Species: Western swamp turtle (Pseudemydura umbrina)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: The western swamp turtle is the only turtle species that digs its nest with its front legs rather than its back ones.
The western swamp turtle is the most endangered reptile in Australia, where it is found only in a tiny area on the edge of Perth. It inhabits shallow, temporary swamps that only fill during the autumn rains. The western swamp turtle is inactive during the dry summer months, remaining dormant in a hole in the soil or under leaf litter or fallen branches. This species eats only live prey, such as insect larvae, worms and tadpoles, and is unusual in that it produces just one small clutch of three to five eggs each year. The western swamp turtle is long lived, potentially reaching ages of 60 to 70 years.
Although it has always had a restricted distribution, the western swamp turtle has undergone a serious decline in recent decades due to the drainage of its swamps and predation by the introduced red fox (Vulpes vulpes). The slow reproductive rate of this species hampers its recovery, and only one viable wild population remains, with two others now maintained by reintroductions. Fortunately, the sites where this turtle still survives are protected as nature reserves, and fox-proof fences have been erected to protect the turtles. A captive breeding programme for the western swamp turtle is also underway at Perth Zoo.
Find out more about the conservation of freshwater turtles at Conservation International – Freshwater turtles, the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and Turtle Survival Alliance.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author