Chitra indicaNarrow-headed soft-shelled Turtle

Geographic Range

Chitra indica is widely distributed throughout south Asia. It can be found within the river systems of India, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Distribution, while extensive, can be irregular and restricted. This may be the result of both its large body size as well as specialized habitat requirements. ("Chitra indica", 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009)


The ideal habitat for Chitra indica is rivers of moderate to large size, preferably with sandy bottoms and low turbidity. Chitra indica will bury itself in the sandy sediment of these rivers and spend most of the day submerged. Females require sandy or sandy loam beaches to dig nests and lay eggs. ("Chitra indica", 2015; "Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle", 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Range elevation
    up to 15 (high) m

Physical Description

The narrow-headed soft shell turtle, Chitra indica, tends to be relatively large, with a carapace of up to 1.10 m in length. This carapace tends to be bluish grey or olive with intricate wavy reticulations present. This pattern is also present on the neck and forelimbs. The shell is oval, flattened and soft with the presence of four plastral callosities. Between the first pair of costals a single neural is present. The head is long and narrow with a short proboscis present on the end. The plastron is a pink or cream color. Males usually have longer tails when compared to females; however females tend to achieve a greater overall size. Overall mass can be up to 250kg. ("Chitra indica", 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009; Uetz, 2015)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    2.8 to 250 kg
    6.17 to 550.66 lb
  • Range length
    30 to 192 cm
    11.81 to 75.59 in
  • Average length
    80 cm
    31.50 in


There has been limited study of the development of Chitra indica. Once a clutch of eggs is laid incubation typically takes 40-70 days at 25.5 to 36 degrees Celsius for emergence to occur. Upon emergence juveniles experience indeterminate growth throughout their life. No research has been done into the possibility of temperature-dependent sex determination in this species. However, previous studies indicate that temperature has no effect on sex-determination in other soft-shell turtles. (Bull and Vogt, 1979; Lowe, et al., 2009)


Due to its secretive nature little is known about the reproductive habits of Chitra indica. However, females must come onto sandy beaches in order to excavate holes and lay clutches of eggs. ("Chitra indica", 2015; "Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle", 2015; Aryal, et al., 2010; Ernst, et al., 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009)

Chitra indica nests at different times depending on the area. In the Ganga River system nesting occurs at the height of the monsoons, usually from late August to mid-September. In Bangladesh nesting may occur from February to May, with up to three clutches being laid in this time. In both areas the females will emerge on sandy beaches and excavate a flask-shaped nest with an egg chamber typically 15 by 23 cm in diameter. These eggs are then covered again with sand and allowed to incubate. This incubation period lasts for 40 to 70 days at 25.5 to 36 degrees Celsius. Sexual maturity is determined by both mass and length of an individual. Newly mature individuals will have a length of 44 to 55cm and a mass of 12 to 16 kg. ("Chitra indica", 2015; "Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle", 2015; Aryal, et al., 2010; Ernst, et al., 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009)

  • Breeding interval
    Chitra indica may breed several times during a breeding season
  • Breeding season
    August to September or February to May depending on location
  • Range number of offspring
    60 to 193
  • Average number of offspring

The parental investment of Chitra indica is limited to provisioning occurring both before and during fertilization and the act of laying and burying the fertilized eggs. After the laying of an individuals eggs Chitra indica is uninvolved in the rearing of its offspring. (Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning


Little is also known about the average life expectancy of Chitra indica. Although specimens in captivity have lived past 70 years and it has been reported that they can live up to 140 years old in the wild. ("Narrow Headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica)", 2015; "SGNP taxidermist preserves rare turtle", 2015)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    140 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    70 (high) hours
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    70 hours
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    70 (high) years


The behavior of Chitra indica is poorly studied, however when captured, it has been known to inflict serious bite injuries. Chitra indica may also strike with the snout, rather than biting. These strikes with the head and neck have been known to cause damage to small fishing boats. (Aryal, et al., 2010; Ernst, et al., 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009)

Home Range

There is currently no known research on the home range of Chitra indica.

