Dermatemydidae – Central American river turtle

Sole family members is one of the most endangered freshwater turtles on earth

Represented by a single species known as the Central American river turtle or “hicatee” (Dermatemys mawii), is a noteworthy group of turtles found in the freshwater habitats of Central America. These turtles are one of the few exclusively herbivorous species, subsisting entirely on plant matter such as leaves, fruits, and aquatic vegetation.

The Central American river turtle is characterized by a large, streamlined shell that aids in its aquatic lifestyle, allowing for efficient swimming in various freshwater bodies. With a wide-ranging habitat preference, these turtles can be found in various aquatic environments, including rivers, lakes, swamps, and seasonal wetlands. Their adaptability to different water conditions, from clear to turbid waters, reflects a resilient nature and resourcefulness in finding suitable habitats.

Unfortunately, the large size of Dermatemydidae turtles and their reputation for having delectable meat has made them a target for human consumption. This has led to intense hunting pressure and overexploitation, causing severe declines in their populations. In many regions, these turtles have been extirpated from their natural habitats and are facing a real threat of extinction.

Overharvesting of the Central American river turtle has ecological and cultural consequences, as the species has been an important resource for local communities for centuries. The decline of the species represents a loss of both biodiversity and heritage.