Emydura subglobosaRed-bellied Short-necked Turtle

Geographic Range

Emydura subglobosa is found on islands and rivers in coastal Australia and New Guinea, such as Fraser Island, the Jardine River, Daru, Cape York, Stradbroke Islands, and the islands in Torres Strait (Legler and Georges, 1993). These turtles also occur in lowland swamps, which cover large areas of the tropical, open plains in western Papua New Guinea (Georges Guarino and Bito, 2006). (Adams and Georges, 1996; Georges, 1995; Georges, et al., 2006; Legler and Georges, 1993; Webb, 1978)


Preferred habitat of red-bellied short-necked turtles are rivers, swamps, and ponds of Papua New Guinea and Australia (Georges et al. 2008). In the lower Kikori and Omati rivers they inhabit slow-moving waters, swamps, and seasonal wetlands (PNG Gas Project, 2005). Like other freshwater turtles, red-bellied short-necked turtles alternate periods in the water with time basking to raise body temperature (Webb, 1978). Most of their life is spent in water, where they forage for food. If there is a water scarcity in hotter months, they move to flooded areas (Georges, Guarino and Bito, 2006). (Adams and Georges, 1996; "Environmental Impact Statement", 2005; Georges, et al., 2006; Georges, et al., 1993; Norris, 1996; Rhodin and Genorupa, 2000)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools
  • Range elevation
    20 to 1000 m
    65.62 to 3280.84 ft
  • Average elevation
    1000 m
    3280.84 ft
  • Range depth
    1.4 to 2.7 m
    4.59 to 8.86 ft
  • Average depth
    2.2 m
    7.22 ft

Physical Description

Red-bellied short-necked turtles have olive-colored heads with a yellow-cream stripe running from the tip of the nose through the eye and into the iris (Georges et al. 2008). A black spot is always present in front of and behind the pupil in Emydura victoriae and variable in Emydura tanybaraga (Thomson, 2003). They have a prominent upper jaw and two yellow whiskers on the chin; the same yellow coloration runs along the light-colored jaw line. The upper neck region is dark gray and the lower, light gray with red streaks running along it. This same coloration appears on the bottom jaw and belly of the turtle, although the color can vary among bright orange, yellow, or pink (Legler and Georges, 1993; Ernst and Barbour, 1989). The limbs, tail, plastron, and abdominal regions are all marked with red (Ernst and Barbour, 1989). Young red-bellied short-necked turtles generally have brighter markings that fade as they grow, with their red color turning pinkish with time (Ernst and Barbour, 1989). Females are larger in carapace length, but have shorter tails. Male carapaces range from 13.3 to 17.3 cm, female carapaces range from 15.2 to 25.5 cm. (Carr, 1952; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Georges, et al., 2008; Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993)

Red-bellied short-necked turtles are members of the family of side-necked freshwater turtles, Chelidae. They can be characterized by how they extend and retract their necks. They lay their neck and head sideways, underneath the upper edge of the shell (Werneburg et al., 2009). (Werneburg, et al., 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range mass
    0.02 to 22.5 kg
    0.04 to 49.56 lb
  • Average mass
    0.50 kg
    1.10 lb
  • Range length
    13.3 to 25.5 cm
    5.24 to 10.04 in
  • Average length
    male:14.9; female:18.9 cm


In many marine, freshwater, and terrestrial turtles, the gender of the embryo is influenced by incubation temperature. However, this is not the case with Australian chelids studied to date, which lack temperature dependent sex determination (Georges and Legler, 1993). (Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993)

Following pipping (breaking of the shell), hatchlings remain for a day or so in the eggshell, where they survive on the remains of the yolk sac (Georges et al., 2007). (Georges, et al., 1993)

Research suggests that these turtles grow at a faster rate prior to maturity, when growth rates drop abruptly to provide sufficient resources for reproduction (Georges, 1995). The estimated age at sexual maturity is 14 years for males and 9 years for females The greatest expected lifespan for chelid turtles is estimated at about 100 years for both sexes (Martins and Souza, 2008). In Emydura and Chelodina species, females tend to grow faster, reaching larger carapace lengths than males. The shells of females have a tendency to be deeper and more spacious than the males to facilitate the storage of eggs (Georges and Legler, 1993). (Georges, 1995; Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993)


