Sumatra, Thailand, Burma and the Malay Peninsula
Tidal areas of the estuaries of large rivers, in brackish or even salt water
Wild: Predominantly herbivorous, preferring mangrove fruits, but will take mollusks, crustaceans and fish
Zoo: 50% dark greens (endive, spinach, kale etc.), commercial turtle chow and incidental chopped fish
Incubation: 70-112 days
Clutch size: 10-30 eggs, usually 3 clutches per season
>21 years in captivity
Thought to be the largest member of the family with a shell length to about 2 feet. Carapace is somewhat domed, with smooth scutes and no serrations. Its color is uniformly olive gray or olive brown. The plastron is well developed but with smaller carapace opening, and the bridge is broad and extensively sutured to the carapace. Plastron and bridge are uniformly yellow or cream. The head is small to moderately-sized with an upturned, pointed snout and a medially notched upper jaw. Head is olive gray on top, lighter gray on the sides and bottom, with light colored jaws. All the toes are webbed with only 4 toes on the front feet. Skin is olive gray. Males have a longer, thicker tail and are somewhat smaller than the females.
Behavior: They feed with the tide, following the high tides upstream to forage and retreating to the estuaries as the tide lowers.
Reproduction: Mating occurs just prior to and at the beginning of the monsoon season when the males are in breeding color. Accounts vary regarding the color; one version states the male's head, neck and legs turn black and his iris changes from yellowish cream to pure white, the other that the nostrils become pale blue and the head an intense black changing to deep crimson at the neck and extending down the front limbs. After mating the females will often move far upstream, perhaps 50 miles to reach a breeding site. The communal nesting occurs from late December to early March on sandbars and river banks. The female may take several hours to dig a body pit up to 3 feet deep before constructing the actual 6-12 inch nest cavity. She will then lay her eggs. When she finishes the nest she scrapes sand over it and then repeatedly drops her heavy body (approx. 44 lbs.) on it. The resulting noise (tun-tonk) simultaneously made by hundreds of turtles has given rise to their other name - tuntong. The hatchlings are olive gray with round, slightly serrated carapaces with a low medial keel.
Did You Know?
- This turtle is religiously significant to and is caught by Burmese Buddhists who capture them, adorn their carapace with gold leaf and release them with great ceremony back to the wild.
- Although laws are being enacted to protect them, the large eggs are commercially valuable as a food source resulting in the animal being included on the CITES 1 and the USDI (E) lists.
Where in the Zoo?
I can be found in the following locations at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: