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White-throated snapping turtle

Common name: white-throated snapping turtle / southern snapping turtle

Scientific name: Elseya albagula

Family: Chelidae

Conservation status: This species is listed as Endangered in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992), and is Critically Endangered nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). It is ranked as a high priority under the department's Back on Track species prioritisation framework

Description

This species was only described in 2006 and had previously been regarded as part of the more common and widely distributed northern snapping turtle Elseya dentata. It is distinguished from similar species by the irregular white or cream markings present on the throat and lower sides of the face. It is the largest species of snapping turtle (Elseya spp.) with a carapace (upper shell) length reaching 420mm.

Habitat and distribution

The white-throated snapping turtle is only found in the Burnett, Fitzroy, Raglan and Mary river drainages of south-east Queensland. It prefers permanent flowing water habitats where there are suitable shelters and refuges (e.g. fallen trees).

Behaviour and life history

The timing of breeding varies between locations with most breeding occurring during autumn and winter. Most turtles lay one clutch per year (average 13 eggs), digging a shallow nest in a sloping river bank. Hatchlings emerge in December or January after an incubation period of around 24 weeks. These turtles may not breed in a year when food is scarce.

The white-throated snapping turtle is mainly a herbivore, eating a range of aquatic plants. Its diet also includes fallen fruit (e.g. native figs) and occasionally aquatic insects, molluscs (e.g. snails) and even small cane toads.

These turtles can dive for up to three hours, absorbing oxygen under water through their cloacal bursae (i.e. ’breathe’ oxygen through its anus).

Threatening processes

The high proportion of adult animals in white-throated snapping turtle populations indicates that these populations have been aging and there has been inadequate recruitment of younger animals through reproduction in recent decades.

This species' poor breeding success is largely due to egg predation by feral and native animals (e.g. foxes and goannas) as well as the trampling of nests by cattle. The construction of water impoundments on the rivers within its range has also reduced the amount and quality of habitat available to this species.

The construction of weirs and dams has also impacted on the movement of turtles (and isolated turtle populations).

Boat strike is also a cause of turtle injury and mortality in some areas.

Recovery actions

The breeding sites of these turtles need to be protected from trampling by cattle and nest destruction by feral animals and native predators. Fox and pig control and nest protecting devices are some of the measures that can be undertaken to improve breeding success.

Putting 'turtleways' into place would allow turtles to move around weirs and re-connect turtle populations that have been isolated by these structures. The use of water release systems at weirs and dams that regulate water flow will also help maintain water quality in turtle habitat and reduce the incidence of turtles being flushed over weirs and injured or killed.

What can be done to help this species?

  • Landholders can help to protect this species by protecting sections of river banks where turtles are likely to nest.
  • The control of feral pigs and foxes will also reduce the incidence of nest destruction and the predation of eggs.
  • Boat owners should look out for turtles floating at the surface and 'go slow for those below' to give turtles time to get out of the way of oncoming boats.

Related information

Hamman, M., Schauble, C.S., Limpus, D., Emerick, S.P., and Limpus, C.J. (2007). Management plan for the conservation of Elseya sp. [ Burnett River] in the Burnett River Catchment. Environmental Protection Agency.

Thomson, S., Georges, A., and Limpus, C.J. (2006). A New Species of Freshwater Turtle in the Genus Elseya (Testudines: Chelidae) from Central Coastal Queensland, Australia, Chelonian Conservation and Biology 5(1): 74-86.

Last updated
9 June 2017