Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: Native to China, Japan. Introduced in Hawaii (Kauai, Oahu; distribution records should be verified in view of apparent occurrence of a second Trionyx species in Hawaii (see TAXCOM). Introduced and established on Guam, Mariana Islands (McCoid 1993; Campbell and McCoid, 1993, Herpetol. Rev. 24:65).
Distribution: C/S China (Liaoning, Shaanxi, Anhui, Zhejiang, Guangdong), N Vietnam, Hainan, Taiwan, S Far East (Russia), Korea, Japan (Bonin Islands), Indonesia (Timor), Japan, Thailand and W Malaysia (introduced), USA (introduced to Hawaii), Brazil
Type locality: Manzhouli
Type locality: "kleinen Insel in Tigerfluss, dicht bei Macao" (= small island in the Tiger River near Macao), China (fide KING & BURKE 1989).
Length: 41 cm
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Streams, canals, drainage ditches, ponds, freshwater marshes; eggs are laid in moist soil above water line (McKeown 1978, 1996).
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Comments: Eats fishes, crayfishes, molluscs (McKeown 1978), and probably other small aquatic animals.
Life History and Behavior
Clutch size 3-28. Eggs hatch in 48-68 days. Up to 4 clutches annually. Sexually mature in 5-6 years (McKeown 1978).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Pelodiscus sinensis
There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pelodiscus sinensis
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Comments: Captured and propagated for food in some areas.
Chinese softshell turtle
The Chinese softshell turtle, Pelodiscus sinensis, is a species of turtle that was first described by Arend Friedrich August Wiegmann in 1835 (as Trionyx sinensis). The species is also referred to as the Asiatic soft-shelled turtle. There is a subspecies japonicus which is sometimes erroneously listed as Pelodiscus japonica.
The Chinese softshell turtle can reach a carapace length of 1 ft (0.30 m). It has webbed feet for swimming. They are called "softshell" because their carapace lacks horny scutes (scales). The carapace is leathery and pliable, particularly at the sides. The central part of the carapace has a layer of solid bone beneath it, as in other turtles, but this is absent at the outer edges. The light and flexible shell of these turtles allows them to move more easily in open water, or in muddy lake bottoms.
The carapace of these turtles is olive in color and may have dark blotches. The plastron is orange-red, and may also have large dark blotches. The limbs and head are olive dorsally with the forelimbs lighter and the hind-limbs orange-red ventrally. There are dark flecks on the head and dark lines that radiate from the eyes. The throat is mottled and there may be small, dark bars on the lips. A pair of dark blotches is found in front of the tail as well as a black band on the posterior side of each thigh.
Distribution and habitat
It is difficult to determine its native range due to the long tradition of use as a food and "tonic" and subsequent spread by migrating people. The Chinese soft-shelled turtle has been introduced to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Timor, Batan Islands, Guam, some of the Hawaiian Islands, California and Virginia.
Chinese softshell turtles generally live in brackish water. In China these turtles are found in rivers, lakes, ponds, canals and creeks with slow currents, and in Hawaii they can be found in marshes and drainage ditches.
Ecology and behavior
With their long snout and tubelike nostrils, these turtles can "snorkel" in shallow water. When resting, they lie at the bottom, buried in sand or mud, lifting their head to breathe or snatch at prey. Their basking habit is not well developed.
Chinese softshell turtles often submerge their heads in water. This is because they carry a gene which produces a protein that allows them to secrete urea from their mouths. This adaptation helps them survive in brackish water by making it possible for them to excrete urea without drinking too much salty water. Rather than eliminating urea by urinating through their cloaca as most turtles do, which involves significant water loss, they simply rinse their mouths in the water.
These turtles reach sexual maturity sometime between 4 and 6 years of age. They mate at the surface or under water. A male will hold the female's carapace with its forelimbs and may bite at her head, neck, and limbs. Females may retain sperm for almost a year after copulation.
The females lay 8–30 eggs in a clutch and may lay from 2 to 5 clutches each year. The eggs are laid in a nest that is about 3–4 in (76–100 mm) across at the entrance. Eggs are spherical and average about 20 mm (0.79 in) in diameter. After an incubation period of about 60 days, which may be longer or shorter depending upon temperature, the eggs hatch. Average hatchling carapace length is about 1 in (25 mm) and width is also about 1 in (25 mm). Sex of the hatchlings is not determined by incubation temperature.
Wild populations are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
Relations with humans
The Chinese softshell turtle is the turtle species raised on China's turtle farms. According to the data obtained from 684 Chinese turtle farms, they sold over 91 million turtles of this species every year; considering that these farms represented less than half of the 1,499 registered turtle farms in China, the nationwide total could be over twice as high. These turtles are considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia. Turtle soup is made from this species. In Japan, they may be stewed with hōtō noodles and served as a winter delicacy. Many Koreans, even today, generally have a taboo against eating turtles which has origins in native Korean Shamanism.
These turtles can be injured if they are dropped or hit, and are susceptible to shell fungus. Within Europe, the turtle is a popular pet, particularly in countries such as Italy and the Czech Republic. Captives of this species will eat canned and fresh fish, canned dog food, raw beef, mice, frogs, and chicken.
