What kind of turtle is this?
October 18, 2013 6:47 AM   Subscribe

What kind of turtle is this that my friend found crossing the street in Manila? He brought the turtle to me knowing that my house is practically already an animal sanctuary, and not wanting it left in traffic, but I know nothing about turtles. It has a pointy nose and a relatively soft, tapered shell, and I assume it's a freshwater turtle? But it was found in Manila, in the street, nowhere near any ponds or lakes.
posted by ferdinandcc to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
Kind of looks like a spiny softshell turtle.

I don't know anything about turtles. I just happened to see a spiny softshell recently and he looked like yours.
posted by phunniemee at 6:52 AM on October 18, 2013

If I had to wager, I would say the Malayan softshell turtle (Dogania subplana). The locale of the Philippines really helps narrow it down because there are only a handful of turtles species there.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:52 AM on October 18, 2013

Response by poster: Wikipedia says the Malayan softshell turtle has red markings along the sides of the neck, but I don't see those on this one. Googling "softshell turtle philippines" shows the Cantor's Great, which is endangered and I find it hard to believe I've got an endangered turtle in my possession, found just roamin' around Manila. But who knows? One thing I've discovered in my Google searches is that all softshell turtles seem to be very similar to this one, and yet about as different from this one as they are to each other (even ones of the same species). For a non-turtle-expert, it's very tricky to ID.
posted by ferdinandcc at 7:05 AM on October 18, 2013

The Wikipedia article states, "Juveniles are reddish on the sides of the neck, and have a few round black spots (ocelli) on the carapace. These markings become obscure as the turtles age." Not to argue the point since I am not a turtle expert, but you shouldn't expect to see the red marking if it isn't a juvenile.

You may wish to consult with your local university if you are determined to ID the turtle.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:12 AM on October 18, 2013

Chinese softshell turtle?
posted by Empidonax at 7:17 AM on October 18, 2013

I find it hard to believe I've got an endangered turtle in my possession, found just roamin' around Manila. But who knows?

Especially if it is a rare turtle, it is possible that it was not walking down the urban street because it meandered away from its natural habitat but because it somehow got loose from some kind of animal selling/transporting enterprise, covert and illegal or not.
posted by third rail at 7:20 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Did you know you can upload a photo & sighting info to platforms such as ispot or project Noah (iphone app) & crowdsource the species identification? Scientists & citizens are on those message boards documenting and exploring new species discoveries, its pretty cool. While their platforms are global, I don't know about their coverage of Manila. But there are a lot of herpetologists on there (pro and hobbyists) so turnaround time can be incredibly fast.
posted by iiniisfree at 8:04 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: IAAH (I am a herpetologist)

That is certainly a softshell turtle, and there are 2 species in the Philippines plus 1 that is introduced (it's common in the food trade and farmed all over Asia).

It's unlikely to be Cantor's giant softshell (Pelochelys cantorii), and it really doesn't look like one. That leaves us with two choices (unless it's something else from the pet/food trade that got loose, in which case there are a lot more options).

Dogania sublana (the Malayan softshell) is quite common and is likely what you have (these turtles can be pretty variable in their markings, so it's hard to tell from just photos sometimes and individuals also vary a lot as they reach maturity). Alternately, it can be the introduced Chinese softshell, Pelodiscus sinensis. They don't usually get as big though as Dogania, so based on the coloring and from what I can tell of the size, I'd agree with Tanizaki that is what you have there. Neither of the other two species tend to have much markings on them as adults, although young ones may.

Regardless, softshell turtles are not very good captives, unless you have A LOT of space (like your own small pond or a very, very large aquarium) and excellent filtration. They are very, very susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections, and I used to work at a facility with a Dogania that got them all the time, despite being kept quite clean. Additionally, every species of softshell I've met is nasty to deal with-they bite like crazy, it hurts, and their necks can get their heads so far back, there's no super safe way to hang on to one easily (they are so slippery!). If you feel confident after further research that it is Dogania, I would find a place to release it-it will be fairly unhappy in any tank/cage, it is highly aquatic (will eventually dry out if it's out of water for too long), and is also very carnivorous, so it needs to eat fish (probably happy with dead ones if you want to try feeding it), small mammals, insects, etc.

If you can contact a local herpetologist, maybe at a university, you might be able to get a 100% positive id on it being Dogania sublana and take it from there. Good luck!
posted by PinkPoodle at 10:17 AM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: So I should probably stop letting it sleep in bed with me. Good to know. ;) (Just kidding! I just got him shortly before posting the question.)

I'm going to try to find a pond to release it in tomorrow when I wake up... Thank you very much! I always get such great answers here.
posted by ferdinandcc at 10:37 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Happy to help! Just one more FYI in case it's relevant-softshells I have known are also pretty good escape artists. That Dogania that I knew would occasionally hook his neck up over the side of his tank, gain some purchase, and hoist himself out-only to fall into a much larger tank next door to him with an even larger species of softshell called Amyda , luckily the Aymda was not interested in him. Looking at the set up, you would never think this turtle could pull that off. Anyway, just in case you're holding him in something with low sides...be aware he might try to sneak off in the middle of the night!

Hurray for turtles!
posted by PinkPoodle at 10:49 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

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