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Common Name: Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle

Scientific Name: Erymnochelys madagascariensis


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Testudines

Family: Podocnemididae

Genus: Erymnochelys

Species: E. madagascariensis


Were you aware that the Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle was near extinction? They are the thirteenth most endangered turtle. The Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle can grow to be 50 centimeters long. They have a hard, dark-brown shell to protect their soft bodies. The babies have a delicate pattern on their shell, but as they age the pattern disappears. One of the identifying characteristics of the Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle is their abnormally large head. When the big-headed turtle withdraws its head into its shell, the neck will bend sideways. The neck is long so they can draw breath at the water surface without exposing the rest of their body to potential predators.


The Madagascar Big-Headed turtles are found in the western lowlands of Madagascar. In that specific area they are found in the fresh water areas such as, permanent slow moving rivers, backwaters, and lakes. The hatchlings and juveniles will move into small rivers and even rice paddy fields. Here they can grow quickly and then return to larger bodies of water to breed when mature. The Big-Headed turtle is highly aquatic and rarely ventures onto land except to lay eggs. They prefer logs, rocks, or banks of land surrounded by water when they bask in the sun.


The Big-Headed Turtle eats plants, fruits, flowers, and leaves of plants hanging over the water. They occasionally feed on vertebrate. One of the reasons they are becoming extinct is because the people of Madagascar eat the turtle in large amounts. The turtle is easily caught in fishing nets, fish traps, and hook and line. The people there began to illegally export the turtles to Asia for their medicine market, thereby causing a more rapid decline in these turtles.


Now Madagascar is over-developing their land for agriculture and this is causing the destruction of the Big-Headed turtles natural habitat. The Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle population is shrinking dramatically because of the destruction of their natural habitat and the excessive black market selling to Asia. Adding this destruction to the already low population of the turtles in Madagascar and they will soon be non-existent.


One thing that stood out to me was that the Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle sometimes eats vertebrates. While studying about the Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle, I found out that some people are trying to help them from becoming extinct. They are doing this by setting up newly protected areas for the turtles and by breeding them themselves.


Author: Paige S

Date Published 02/2007


Sources: madagascariensis/more

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