- Testudo rostrata Thunberg, 1787 (nomen suppressum)
- Testudo striata Suckow, 1798
- Testudo semimembranacea Hermann, 1804 (nomen suppressum et rejectum)
- Emydes rostrata – Brongniart, 1805
- Trionyx (Aspidonectes) sinensis Wiegmann, 1834 (nomen conservandum)
- Trionyx japonicus – Temminck & Schlegel, 1835
- Trionyx tuberculatus Cantor, 1842
- Pelodiscus sinensis – Fitzinger, 1843
- Tyrse perocellata Gray, 1844
- Trionyx perocellatus – Gray, 1856
- Trionyx schlegelii Brandt, 1857
- Potamochelys perocellatus – Gray, 1864
- Potamochelys tuberculatus – Gray, 1864
- Landemania irrorata Gray, 1869
- Landemania perocellata – Gray, 1869
- Trionyx peroculatus Günther, 1869 (ex errore)
- Gymnopus perocellatus – David, 1872
- Gymnopus simonii David, 1875 (nomen nudum)
- Ceramopelta latirostris Heude, 1880
- Cinctisternum bicinctum Heude, 1880
- Coelognathus novemcostatus Heude, 1880
- Coptopelta septemcostata Heude, 1880
- Gomphopelta officinae Heude, 1880
- Psilognathus laevis Heude, 1880
- Temnognathus mordax Heude, 1880
- Trionyx sinensis newtoni Bethencourt-Ferreira, 1897
- Tortisternum novemcostatum Heude, 1880
- Temnognanthus mordax – Boulenger, 1889
- Tyrse sinensis – Hay, 1904
- Amyda japonica – Stejneger, 1907
- Amyda schlegelii – Stejneger, 1907
- Amyda sinensis – Stejneger, 1907
- Amyda tuberculata – Schmidt, 1927
- Trionyx sinensis sinensis – Smith, 1931
- Trionyx sinensis tuberculatus – Smith, 1931
- Amyda schlegelii haseri Pavlov, 1932
- Amyda schlegelii licenti Pavlov, 1932
- Amyda sinensis sinensis – Mertens, Müller & Rust, 1934
- Amyda sinensis tuberculata – Mertens, Müller & Rust, 1934
- Trionyx schlegeli Chkhikvadze, 1987 (ex errore)
- Trionix sinensis – Richard, 1999
- Pelodiscus sinensis sinensis – Ferri, 2002
- Pelodiscus sinensis tuberculatus – Ferri, 2002
- Pelodiscus sinensis japonicus – Joseph-Ouni, 2004
- Rhodin 2010, p. 000.128
- Asian Turtle Trade Working Group (2000). "Pelodiscus sinensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
- Obst, Fritz Jurgen (1998). In Cogger, H. G. & Zweifel, R. G. Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 117–118. ISBN 0-12-178560-2.
- C.H. Ernst, R.G.M. Altenburg & R.W. Barbour - Turtles of the World - Pelodiscus sinensis 
- Distribution map from WWF: shows the species' distribution within NE China and Russian Far East
- "Khankaisky Zapovednik". The Center for Russian Nature Conservation (CRNC).
- Louis A. Somma. 2009. Pelodiscus sinensis. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL.  Revision Date: 6/29/2004 Accessed: 15/05/2009
- Brock, V. E. (1947). "The establishment of Trionyx sinensis in Hawaii". Copeia 1947 (2): 142.
- Van Denburgh, John (1897). "The Reptiles of the Pacific Coast and Great Basin: An account of the species known to inhabit California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada". Occasional Papers of the California Academy of Sciences 5: 28.
- Mitchell, J. C., B. W. Steury, K. A. Buhlmann, & P. P. van Dijk (2007). "Chinese softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis) in the Potomac River and notes on eastern spiny softshells (Apalone spinifera) in Northern Virginia". Banisteria 30: 41–43.
- Kaufman, Rachel (12). "Turtles Urinate Via Their Mouths—A First". National Geographic. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- Davies, Ella. "Chinese turtle passes waste urea through its mouth". BBC Nature. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
- Give us a kiss! The turtle that urinates through its mouth... and is a delicacy in Chinese restaurants | Mail Online
- Bonin, Frank (2006). Turtles of the World. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 146–147.
- Shi, Haitao; Parham, James F; Fan, Zhiyong; Hong, Meiling; Yin, Feng (2008-01-01), "Evidence for the massive scale of turtle farming in China", Oryx (Cambridge University Press) 42: 147–150, doi:10.1017/S0030605308000562, retrieved 2009-12-26
- Fritz Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 319–320. ISSN 18640-5755. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Rhodin, Anders G.J.; Paul van Dijk, Peter; Inverson, John B.; Shaffer, H. Bradley (2010-12-14). "Turtles of the World 2010 Update: Annotated Checklist of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution and Conservation Status" (pdf). Archived from the original on 2010-12-15. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
- Wiegmann, A. F. A. 1835. Beiträge zur Zoologie, gesammelt auf einer Reise um die Erde, von Dr. F. J. F. Meyen. Amphibien, Nova Acta Acad. Leopold.-Carol. 17: 185-268.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Removed from genus Trionyx and placed in genus Pelodiscus by Meylan (1987). Retained in genus Trionyx by Webb (1990). Specimens from Hawaii have been confused with Palea (Trionyx) STEINDACHNERI, which apparently also occurs there (see Webb 1980, McKeown 1978). An earlier specific name, ROSTRATA Thunberg, 1787, has been suppressed by the ICZN (see 1991 Bull. Zool. Nomen. 48(3):276).
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