The East African Sideneck Black Mud Turtle:
Good, Strong Swimmers
There are many species of African hinged terrapins, and most
do well in captivity. But the only African Turtle that is commonly kept
as a pet and sometimes bred in captivity is the East African
Sideneck Turtle. East African Sideneck Turtles are also known
as the East African Black Mud Turtle, African Mud Turtle,
Gaboon Side-neck Terrapin, or the African Helmeted Turtle.
Its scientific name is Pelusio subniger, and it is a mud
turtle from tropical Eastern Africa and Madagascar. The
African Mud Turtles are hardy, strong swimming turtles,
usually found in shallow ponds, streams, and marshes with
mud bottoms. If the conditions of its habitat get too hot,
dry, or cold, it will simply aestivate by burrowing into the
mud for weeks or even months until things change.
These turtles grow up to eight inches long as adults, and
their plastron is yellow with a dark border or variable
markings. They are able to close the front end of their
shell, protecting the head and front legs, but the back of
the shell is not hinged. The rear feet have five claws, and
the front feet four. The head is fairly large, usually brown
with gray and black spots and a lighter colored beak. When
frightened seriously they secrete a strong musk.
There are two basic types of turtle, turtles that pull their
heads all the way into their shells when frightened, and the
one quarter of all turtles that pull their necks in sideways
to the left or right. The sideneck turtles occur most often
in the Southern Hemisphere, with all Australian and most
African turtles being sidenecked.
East African Sideneck Black Mud Turtles are carnivorous, but
the young and sometimes even adults will also eat aquatic
plants such as algae and water grass. They also feed on
insects and other small water creatures, snails, small fish,
frogs and salamanders, and crabs. In captivity many do well
on commercial floating turtle food and live foods,
supplemented occasionally with low-fat dog food, trout chow,
apples or bananas, and you will also need to provide them
with a cuttlebone or other calcium source.
African Mud Turtles should not be kept with other turtle
species, as they can be aggressive. They will also kill
fish, frogs, mice, and even birds, and maybe even the
occasional finger. But they are said to tame easily and
become hardy pets that are pretty easy to keep healthy. And
because they will breed in captivity, at least in outdoor
ponds, they are a suitable species for the pet trade.
If you must keep your Gaboon Side-neck Terrapin indoors, a
juvenile will need at least a long 20 gallon vivarium.
Provide any turtle, of course, with as large a home as
possible. Your turtle needs swimming room. The water should
be at least as deep as the turtle's width, and heated by an
underwater heater to the high 70s-low 80s F. and a pH of 6
to 6.5. Filter the water well mechanically or change it
completely several times a week or you will have to deal
with shell infections. You may want to feed your African
Sideneck in a separate tank to help keep his primary habitat
You will also need to provide the tank with a basking area
of clean flat rocks with a flat piece of untreated wood on
top, and a basking light above that brings the basking area
to a temperature of about 90 degrees. On top of the tank or
at the other end your turtle needs to have a full-spectrum
reptile light to provide the necessary UVB light so that its
body can use calcium and make the necessary vitamin D3 for
healthy growth and shell formation.
Although the African Mud Turtle hasn't been well studied, in
captivity they will breed in late spring or summer, and lay
from 6 to 40 long and leathery eggs. One challenge to mating
your turtles is that there are many similar families of
turtles, and it is often hard to be sure that your male and
female are of the same species and can bear young together.
If breeding is successful, ambient temperatures control the
gender of the babies, as in some other reptiles, with more
females produced when the weather is cooler or warmer than
average and more males when temperatures are normal. The
African Side-necked Turtles are becoming more and more
popular as pets, so you can no doubt learn more about your
turtle in the online forums for turtle keepers.
All about Turtles