Pig-Nosed Turtle

carettochelys insculpta

Last updated: December 24, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/reptiles4all

Their family lineage dates back 140 million years

Pig-Nosed Turtle Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
testudines
Family
carettochelyidae
Genus
carettochelys
Scientific Name
carettochelys insculpta

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Pig-Nosed Turtle Conservation Status

Pig-Nosed Turtle Locations

Pig-Nosed Turtle Locations

Pig-Nosed Turtle Facts

Prey
Fruits, flowers, mollusks, insects, crustaceans
Main Prey
Fruit
Name Of Young
Hatchlings, juveniles
Fun Fact
Their family lineage dates back 140 million years
Biggest Threat
Pet trade, persecution, habitat destruction
Most Distinctive Feature
Long, fleshy pig-like snout
Distinctive Feature
Flippers, leathery shell
Other Name(s)
Pitted-shelled turtle, fly river turtle
Temperament
Territorial
Habitat
Fresh or brackish water surrounded by dense forest
Predators
Saltwater crocodiles, buffalo
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Day and Night
Favorite Food
Figs
Type
Turtle
Common Name
Pig-nosed turtle
Number Of Species
1
Location
Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea

Pig-Nosed Turtle Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Grey
  • Cream
  • Olive
Skin Type
Shell
Lifespan
30 to 40 years
Weight
44 pounds
Length
28 to 30 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
16 to 18
Aggression
High

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The pig-nosed turtle is facing unsustainable levels of collection for the international pet trade.

Summary

The pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) is a freshwater turtle and the only member of its family and genus. This species is unique in the turtle world. It possesses flippers like a marine species and a long, fleshy snout like that of a pig. They have an extensive history, dating back 140 million years ago, but they are currently under significant prosecution in their native territories. While this species is largely unstudied, there is still much to learn about the pig-nosed turtle, including its habitat, diet, and behavior.

Amazing Pig-nosed Turtle Facts

  • Its family lineage dates back 70 million years before the dinosaurs went extinct.
  • They are highly territorial and known for showing extreme aggression in captivity.
  • Figs and their leaves are their favorite food.
  • They are facing unsustainable levels of collection in the international pet trade.

Scientific Name

The pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) belongs to the Trionychia superfamily in the Testudines order, which encompasses softshell turtles. The pig-nosed turtle is the only member of the Carettochelyidae family and the only living member of the Carettochelys genus. Its specific epithet, insculpta, is Latin for “engraved,” referring to the engraved texture of the carapace. 

Appearance

The pig-nosed turtle is a freshwater turtle with unique characteristics, unlike other freshwater turtles. They have flippers like marine turtles, leathery shells, and unusual noses (long fleshy snouts) that look like a pig’s (hence the name). They belong to the softshell turtle family but have a domed bony carapace and a solid plastron connected to a bony ridge. The carapace is gray or olive and the plastron is cream-colored. Males and females appear similar in appearance, but males can be distinguished by their long tails. This species measures 28 to 30 inches long, on average, and weighs over 44 pounds. 

Evolution and History

The Carettochelyidae family has a significant fossil record dating back to the Paleogene period over 140 million years ago. That places its family 70 million years before the dinosaurs went extinct. Despite its limited geography today, the pig-nosed turtle was once abundant and widespread. According to fossil records, they were found in Asia, North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia. This species is also becoming more popular in the exotic pet trade.

Behavior

The pig-nosed turtle is significantly understudied, so we don’t know much about their behavior. But those in captivity are known for showing aggression. Researchers believe they are much more territorial than other turtles and tortoises. Outside of their natural habitat, they are shy and stress easily. In the wild, they are somewhat communal and have a loose social structure.

Habitat

This species is most abundant in northern Australia and southern New Guinea, where they inhabit rivers, streams, lagoons, estuaries, lakes, and swamps. They prefer water with sandy or gravel bottoms and the surrounding banks are often forested. 

Diet

The pig-nosed turtle is omnivorous, but they prefer plant material over animals. The fruit and leaves of figs are their favorite food, but they will also eat flowers, other fruits, mollusks, insects, and crustaceans. In captivity, this turtle will consume apples, kiwis, bananas, fish, and shrimp. After their meals, pig-nosed turtles like to find a comfortable spot to sleep, which they do at any time of the day.

Predators and Threats

Due to its occasional brackish water and dense forest environment, this species’ main predator is the saltwater and estuary crocodile. Herds of buffalo also inadvertently trample adults and their eggs when crossing the bank. But humans remain the most significant threat to pig-nosed turtles. They are highly persecuted for their meat, but also suffer from the pet trade and habitat destruction. In 1990, two million eggs were collected for the trade industry. And these numbers have only increased over the decades. Today, the pig-nosed turtle is facing unsustainable levels of collection for the international pet trade.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Males reach sexual maturity at 16 years, while females mature at 18. The pig-nosed turtle lays its eggs on the sandy banks during the dry season. Fully developed embryos delay hatching until they receive environmental cues, such as a drop in pressure, which signals an impending storm. These cues, along with vibrations from other hatchlings, signal the rest to hatch at the same time. Mass hatching gives them better odds at survival. It’s easier for them to find their way to the water, and there is safety in numbers. They can live up to 38 years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild may be less.

Population and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the pig-nosed turtle as EN or “endangered” as of May 2017. Their exact population is unknown but expected to be decreasing. This species is under significant pressure from exploitation in Papua New Guinea and Indonesian Papua. Indigenous people in its range use adults and their eggs as a food source and for international trade. While populations in Australia have been stable for 20 years, they have been rapidly declining (by about 57%) for 30 years in Papua New Guinea.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Pig-Nosed Turtle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is the pig-nose turtle rare?

This species can be locally abundant depending on its location. But, yes, the pig-nosed turtle is pretty rare due to its decreasing population.

Is the pig-nosed turtle endangered?

The IUCN lists the pig-nosed turtle as EN or “endangered.” This species is used in the pet trade and for local food.

How big do pig-nosed turtles get?

They can grow up to 30 inches long and weigh over 40 pounds.

What is unusual about the pig-nosed turtle?

This species has flippers like a marine turtle and a fleshy snout like a pig.

Can you have pig-nosed turtles as pets?

Yes. But this species is endangered due to unsustainable levels of collection in the pet industry. So really it’s a mater of “should you.” They are also highly aggressive and difficult to care for.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, Available here: https://meridian.allenpress.com/ccb/article-abstract/8/2/185/26643/Nesting-Behavior-of-the-Pig-Nosed-Turtle
  2. Ichthyology & Herpetology, Available here: https://meridian.allenpress.com/copeia/article-abstract/105/1/29/196465/First-Evidence-of-the-Pig-nosed-Turtle
  3. California Turtle and Tortoise Club, Available here: http://www.tortoise.org/archives/pignose.html
  4. Nausicaa, Available here: https://www.nausicaa.co.uk/animal-card/pig-nosed-turtle/

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