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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024







Ornate Softshell Turtle

Species : Amyda ornata
Maximum carapace length : 75 cm ?

The Ornate Softshell Turtle Amyda ornata was formerly considered to be part of Amyda cartilaginea, however it is now considered a genetically distinct species with 3 subspecies (Fritz et al, 2014).

There is no established English name for this species, so 'Ornate Softshell Turtle' is used here.

Visually, turtles from parts of Thailand and Cambodia differ (from what were once considered to be populations of Amyda cartilaginea) by having a "lighter base colour and a more diffuse yellow spotting, which is usually restricted to the cheeks ..." and "... the animals always show three (or rarely two) converging black lines on the crown of the head" (Van Dijk, 1992).

In the field, these external characteristics (and somewhat confusing descriptions) are not easy to interpret, especially in older, fully-grown specimens.

The images presented here are of two turtles from the Xe Champhone wetlands, Savannakhet Province, Laos. Part of these wetlands, comprising an area 12,400 hectares, or 124 sq. km, are a designated Ramsar wetland of international importance comprising freshwater swamps, oxbow lakes, marshes and flooded woodlands. These wetlands also support a population of the Elongated Tortoise Indotestudo elongata.

Amyda ornata occurs in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Figs 1 and 2 : Fully grown example from Xe Champhone wetlands, Savannakhet Province, Laos. 

Fig 3 : A smaller example from Xe Champhone wetlands, with spotted cheeks, snout and crown.

All photos thanks to Yong Ding Li.

References :

Fritz, U., Gemel, R., Kehlmaier, C., Vamberger, M. & Praschag, P. (2014): Phylogeography of the Asian softshell turtle Amyda cartilaginea (BODDAERT, 1770): evidence for a species complex Vertebrate Zoology, 64(2): 229 243.

van Dijk, P.P. (1992): Variation in the Southeast Asian Soft-shelled Turtle, Amyda cartilaginea. Thesis, National University of Ireland, Department of Zoology, Galway, IV + 71 pp., 3 Appendices.

Links :

Xe Champhone Wetlands - Ramsar site

Fig 1
ゥ  Yong Ding Li
Fig 2
ゥ  Yong Ding Li
Fig 3
ゥ  Yong Ding Li