface). The aquarium should be equipped with a basking site, UVB bulb, heater, and powerful filtration. A 30-55 gallon aquarium will suit an average adult. Bare-bottomed tanks are preferable, as gravel greatly complicates cleaning. Ambient water temperature: 78-82 F; Basking temperature: 90-95 F

Turtles are messy feeders, and quickly foul even well-filtered aquariums. Removing your pets to a plastic storage container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload and help to maintain good water quality. Partial water changes (i.e. 50 % weekly) are also very useful. Filters designed specifically for turtles, if serviced regularly, are usually preferable to those marketed for use with tropical fish. Some folks find it easier to maintain their aquatic turtles in plastic storage containers that can easily be emptied and rinsed.

The African Mud Turtle’s natural diet includes fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, frogs and freshwater crabs, along with some aquatic vegetation. Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as earthworms, snails, pre-killed pink mice, crayfish, prawn, minnows and shiners, along with kale, dandelion and other greens. Goldfish should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other turtle species. Super mealworms, roaches, crickets and other insects may be used to add variety to the diet. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 50% of the diet. A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes and similar foods.

Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention always leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). The 6 -18 eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 82-85 F for 55-80 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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