Asian giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys bibroni)

Close up of an Asian giant softshell turtle
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Asian giant softshell turtle fact file

Asian giant softshell turtle description

GenusPelochelys (1)

Softshells (Trionychidae) are unusual-looking, flattened turtles, with long, protruding snouts and a reduced bony shell covered with thick, leathery skin instead of the more usual bony shell which is covered with horny scutes (4). The Asian giant softshell turtle is easily recognisable by its broad head and eyes close to the tip of its snout (5). The smooth, brown carapace bears distinctive irregular yellow to buff markings, often appearing as wide bars, and there are similarly coloured longitudinal stripes on the neck and irregular marks on the limbs. Juveniles, by contrast, show no pattern and their pale brown carapace has a rougher texture (2).

Carapace length: up to 102 cm (2)

Asian giant softshell turtle biology

The Asian giant softshell turtle is primarily carnivorous, feeding on crustaceans, molluscs and fish, although some aquatic plant matter may also be eaten (6). The Asian giant softshell turtle has a habit of burying its body in the sand with only its head protruding out, suggesting that it is an ambush feeder (6).

The Asian giant softshell turtle nests from June to August, and possibly September. Reports exist of clutches of up to 27 eggs, although not all deposited at one time, while other sources report clutches comprising 20 to 45 eggs, and there is even an unconfirmed record of a clutch containing 100 eggs! At least two clutches are thought to be laid each season. While a number of species may prey on eggs and juveniles, crocodiles are apparently the only natural predators of adults (2).


Asian giant softshell turtle range

Native to southern Irian Jaya, Indonesia, and southern Papua New Guinea on the Island of New Guinea (2) (6).


Asian giant softshell turtle habitat

Found primarily in inland freshwater rivers and streams, estuaries, swamps and mudflats in lowland areas, but coastal records also exist (2) (5).


Asian giant softshell turtle status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Asian giant softshell turtle threats

Like many other freshwater turtles in the region, the greatest threat to the Asian giant softshell turtle is hunting for trade, followed by habitat destruction due to deforestation, logging, forest fires, and conversion of land for agriculture, settlements and transmigration areas. The Asian giant softshell turtle is prized in Papua New Guinea for its eggs and meat and consumed locally or sold in local or regional food markets. There is also a growing demand for turtles for pets and medicine in East and Southeast Asia, although the impact this is having on this species is unknown (6).


Asian giant softshell turtle conservation

The Asian giant softshell turtle is listed on Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), regulating international trade in the species (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


Authenticated (17/12/07) by Dr. Gerald Kuchling, Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation and Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the University of Western Australia.



The upper shell in turtles and tortoises.
Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
One of the large keratinous scales on the carapace (the top shell of a turtle or tortoise).


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2008)
  2. Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (1997) Turtles of the World. ETI Information Systems Ltd, Netherlands.
  3. CITES (January, 2007)
  4. Kuchling, G. (2007) Pers. comm.
  5. WWF (January, 2007)
  6. CITES. (2002) Proposals for Amendment of Appendices I and II, Proposal 32. Twelfth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, The Hague.

Image credit

Close up of an Asian giant softshell turtle  
Close up of an Asian giant softshell turtle

© Alexander Haas /

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Fax: +44 (0) 1993 779203


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