Emydura species mate year-round, with peaks in the spring and fall. Males of Emydura species have sperm all year in the epididymides. Females of Emydura species accumulate yolk in the ovaries in late summer through winter. During the breeding season, males communicate with females with a series of signaling postures, including a combination of simultaneous stroking, eye blinking, and head bobbing. The female may be stationary or swimming; when she stops the encounter and surfaces, the male quickly assumes a nose-to-nose position, performing nose squirts. Males and females continue bobbing their heads in alternating sequence as they align their bodies. Once this maneuver is complete the mating begins (Georges & Legler, 1993). During mating, the cloacas touch. They remain together for many hours, although copulation may only occur for a short time. This mating process may occur more than once for up to several days, and may involve multiple partners at any given time. Red-bellied short-necked turtles have scent glands in their carapace that produce odors used during competition between males during breeding season. (Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993; Pearse and Avise, 2001)

In red-bellied short-necked turtles, females have a large area inside their carapace to store eggs, whereas males have a larger tail. Ovulation and nesting begins in early spring. Only female turtles leave the water during the night or early morning to deposit eggs in hollow cavities constructed in sand or soil. Females lay eggs within about an hour. Emydura subglobosa, Elseya novaeguineae, and Carettochelys insculpta lay their eggs in the soil of the forest floor, often near the base of trees or in the sandy soil of freshwater swamps during the late, dry season between August and October (Georges, 2007; Georges et al., 2006). Emydura subglobosa individuals lay white, calcareous, ellipsoid eggs averaging 35.0 ±0.05 mm long and 19.0 ±0.02 mm wide. Estimated mean egg weight of eggs is 7.68 ±0.20 g. These turtles can produce two to four clutches a year, laying from four to eleven eggs each time, with an average of 7 eggs in each clutch (Georges et al., 2006). Eggs incubate and hatch the following dry season in July through August. Many factors can impact the incubation and hatching period: ambient temperatures, cloud cover, river levels and flow, tides, and the phase of the moon. High temperatures promote early hatching and cold temperatures promote later hatching times. Hatchlings make their journey to freshwater without parental guidance or protection (Georgeset al., 1993). Red-bellied short-necked turtles typically mature between 7 and 12 years old with both males and females maturing at carapace lengths of 14 to 15 cm (Georges et al., 2006). (Georges, 2007; Georges, et al., 2006; Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding can occur 2 to 4 times a year, with individuals breeding usually every two years.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from August to October, typically.
  • Range number of offspring
    4 to 11
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    2 to 4 months
  • Range time to independence
    0 to 60 minutes
  • Average time to independence
    35 minutes
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    7 to 12 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    7 to 12 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    10 years

After digging a cavity and depositing eggs, female red-bellied short-necked turtles immediately return to freshwater, leaving the eggs uncovered. In contrast, other turtles painstakingly cover a cavity after depositing eggs. Emydura macquarii drops its shell hard onto the ground to compact the soil in the filled nest. This tamping of the soil has been observed also in Chelodina longicollis, Chelodina oblonga, Chelodina expansa and Pseudemydura umbrina as a way of protection against predators. Red-bellied short-necked turtles abandon their eggs once they are laid and do not protect the hatchlings (Georges, Limpus & Parmenter, 1993). (Georges, et al., 2006; Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning


Red-bellied short-necked turtles have been reported to live 15 to 20 years in captivity. (Alderton, 1988; Martins and Souza, 2008; de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    15 to 20 years


Red-bellied short-necked turtles swim and bask to control internal body temperatures. During the basking process, tears run down the side of the turtle’s head and into the mouth while the mouth opens and closes, known as gular movements. Panting and frothing at the mouth has been observed, although it is more common in Emydura macquarii than in the other Emydura species. Wetting of the head or limbs, removing the extremities from direst exposure to heat, and changes to breathing patterns are all mechanisms that prevent over-heating (Webb, 1978). (Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993; Webb, 1978)

Red-bellied short-necked turtles, like other short-neck turtles, snap and bite when threatened, delivering painful wounds. They tuck in their head while tilting their shell towards the predators to reduce damage to soft body parts (Legler and Georges, 1993). (Legler and Georges, 1993)

Home Range

Red-bellied short-necked turtles do not actively defend a territory. (Georges, et al., 2006)

Communication and Perception

Red-bellied short-necked turtles have highly developed senses necessary for communication and perception. These senses assist them in locating food, avoiding predators, and finding mates during the breeding season. Studies have shown that these freshwater turtles can communicate with each other via a wide range of vocalizations that are too soft for humans to hear. Evidence also suggests that echolocation may be developed for finding prey as well as used to get a three-dimensional image of the turtle’s pond (Latta & Craig, 2009). Red-bellied short-necked turtles, like other freshwater turtles have a nictitating membrane (transparent third eyelid) for underwater vision. Their sense of smell is achieved through the nose and through a specialized Jacobsen’s organ, which identifies chemical debris floating in the air and water. Although turtles do not have an external ear opening, they do have a tympanum (eardrum) that is covered with skin and can detect low-frequency vibrations under water and on land. Red-bellied short-necked turtles have four scent glands in the carapace. These glands produce an odor as defense against predators and among competing males during breeding season. They communicate with potential mates through extensive courtship ceremonies that include the bobbing of their heads as they align their bodies (Legler and Georges, 1993). (Georges, et al., 2006; Legler and Georges, 1993; Norris, 1996)

