Bell's turtle

Common name: Bell's turtle

Scientific name: Wollumbinia belli

Family: Chelidae

Conservation status: This species is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and 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

Formerly known as Elseya belli and later Myuchelys bellii, the species was placed in the genus Wollumbinia in 2007.

In appearance, Bell's turtle closely resembles the saw-shelled turtle Wollumbinia latisternum. It is a medium sized turtle reaching a maximum length of 290 mm. The carapace is brown to dark brown on top with a black underside (or plastron) on mature individuals. Juveniles are lighter in colour. This turtle often has a distinct light yellow band running from the corner of the mouth along the side of the neck. In older adults this band can be faded.

Habitat and distribution

Bell’s turtle inhabits narrow sections of rivers in granite country, preferring shallow water usually less than 3 m deep where there is a sandy or rocky substrate with small patches of weed. Much of its habitat is now in grazing country where introduced willow trees grow alongside gum trees on the river banks.

Bell's turtle mainly occurs in northern New South Wales on the New England Tablelands. A separate population occurs in south-east Queensland near Stanthorpe, at the headwaters of the Border Rivers catchment. Much of the known Queensland population occurs within Girraween National Park.

Life history and biology

Bell’s turtle nesting takes place on sandy or loamy riverbanks between October and January. Females lay 8-23 eggs with hatching occurring after 80 days. No intact nests have been discovered.

Bell’s turtle is omnivorous, eating fruit, molluscs, crustaceans and fish.

Threatening processes

Like many other threatened freshwater turtles, Bell’s turtle has a restricted distribution and is therefore at a greater threat from habitat destruction and degradation. Threats include: pollution and increased sedimentation, trampling and damage to river banks and riverside vegetation and changes to natural stream flows as a result of water extraction and building of weirs.

Nest predation by feral and native animals and illegal collection may also be having some impact on this species. In some areas Bell's turtle are suffering serious eye damage and blindness from eye cataracts.

What can you do to help this species?

  • Protect waterways from pollution and sedimentation,
  • Prevent degradation and destruction of river side habitat by fencing out, grazing livestock and providing water points away from the river,
  • Support community initiatives that work to maintain or restore natural river flows and vegetation,
  • Support targeted predator control programs during the nesting season at important breeding sites; and
  • Report turtle sightings to the department's WildNet team at .

Related information

Cann, J 1998. Australian freshwater turtles. Beaumont Publishing, Singapore.

Cann, J 2008. Freshwater turtles: A wild Australia guide. Steve Parish Publishing, Queensland.

Cogger, H 2014. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Seventh edition. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria.

Georges, A, and Adams, M 1992.  A phylogeny for Australian chelid turtles based on allozyme electrophoresis. Australian Journal of Zoology 40: 453-476.

Georges, A and Thomson, S 2010. Diversity of Australasian freshwater turtles, with annotated synonymy and keys to species. Zootaxa 1-37.

Wilson, S 2015. A field guide to reptiles of Queensland (second edition). New Holland Publishers, Sydney.

Wilson, S and Swan, G 2017. A complete guide to reptiles of Australia (fifth edition). New Holland Publishers, Sydney.