Welcome to a blog now shared by one, two, um... four people. Wipe your shoes off on the mat and delve into the posts featuring rants, museum pictures, and some cool facts. Nerds of all kinds welcome.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Those Intrepid Trionychines

Apologies for the long delay, with Paleofest and several other events, I've been rather busy and unable to update (hence, I need to stop making promises). When we left off, we were covering softshell turtles, and now we move on to the trionychine softshell turtles.

It's genetics.

Due to the entirely enormous subfamily of trionychines, which is primarily Asian, I decided to separate this post not by genera but by location.

(in order, except for the Yangtze softshell, which is at the upper right due to convenience, expand to see them... larger)
  • Amyda cartilaginea, the only surviving member of Amyda could be called the nominate Asian softshell, considering its common name is actually the Asiatic softshell turtle (though it is also called the black-rayed softshell) and it is found in fifteen countries. 
  • Chitra chitra, the Asian narrow-headed softshell, is a critically endangered but beautiful turtle found in Indonesia and Thailand. The narrow-headed softshell is rather huge, attaining carapace (upper shell) lengths of 5ft.
  • Chitra indica, as indicated by its name, is known as the Indian narrow-headed softshell, and as also obvious, is found in India (as well as Pakistan).
  • Chitra vanijki, is found only in Myanmar, known as the Burmese narrow-headed softshell (rather redundant by now). Its conservation status is unknown.
  • Dogania subplana, is another of one the many Asian softshell species. Commonly known as the Malayan softshell, this rather common turtle is also rather small, only reaching 14in in carapace length (in comparison, Snappy, the site's unofficial snapping turtle mascot, is only a few years old and has a 7in carapace). It is a monotypic species that lives in upland bodies of water.
  • Nilssonia formosa, the Burmese peacock softshell, becomes the harbinger of the many Nilssonia species ahead (two "s's", not "l's" or "n's", mistakes I have already made in typing the genus name twice). As the name suggests, it is found in Burma.
  • Nilssonia gangetica, is an exquisitely patterned (with five eyespots on its carapace) creature known as the Indian softshell. Though its species name refers to the Ganges River, it is also found in the Indus and Mahanadi Rivers. 
  • Nilssonia hurum, the Indian peacock softshell, found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan, is a moderate-sized turtle, about 2ft in length on average.
  • Nilssonia leithii, the Leith's softshell turtle, is found in the Bhavani, Godavari, and the Moyar Rivers in peninsular India.
  • Nilssonia nigricans, is (FINALLY) the last of the Nilssonia genus, called the black softshell turtle. Sadly, this handsome beast is extinct in the wild, originally native to the Brahmaputra (fun fact: the 7th river mentioned so far) but now only found in a manmade pond in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Known to locals as the mazari, the black softshell, of which there are 300 left, cannot be taken from the pond, even for conservation issues. The Mazar Committee, the caretakers of the turtles, believe them to be descendants of the sinners turned into turtles by a saint in the 13th century. Interesting tale, but disappointingly it probably won't save the species.
  • Palea steindachneri (organising this by location might have been a worse idea) is referred to as the wattle-necked softshell turtle. Like the black softshell and the Asian narrow-headed softshell, it is endangered as well, endemic to the Indochina region, but also introduced to Hawaii and Mauritius. Similar to the Malayan softshell, it is monotypic.
  • Pelochelys cantorii, the Cantor's giant softshell is aptly named, because this species is, well, giant. The largest individuals are an enormous 6ft long (Stupendemys, the largest turtle in history, is 12ft in comparison) but are still rather ridiculous looking, appearing almost as roadkill splattered on the road. An ambush predator, it spends 95% of its life buried under mud, silt, and sand. It too is endangered.
  • Pelodiscus sinensis, the Chinese softshell turtle, is probably the most common of its genus, one which we'll thankfully never see after we're done with Asia. Only a foot long, it is not to be confused with Amyda cartilaginea, as both are called the Asiatic softshell turtle. It is commonly agreed to be natively found in China, Russia, Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam, but its native range is hard to determine due to being used for food and tonics. It has been introduced to five other Asian countries, as well as Guam, Hawaii, California, and Virginia. Quite the traveler. 
  • Pelodiscus axenaria, the Hunan softshell turtle is found only in, you guessed it, the Hunan Province of China. Its conservation status is unknown.
  • Pelodiscus parviformis, the lesser Chinese softshell, is apparently lesser than the Chinese because it is only found in China. What a sentence of Chinese proportions.
  • Pelodiscus maacki, the northern Chinese softshell, is found in China, Russia, and Korea, overlapping parts of its range with the Chinese. 
  • Rafetus euphracticus, is thankfully the 2nd to last turtle to cover here. Endangered, the Euphrates softshell is found only in the famed Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, on which Mesopotamia was settled. It reaches 3ft long.
  • Rafetus swinhoei, the Yangtze giant softshell, also called Swinhoe's softshell turtle, is a rather large turtle (39in) that lives up to Spock's famous phrase "live long and prosper". Critically endangered, a fertile female from the Changsha Zoo will hopefully mate with the only known male in Chinese, whom are 80 and 100 years old respectively. With their low metabolisms, ability to fast, long lifespans, and long spans of fertility, its no wonder turtles and tortoises were able to survive the K-Pg. Some suggest a third species, the Hoan Kiem turtle, of which only one living individual is known.
  • Pelochelys bibroni, common name being the New Guinea giant softshell turtle, is found in Papua New Guinea and West Papua. It is the 2nd largest of the Pelochelys genus, being surpassed only by the Cantor's giant softshell of Asia. It is shown at right.
  • Pelochelys signifera, is known as the Northern New Guinea softshell, also found on both parts of the New Guinea island. Considering P. cantorii is the largest and P. bibroni is the 2nd largest, this is the 3rd largest and smallest, and also means I've run out of facts (distracting dance incoming). 
  • Trionyx triunguis is the only trionychine found in Africa, usually referred to as the Nile softshell turtle. The only living member of the once large Trionyx genus, it is the fifth African softshell I mentioned in the last post. It can also be found in the Near East.
North America:

  • Apalone ferox, the Florida softshell turtle is a widely known pet turtle found namely in Florida as well as Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. It is one of the fastest turtles on land. Nearly 30in long, they are the largest of the genus.
  • Apalone mutica, the smooth softshell turtle is the smallest of the genus but the one I remember most, after seeing one getting extremely pissed after being caught on a fishing line. It is the only softshell without ridges in the nostrils.
  • Apalone spinifera, the spiny softshell is named for the spine-like projections on the leading edge of the carapace. It has the widest range of the genus, being found not only through much of the US, but also in Ontario, Quebec, and several Mexican states. It has been described and redescribed dozens of times.
Sometime in the future (as I cannot make promises), we'll move on to unique turtles, including the big-headed turtle.

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