Food Habits

Red-bellied short-necked turtles are omnivorous, feeding on filamentous algae, periphyton, sponges, aquatic macrophytes, aquatic macro-invertebrates, terrestrial insects that fall into the water, and carrion. These turtles also rely heavily on crushing mollusks, fish, insects, worms, aquatic plants, vegetable matter and seeds as a part of daily living (PNG Gas Project, 2005). They rely on their broad, sharp, horny jaws and front feet to tear food, their tongue serves to direct food down the gullet. Many freshwater, short-necked turtles, such as Emydura subglobosa and Chelodina species, ingest large quantities of water that contain their prey by gaping and sucking in prey in the water (Legler & Georges, 2007). (Alderton, 1988; Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993)

The combination of an elongated digestive tract and slow passage rate ensures maximum nutritional benefit from the large amounts of fiber ingested. Food intake is temperature dependent; an increase in the ambient temperature will cause an increase in the heart rate, in turn increasing the metabolism of the turtle, breaking down the food much faster. Commensal bacteria and other microorganisms help with the task of breaking down cellulose during its passage through the digestive tract. Fat is stored in the abdomen so will not affect thermo-regulation. (Alderton, 1988; Georges, et al., 1993; Legler and Georges, 1993)

Turtle malformations can exist due to diet restrictions, including disfigurement of mouthparts caused by excessive keratin and megacephaly, a disorder where turtles, eating and crushing hard food like mollusks, grow a severely enlarged head, up to 20% of the carapace length (Legler & Georges, 1993). (Alderton, 1988; Legler and Georges, 1993)

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


Predators include introduced red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and domestic cats (Felis catus). Water rats (Hydromys chrysogaster), goannas (Varanus gouldii),and crows (Corvus tristis) prey on nests of Emydura macquarii and may prey on Emydura subglobosa. Much predation occurs in coastal areas, where predators include large marine turtles (Cheloniidae), tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), crocodiles (Crocodylus species), and humans (Georges et al., 1993). Human predation includes taking of eggs and adults as a local food source. Emydura subglobosa has four scent glands as a defense mechanism against predators. The odor usually is only released when threatened. Although, the use of the musk is unknown, recent data suggest that once the powerful odor is released, nearby predators leave the surrounding area (Legler and Georges, 1993; Latta, 2009). (Georges, et al., 1993; Latta, 2009; Legler and Georges, 1993)

Ecosystem Roles

Red-bellied short-necked turtles feed on insects and plants. While digging in the soil during egg-laying or while searching for food they allow for better aeration of the soil by permitting nutrients to reinvigorate the soil, allowing for improved water holding capacity (Georges, 2007). They serve as sustenance for local people but also for large predators (Legler and Georges, 1993). (Alderton, 1988; Georges, 2007; Legler and Georges, 1993)

Commensal bacteria and other microorganisms, such as Polystomoides australiensis, live in bladders of Emydura subglobosa. Notopronocephalus peekayi live in the digestive tract of this species and other freshwater river turtles of New Guinea. This species helps to break down cellulose (Alderton, 1988; Ferguson & Smales, 2006). (Alderton, 1988; Ferguson and Smales, 2006)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • commensal bacteria (Polystomoides australiensis)
  • commensal bacteria (Notopronocephalus peekayi)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The production of turtle meat and turtle products are important for cash economies in New Guinea (Georges, 2007). Freshwater turtles and their eggs are an important source of protein for some peoples (Rhoden and Genorupa, 2000). (Georges, 2007; Georges, et al., 2006; Georges, et al., 1993; Rhodin and Genorupa, 2000)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Emydura subglobosa on humans.

Conservation Status

Red-bellied short-necked turtles are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN. However, there may be isolated populations in arid regions throughout their range and have extended times to sexual maturity. This combination leads some to believe that a pre-emptive conservation program should be implemented (Martins and Souza, 2008; Georges 1995). Increasing anthropogenic threats also pose a threat (Rhodin and Genorupa, 2000). (Legler and Georges, 1993; Martins and Souza, 2008; Rhodin and Genorupa, 2000)


Melissa Whistleman (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


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.


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

The process by which an animal locates itself with respect to other animals and objects by emitting sound waves and sensing the pattern of the reflected sound waves.


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


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


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


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).


seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

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


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.


photosynthetic or plant constituent of plankton; mainly unicellular algae. (Compare to zooplankton.)


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


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