There are few turtles quite as accurately named as the Pig-nosed Turtle. From just one glance, it’s easy to see what sets this unique creature apart. That strange snout with its wide nostrils looks almost exactly like a pig’s nose transplanted onto a turtle face.
It isn’t just the nose that makes these turtles stand out – they’re full of interesting features and curious habits. Unfortunately, that’s made them a target of the illegal exotic animal trade. Numbers are decreasingly rapidly, and the Pig-Nosed Turtle is endangered.
In order to keep this fascinating species safe, it’s important to learn about them. This ultimate guide contains all the information you need on the Pig-nosed Turtle. Including why you probably shouldn’t keep one as a pet.
Male vs Female
There isn’t a great deal to differentiate the male Pig-nosed Turtle from the female. The primary feature is the tail. Males have a longer, and narrower tail.
The Pig-nosed Turtle, or the Carettochelys Insculpta, is an incredibly unique creature. The feature they’re best known for is the one they get their name from – the nose. The wide nostrils and protruding snout does give the turtle an unusually pig-like face. But that isn’t the only thing that makes them stand out.
Despite being a freshwater species, the Pig-nosed Turtle has the flippers of a marine turtle. They look like a soft shell turtle, but are actually very bony. The carapace, or upper half of the shell, is covered in a gray and leathery skin.
The plastron, or lower shell, is cream-colored and solid, connected to the carapace with a bony bridge. They grow quite large, and can reach sizes of 28 to 30 inches.
As a Pet
If you’re interested in owning a Pig-nosed Turtle, you absolutely must have experience as a turtle owner. They have specific needs, and can become ill quite easily if proper care isn’t taken. If you think you can handle it, then be very careful when purchasing.
The Pig-nosed Turtle is caught in larger numbers for the illegal exotic pet trade, and it’s badly damaging the population. A reputable breeder should be able to provide permits and documentation. However, we do not recommend a Pig-nosed Turtle as a pet, due to the population impact.
There isn’t a great deal known about the lifespan of the Pig-nosed Turtle in the wild. However, in captivity they can live for nearly 40 years, if cared for correctly.
The Pig-nosed Turtle has adapted in many ways to make it absolutely ideal for the environment. First, they have flippers like a marine turtle, which allows them to row elegantly through the water and remain largely aquatic.
Their pig-like snout is also a useful adaptation. It’s full of scent receptors, allowing them to sniff out prey and avoid predators, even in murky waters.
A Pig-nosed Turtle may look soft, but their shell is actually hard and bony, so predators struggle to take a bite. And that’s if the predator can spot them – the pale underside of the shell allows the turtle to blend in with the sky when viewed from below.
Breeding time for the Pig-nosed Turtle occurs in the dry season. The exact months depend on where the turtles live. In Australia, the breeding season is between July and November.
For the Pig-nosed Turtle of New Guinea, breeding occurs from September to February. In the wild, breeding occurs once every two years. The turtles look for multiple partners, to better increase the chances of success.
The Pig-nosed Turtle has had an interesting life before it’s even left the egg. Females will lay a clutch of 7 to 39 eggs, and roughly 2 clutches a year.
The eggs are left on a sandy river bank, and females will communicate with each other to find the best place to lay. Then, it takes 60 to 70 days for the turtles to incubate. However, they don’t immediately hatch once developed.
Instead, the Pig-nosed Turtle waits until the conditions are optimal, and then they all hatch together. This increases the chances of survival, and they can all work together to dig through the sand and into the water.
The growth of the Pig-nosed Turtle occurs pretty steadily throughout the life of a juvenile, before slowing down as they reach maturity. A hatchling is roughly 1.5 to 2 inches, and they grow to a carapace length of 28 to 30 inches.
There isn’t much known about the life cycle of the Pig-nosed Turtle in the wild. They emerge from the eggs as fully formed hatchlings, and go out into the wild to care for themselves. Males reach sexual maturity at the age of roughly 16, and the female reaches breeding age at around 18. They mate every 2 years.
The Pig-nosed Turtle can be territorial, but they do show signs of society in the wild. They spend their days in the water, swimming for food.
There is no clear data for the population of Pig-nosed Turtles in the wild. At one point, they were abundant in their small native habitat. However, the numbers have shown a drastic decrease over the past 30 years.
Pollution, destruction of habitat, and the illegal animal trade has caused a rapid decline. Tens of thousands of Pig-nosed Turtles have been found being illegally traded. They’re now listed as “endangered” by the IUCN.
Pig-nosed Turtles are omnivores, but in the wild they eat more plants than animals. Wild fig appears to be their favorite food, and they eat both the leaves and the fruit. Their diet also includes mollusks, crustaceans, insects, and other fruits or vegetation.
In captivity, they can adapt to eating commercial turtle food, but it might take a while. Although they have quite a simple diet in the wild, they require more variety in captivity. This is necessary to ensure they get all the nutrients necessary.
The Pig-nosed Turtle doesn’t have many predators, although it is preyed on by lizards and alligators. Their hard shell and strong swimming ability helps to keep them safe. The eggs, on the other hand, are at a much greater risk. Lizards in particular will feast on a small clutch of eggs.
Northern Australia and the island of New Guinea form the entire range of the Pig-nosed Turtle. They’re found in streams, rivers, and lagoons. They can be quite aggressively territorial, and stick to their large home range.
However, during the dry season, some Pig-nosed Turtles have been observed forming a social structure in the river system. During the wet season, they often migrate.
In the wild, Pig-nosed Turtles can struggle with parasites. Flatworms are known parasites of the turtle, and a problem for those captured in the wild. This species can also struggle with bacterial infections and respiratory infections, often caused by a lack of vitamin A. In captivity, they require specific water conditions, or they risk falling ill.
Pig-nosed Turtles have dark eyes, surrounded by white blotches.
The Pig-nosed Turtle does not hibernate. However, it does move with the season. Pig-nosed Turtles are primarily concerned with whether it’s the wet or dry season, as this determines breeding.
Can they swim?
The Pig-nosed Turtle is an incredible swimmer that spends most of its life in the water. At one point, they were thought to be fully aquatic, although experts now believe they come to the riverbank occasionally.
Thanks to their flippers, the Pig-nosed Turtle is able to move elegantly and gracefully through the water, making them a real joy to watch. They spend their lives in streams, lagoons, and rivers, diving to a depth of around 7 meters.
Caring for a Pig-nosed Turtle is difficult, and not recommended for novice owners. The first reason is that they can become aggressive in captive care, and will often be highly stressed. This stress then leads to sickness, and even potentially death.
To keep a Pig-nosed Turtle happy, you need to have a large, aquatic enclosure. The water has to be carefully monitored, because they’re susceptible to disease. In captivity, they’ve shown territorial behavior, so must be kept alone.
The cost of a Pig-nosed Turtle can be extreme, because they’re so closely protected. Captive breeding is rare, as the turtles become aggressive and fight off mates. To maintain a happy turtle, the costs are even higher. They need a large tank, with plenty of highly filtered water and regular cleaning.
- The Pig-nosed Turtle is the only living member left of the genus Carettochelys. All the other family members are long extinct. This makes them an exceptionally unique creature.
- The eggs of the Pig-nosed Turtle used to be a food source for the people of New Guinea. They were taken in sustainable numbers, so the Pig-nosed Turtle was still able to thrive.
- They’re also sometimes known as the “Fly River Turtle”, after the first place the turtle was discovered. The Fly River flows through the island of New Guinea, and is 660 miles long.