The Yellow-Spotted Sideneck Turtle (Terecay, Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtle), Podocnemis unifilis, and several relatives were popular pets in the 1970’s, but soon became unavailable due to over-collection (largely for the food trade) and the resulting limitations on importations. Australian sidenecks soon filled the void, and remain in the spotlight today.
However, captive breeding efforts are beginning to show some promise, and the yellow-spotted and other South American species are poised, it seems, to re-enter the per trade. These sizable turtles are not for everyone, but we need to learn more about them…hobbyists with some experience and space might help greatly in that regard. Hopefully the following information will help you to decide.
Sideneck turtles are classified in the Testudine sub-order Pleurodira, while all other turtles are placed in the sub-order Cryptodira. Approximately 75 species of sideneck turtles are found in Australia (where they form the vast majority of the aquatic turtle fauna), South America east of the Andes, sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar.
The vast majority of the world’s turtles draw their heads straight back into the shell, largely concealing it within. Sideneck turtles retract their heads on an angle, so that the head is pointing sideways when withdrawn, and both it and the neck remain partially exposed. This limits the protective value of the shell, and may explain why there are no terrestrial sideneck turtles (mammalian predators would easily prey upon them) and why, outside of Australia, they have been largely out-competed by typical aquatic turtles.
The domed carapace (upper shell) averages 12 inches in length, although particularly large females can attain 18 inches. The shell is attractively colored in muted olive, gray or brown, and bright yellow-orange spots mark the head. These fade with age but often remain discernable through adulthood.
Males are the smaller sex and have spotted heads with greenish eyes while females have plain, buff-colored heads and black eyes.
This turtle inhabits northern and central South America, including the Caribbean drainages of Guyana, French Guiana, Venezuela and Columbia. It also occurs in the upper tributaries of the Amazon River in Columbia, southern Venezuela, eastern Ecuador, northeastern Peru, northern Bolivia and Brazil. There are unconfirmed reports of small populations in Trinidad and Tobago.
Yellow-spotted sidenecks favor quiet, slow-moving waters such as ponds, lakes, swamps, flooded llanos (grasslands), oxbows and the backwaters of larger rivers.
Status in the Wild
This species’ status is largely unknown, but it is collected in many areas for food. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES and designated as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN.
Click: The Yellow-Spotted Sideneck Turtle , Podocnemis unifilis, in the Wild and Captivity: Natural History – Part 2, to read the second part of this article.
Image referenced from Wikipedia.