Communication and Perception

There is little known about the communication or perception of Chitra indica. However, it has been noted that when handled it produces a musky odor, which could be used to signal distress. (Ernst, et al., 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009)

Food Habits

A known ambush predator, Chitra indica buries itself in the sandy sediment of river beds and lays in wait for prey. When a prey item passes by, usually a fish or other aquatic invertebrate, Chitra indica will shoot out its head and lunge at the prey. Small items may be swallowed whole while larger ones may be more slowly swallowed. If an item is too large it may use its forefeet and jaws to tear apart the item before consuming it. Plant material can also occasionally be found in the stomach contents of Chitra indica. ("Narrow Headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica)", 2015; "Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle", 2015; Aryal, et al., 2010; Ernst, et al., 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans


Predation of adult Chitra indica by other animals is not well documented. However, eggs and hatchlings are subject to predation by humans, jackals as well as monitor lizards. (Lowe, et al., 2009)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic
  • Known Predators
    • jackals (Canis aureus)
    • monitor lizards (Varanus bengalensis)

Ecosystem Roles

Indian narrow-headed turtles are predators of fish and other aquatic invertebrates and hatchlings may be predated by monitor lizards and jackals. Chitra indica has also been known to feed on carrion and dead carcasses. Besides this, relatively little is known of the role of Chitra indica in their ecosystem. There are no known parasites of Chitra indica, however, the closely related Chitra chitra may be subject to parasitism by members of Pentastomida (parasitic invertebrates). ("SGNP taxidermist preserves rare turtle", 2015; Divers and Mader, 2005; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009; Lowe, et al., 2009)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • pentastomid parasites (Pentastomida)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

While fairly uncommon, Chitra indica has been hunted throughout its distribution. The meat can be found at local markets in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, where it is known as a delicacy. More important however, is the extensive hunting of Chitra indica for the harvest and sale of its outer cartilaginous rim or “calipee”. The dried calipee is then exported for use in traditional medicine or as the stock of a luxury soup. (Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009; Lowe, et al., 2009)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Chitra indica on the ecology of humans. Captured Chitra indica may cause bodily harm to humans either by biting or head-butting. (Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009; Lowe, et al., 2009)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Despite high reproduction rates, Chitra indica is listed on the IUCN Red List and in the Schedule II of the Indian Wildlife Act of 1972 as Endangered. This status is likely due to extensive human predation and exploitation, as well as the continued degradation and encroachment of habitat. In response to this, the government of India has initiated several conservation projects on the Ganga river system. Both the animals themselves as well as their nesting grounds are protected from exploitation. However greater monitoring and control of the illegal trade of this species is necessary to further protect Chitra indica. Upgrading the species to Schedule I of the Indian wildlife act as well as protection under wildlife laws of countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh would help the conservation efforts of Chitra indica. Due to the difficulty of maintaining this species in captivity, conservation efforts should focus on hatch-and-release programs and the reduction of mortality in mature individuals. ("Appendices I, II and III", 2015; "Chitra indica", 2015; "Find Endangered Species", 2015; "Michigan's Special Animals", 2015; Indraneil and Shailendra, 2009; Rhodin, et al., 2011)


Kyle Hanus (author), University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals


an animal that mainly eats meat


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


an animal that mainly eats fish


an animal that mainly eats dead animals

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


2015. "Appendices I, II and III" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2015 at

2015. "Chitra indica" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed April 17, 2015 at

2015. "Find Endangered Species" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2015 at

2015. "Michigan's Special Animals" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2015 at

2015. "Narrow Headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica)" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2015 at

2015. "Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2015 at

2015. "SGNP taxidermist preserves rare turtle" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2015 at

Aryal, P., M. Dhamala, B. Bhurtel, M. Suwal, B. Rijal. 2010. "Turtles of Nepal: A Field Guide for Species Accounts and Distribution" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2015 at

Bull, J., R. Vogt. 1979. Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination in Turtles. Science, 206: 1186-1188. Accessed April 17, 2015 at

Divers, S., D. Mader. 2005. Reptile Medicine and Surgery. Reptile Medicine and Surgery: Elsevier Health Sciences. Accessed April 17, 2015 at

Ernst, C., R. Altenburg, R. Barbour. 2015. "Chitra indica" (On-line). Turtles of the World. Accessed April 17, 2015 at

Indraneil, D., S. Shailendra. 2009. Chitra indica (Gray 1830)-Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle. Chelonian Research Monographs (ISSN 1088-7105), No. 5: 027.1. Accessed April 17, 2015 at

Lowe, H., S. Singh, A. Tripathi. 2009. "Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica)" (On-line). Turtle Survival Alliance. Accessed April 17, 2015 at

Rhodin, A., A. Walde, B. Horne, P. Van Dijk, T. Blanck, R. Hudson. 2011. "Turtles in Trouble: The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles-2011" (On-line pdf). Accessed April 17, 2015 at

Uetz, p. 2015. "Chitra indica (GRAY, 1831)" (On-line). The reptile database. Accessed April 17, 2015 at