Indian black turtle (Melanochelys trijuga)

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Indian black turtle fact file

Indian black turtle description

GenusMelanochelys (1)

The Indian black turtle is a medium-sized freshwater turtle from South Asia (2). Despite its common name, the colour of this attractive turtle varies hugely, with the rigid upper shell, or ‘carapace’, ranging from reddish to dark brown or black, often with three yellowish ridges running along its length (2) (3). The underside, or ‘plastron’, is typically a uniform brown with a light trim around the edge. The head of the Indian black turtle may have a scattering of orange or yellow spots, with the intensity of the colour of this spotting varying between the six different subspecies (2) (3). The limbs and tail are generally a grey colour. This turtle has a medium-sized, broad head with a rather short snout, and the feet are fully webbed, aiding with swimming in its aquatic environment (2).       

Also known as
Bengal black turtle, black pond turtle, Burmese black turtle, Chochin black turtle, Parker’s black turtle, Sri Lanka black turtle.
Emys trijuga, Geoemyda trijuga.
Carapace length: up to 38.3 cm (2)

Indian black turtle biology

Most active at night or dawn and dusk, the Indian black turtle typically forages on aquatic vegetation along the edges of waterbodies (2) (3). This omnivorous turtle will also consume a variety of aquatic insects and is even known to scavenge for carcasses, with hundreds of turtles occasionally gathering around the body of a dead large mammal (2). During the day, the Indian black turtle largely spends its time basking in the sun (3). It has also been reported that the Sri Lankan subspecies of the black Indian turtle lives in burrows during the day, and consequently, in adaptation to this lifestyle, it has a more flattened carapace than other subspecies (3).  

The Indian black turtle breeds during the wet season between August and October (2). It is at this time that the male is most aggressive and will pursue the female, all the while biting at the female’s neck (3). Once a breeding pair have mated, the female digs a nest into the ground, or occasionally in a pile of rhinoceros or elephant dung, using the left hind leg to excavate the burrow while the right hind leg clears the excess earth (2) (3). The clutch of eggs are laid into this burrow, with the female laying between two and six clutches each year (3). The eggs are incubated for some 60 to 65 days, with the young turtles usually hatching in the middle of the dry season (2) (3).


Indian black turtle range

The Indian black turtle is found in South Asia, where it occurs in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, southern Nepal, eastern Pakistan and extreme western Thailand. It is also found in the Maldives and the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, although it is likely that this species was introduced to these islands (1) (2).  


Indian black turtle habitat

The Indian black turtle inhabits a variety of freshwater habitats, including streams, rivers, ponds and marshes, as well as a number of artificial habitats, such as rice paddies and watering holes, from sea level up to 800 metres (2).


Indian black turtle status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Indian black turtle threats

The Indian black turtle is thought to still be relatively common in parts of Nepal and India, particularly in the Western Ghats region of western India, where it is perhaps the most abundant turtle species (1) (2). It is also thought to be fairly abundant in upland areas of Sri Lanka or in the Maldives. However, outside these areas, the Indian black turtle is threatened by hunting for its meat, which in many areas is considered a delicacy, and by exploitation for the pet trade. These threats are thought to be most severe in Bangladesh and Myanmar, where the species is believed to be highly endangered (1) (2). This species is also likely to be threatened in western Thailand as most turtle species have been found to be extremely rare in this region due to a combination of hunting and habitat loss (4).


Indian black turtle conservation

The Indian black turtle is protected by law in India, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand, which prohibits the killing or capture of wild turtles. It also occurs in a number of protected areas throughout its range, including some of the most secure reserves in the region, such as the Corbett Wildlife Sanctuary in India and the Royal Bardia National Park in Nepal. However, in some other reserves, improved enforcement of protective legislation is required to protect this species from exploitation. It is also recommended that, due to the limited data available on levels of trade and hunting, further surveys are conducted to assess the levels of the threats that this species faces (2)

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The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Feeding on both plants and animals.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2010)
  2. Das, I. and Bhupathy, S. (2009) Melanochelys trijuga (Schweigger 1812) – Indian Black Turtle. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B. and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds) Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs, Number 5.
  3. Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (1997) Turtles of the World. ETI Information Systems Ltd, Netherlands. Available at:
  4. Thirakhupt, K. and van Dijk, P.P. (1994) Species diversity and conservation of turtles of Western Thailand. Natural History Bulletin of the Siam Society, 42: 207-259.

Image credit

Indian black turtle walking  
Indian black turtle walking

© Pratik Pradhan

Pratik Pradhan
Tel: +917666320211


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