Also known as the Fly River turtle, the Pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) is undoubtedly one of the
strangest turtles in the world. Unlike any other freshwater turtle, it possesses flippers resembling those of marine
turtles. This turtle gets its descriptive name, "pig-nosed," because its nose actually resembles that of a pig. Its
nostrils are located directly in front of the fleshy, protruding snout.
The carapace and limb color of the Pig-nosed turtle may be gray to olive. Plastral color is very light, either
white, cream or yellowish. Males can be distinguished from females by their much larger tails which have the vent
located near the tip. This turtle grows to be very large, attaining a maximum weight of 49.5 lbs (22.5 kg) and a
maximum length of 22 inches (56.3 cm) [Georges and Rose, 1993].
The distribution of the Pig-nosed turtle is limited to northern Australia, southern Irian Jaya and southern New
Guinea. Typical habitat includes rivers, estuaries, lagoons, lakes, swamps and pools. Most Pig-nosed turtles have been
found in waterways having sand and gravel bottoms covered with silt, and averaging a depth of six feet. The banks of
these waterways are typically heavily forested. Two areas in which this turtle has been studied are the Fly River area
in southern New Guinea and the Daly River in northern Australia.
As with many turtles in remote locations, the Pig-nosed turtle was once believed to be extremely rare. Although
exact population numbers are not currently available, it is known to be very common in its range. But, there have been
recent reports of population declines in some areas in which the species was once abundant. Because of this, Australia
has protected this turtle from exploitation. However, New Guinea has not implemented any conservation measures.
Because of its protection in Australia, the Pig-nosed turtle has rarely been available on dealer lists in the United
States. However, I am aware of dealers in Japan and other countries which frequently offer Pig-nosed turtles for sale.
Because of their large size, adult Pig-nosed turtles require and large pool or pond in captivity. Smaller
individuals may be kept in aquaria. Aquatic plants and underwater hiding spots are preferred. Water temperature must
be kept between 79° F (26.1° C) and 86° F (30° C). Water quality is vital to successfully keeping this species.
High-quality filtration systems such as UV and/or biological systems must be provided. Failure to maintain excellent
water quality will inevitably lead to fungal or bacterial skin disorders. There is no need to provide a basking spot
for the Pig-nosed turtle; it is entirely aquatic. Access to land must be provided for adult females so they may nest.
Clutches of eggs typically number between seven and 39 eggs.
Although Pig-nosed turtles are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter; they prefer more plant
matter than animal matter in the wild. Their natural diet centers around the fruit and leaves of the wild fig.
Captives thrive on a diet of figs, apples, kiwi fruit and bananas, as well as occasional pieces of fish and shrimp.
Some successful keepers of Pig-nosed turtles have found that starting hatchlings on a diet of Reptomin and later
introducing Purina trout chow works very well. Some have also found these turtles to be very fond of mealworms and
pinky mice. Typically, these keepers provide three feedings per week. After feedings, it is a good idea to remove any
uneaten food particles from the water with a net to help keep the water clean.
**Very little captive breeding has occurred with this species, but some keepers have indicated to me that
they are hopeful that this situation will turn around in the next few years. Those keepers who have artificially
incubated the eggs of Pig-nosed turtles have found them to exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination, i.e. sex
is determined by the temperature at which the eggs were incubated. Males are produced when eggs are incubated at a
constant temperature range of 82 - 86° F (27.7-30° C). Incubation period varies from 60 to 70 days. Growth of captive
hatchlings has proven to be very slow.
This species is known to be extremely aggressive. Therefore, it is very important to keep a low population density
in a single enclosure, as well as to provide ample hiding spots. Even young specimens exhibit extreme aggression
toward each other; they must be provided with at least as many hiding places as there are turtles. Because of its
aggressive tendencies, it is unsafe to house other turtle species in the same enclosure as the Pig-nosed turtle. Some
keepers do not even house adult male and female Pig-nosed turtles together on a continual basis because of their
extremely aggressive behavior.
Some think Pig-nosed turtles are an oddity, but I just love them. Their fluid movements are breathtaking. If you
sit in front of an aquarium with a Pig-nosed turtle gliding back and forth, I am sure you will agree that they are
truly a thing of beauty.
Cann, John, 1978. Tortoises of Australia. Angus and Robertson Publishers, Sydney, Australia. Ernst, Carl H. and Roger W. Barbour, 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC.
Georges, Arthur and Mark Rose, 1993. Conservation biology of the pig-nosed turtle. Chelonian Conservation and Biology
1: 3-12, 1993. Highfield, A. C., 1996. Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Carapace
Press, London, England. Pritchard, Peter C. H. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune, New Jersey.
**Webmasters (MJC) note: By way of clarification, there are NO published reports
of captive breeding of this species at this time (1997). The experiments on temperature-dependent sex determination mentioned in this article were performed by biologists using eggs removed from the wild.
Originally published in the Tortuga Gazette 33(3): 1-2, March 1997