Creature Corner, Vol. 1

I want to do a series of posts about animals that I find interesting/weird/uncommon/etc. The animal that will be starting this exploration is

Cantor’s Giant Soft-Shell Turtle

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(On the street it’s also called a frog-faced soft-shell turtle.) The name is in honor Theodore Edward Cantor, a Danish zoologist who was known for describing many new species of reptiles and amphibians. Scientifically, this turtle is known as Pelochelys cantorii, and for those needing a little brush up on their binomial nomenclature, that is the genus and species respectively.

Also known as an Asian giant soft-shell turtle (sounding a little less majestic in my opinion), this turtle could be found in many Asian countries, such as India, China, Thailand, Laos, etc. Since it’s a freshwater species, the habitat is primarily inland slow-moving freshwater rivers and streams. Interestingly, this species is not found in New Guinea, however two other members of the genus Pelochelys are restricted to New Guinea.

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While the largest recorded length of the carapace (a fancy word for shell) is 183 cm (6 feet), the average length of the shell is only about 100 cm (a little over 3 feet). These turtles also weigh around 100 lbs.

This turtle is carnivorous, with a diet consisting of crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and human babies. (Just kidding about the human babies, seriously!) 95% percent of this creature’s life is spent buried and motionless in sand, surfacing only twice a day to take a breath! (Much like one of my roommates who only leaves their room twice a day.. HA!) These turtles lay about 20-28 eggs, usually around February or March.

Sadly, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorized this species as endangered. However, in 2007 a nesting ground in Cambodia was discovered, which gives hope that this giant can be saved from extinction.

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As a side note, this particular animal is often confused with Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles (Rafetus swinhoei), which IUNC has categorized as critically endangered. In fact, only a few days ago one was found dead in Vietnam. Scientists believe that this leaves only 3 known living specimens: one in a protected lake in Hanoi, and a pair at the Suzhou Zoo in China. This turtle played a key role in Vietnam’s mythology, symbolizing Vietnam’s independence struggle. Many people fear that the death is a bad omen for upcoming changes in the ruling Communist Party. State media has said the turtles’ body is being held in a temple on a small island on the lake while an official decision on what to do is made; embalming is being considered.

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