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Fly River turtle

Scientific name: Carettochelys insculpta

CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Testudines
FAMILY: Carettochelyidae

STATISTICS: Weight: 35 lbs or more: Length: 28-30 in

The Fly River turtle has a short head in comparison to its body, large eyes, and a broad, tubular, fleshy, pig-like snout. There is a white blotch behind each eye, and the jaws are cream-colored. This turtle has a pitted, grayish-green carapace and a white plastron; juveniles’ carapaces have serrated edges and a more pronounced central keel. There may be several white, rectangular areas along the edge of the carapace.
The front limbs are paddle-shaped like those of sea turtles, but are not as stiff. They are flexible and have two claws.
This turtle has no hard scutes; instead, the shell is covered by soft skin, similar to that of a softshell turtle.

Indonesia including Irian Jaya; Southern New Guinea; Northern Australia

Large, shallow, slow-moving rivers with sandy or silty bottoms; estuarine habitats and lagoons

The Fly River turtle is a secretive animal, and mainly hunts and is active nocturnally. Its forelimbs make it a powerful swimmer.

The Fly River turtle has a complete set of peripheral bones; thus the shell margin is firm and not soft and flexible like that of a softshell turtle.

The Fly River turtle is considered a cryptodire, which means it retracts its necks in a vertical S-shape. This is opposed to pleurodires that retract their necks laterally, for example, side-necked turtles.

Towards the end of the dry season in their area, large numbers of females emerge at night onto high mud and sand banks and deposit 15-25 1.7 inch thin-shelled, spherical eggs into shallow holes that they have dug. They bury the eggs, and the eggs hatch several months later when coming rains end the dry season.
Hatchlings are about 2 ¼ inches long. Fly River turtles mature slowly, and females may not be sexually mature until they are around 25 years old.

Prey to people; nests are raided by monitor lizards and wild pigs
Predator to some small mammals; fishes

Fruits, seeds, leaves, riverside vegetation including mangroves and algae; crustaceans, mollusks, fish, bats that fall into the water, small mammals; scavenging

CITES Appendix II; Listed as Vulnerable by IUCN due to over-collection of millions of eggs, increased local consumption in recent years, export into international pet trade, damage of nesting sites by livestock, and degradation of riverside vegetation.


  • The Fly River turtle is the only living member of its family, and fossils have been found in Europe, North America, and Southern Asia.
  • With its medley of features also seen in several other species of turtles, the Fly River turtle could be called the “platypus” of the turtle world. There are very few specimens of the Fly River turtle in captivity.


  1. Adler, Dr. Kraig, & Halliday, Dr. Tim. The Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. New York, New York. Equinox Books, 1986.
  2. Cogger, Harold G. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Hong Kong. Dai Nippon Printing Company. 1975.
  3. Inger, Robert F., & Schmidt, Karl P. Living Reptiles of the World. Garden City, New York. Doubleday and Company, and Chanticleer Press. 1957.
  4. Pritchard, Dr. Peter C. H. Encyclopedia of Turtles. Neptune, New Jersey. T. F. H. Publications. 1979.
  5. CITES. November 2009.
  6. IUCN Red List. November 2009.

Published: February 2011

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