Sunday, February 11, 2007

Heroes in a Soft Shell

I want to thank people for beginning to send in suggestions. I will get to them soon enough, but I want to step away from mammals for a bit. I had thought of the Ohio soft-shelled turtles, and encountered the matamata online, but neither was endangered. Every time I see a perfectly ugly animal that is not endangered, I get a little disappointed, and then feel bad for wishing this animal was endangered just so I could write about it.

Image from Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe
Image from Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe

The Nile Soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx triunguis), also known as the African Softshell turtle, lives up to its name well. It lives in slow-moving freshwater rivers in northern Africa and along the Mediterranean, one such being the Nile, though the populations in Turkey are the largest. The shell on these turtles, and others like it, is in fact, soft. They rely more on stealth for protection and hunting than their hard-shelled brethren. They will lie, covered in sand with just their snout sticking out of the substrate, as both a protective and ambush method.

Not that the Nile softshell is picky about what it eats. They hunt fish and snails, mostly, and some aquatic arthropods, amphibians and reptiles. That’s only what they’ll hunt. They’ll eat palm nuts and dates, and there’s apparently a report of four of them feeding on a goat carcass. Unlike many of the soft-shelled turtles, the Nile softshell will live in the brackish water found at mouths of the rivers it inhabits. Nests are dug in banks along the river, or, for the ones closer to sea, on the sandy beaches.

Much like the solenodon, these took quite some time after being described in the 1800s to be rediscovered in the 1970’s. Their population is terribly fragmented, so there is little genetic interchange between sub-populations. Major threats to the Nile soft-shelled turtle include habitat destruction, as tourists develop where the turtles nest; issues with fisheries, since they are both caught in the nets, and will actively attack the nets to get at the fish; and human disturbance, such as boat traffic, affects their breeding habits.

There are certainly people worried about the Nile soft-shelled turtle, as I found conservation reports, and many scientific papers on their habits and phylogenies. The issue is finding them on broad enough topics for me to give you a picture of their lifestyle.


Greg said...

Animals do the craziest things. I love the part about goat-eating . . . I never would have imagined. But then again, there's lot's of things out there that I haven't imagined. Great post.

Alex Zeevy said...

I was in the North of Israel just yesterday and was lucky enough to encounter these amazingly strange animals. They apparently have very poor eyesight and will mostly rely on they're snouts to look for food. They aren't afraid of people and can be pet, which is pretty cool (they mostly want the food). Yes, they will eat anything that might be remotely edible, dead or alive, and might even try to nibble on unsuspecting toes, but no harm done. I also noticed they are extremely agile and fast. Cool blog! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Just come home from a holiday in Dalyan, Turkey. THere are lots of these turtles in the DAlyan river, but sadly, attracted by the chicken pieces one of the local restaurants has thrown into the river each morning to attract customers. What do you all think about this?