Pelomedusidae – African side-necked turtles

Freshwater turtles native to sub-Saharan Africa

Unlike many other turtles that can retract their heads straight back into their shells for protection, Pelomedusidae turtles bend their necks sideways beneath the rim of their shell, a distinctive trait that has earned them their common name. This side-necked motion is due to the anatomical structure of their vertebrae, which does not allow for vertical retraction.

Typically small in stature, these aquatic creatures have an average life expectancy of around 25 years in the wild. However, when nurtured in captivity and shielded from predators and environmental stresses, their lifespan can extend up to 50 years, showcasing their resilience and adaptability.

African side-necked turtles exhibit a preference for tranquil aquatic environments. They thrive in still waters, such as the quiet stretches of lakes, ponds, and wetlands. This preference aligns with their need for a habitat that supports their hunting mode and thermoregulatory behavior, which often involves basking in the sun on logs or rocks near the water’s edge.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Pelomedusidae family is their physical response to being flipped over. Their long, muscular necks are not just for drawing their heads to the side; they can also be used to right themselves in a dynamic, forceful motion. When turned upside down, these turtles can flick their powerful necks to flip back onto their feet. This is an incredible survival mechanism, as being stuck on their backs leaves them vulnerable to predators and environmental hazards.