African mud turtles are found throughout eastern and southeastern Africa as well as Madagascar and the Seychelles. They inhabit shallow waters of soft-bottomed marshes, swamps, streams, rivers, and ponds.
At the Zoo, these turtles can be seen swimming in the African River exhibit in the Chimpanzee Forest. Keepers are currently rearing five juvenile East African black mud turtles that hatched at the Zoo in April 2012.
This turtle is dull in color and blends in easily to its aquatic habitat. It has a smooth, domed, dark-colored carapace (top shell). Its plastron (bottom shell) can be brown, grey, black, or yellow. It is supposedly most active at night but because it is secretive by nature and spends most of its time in water, it is difficult to know its habits well. Others have reported seeing these turtles basking and sometimes wandering on land during the rainy season. If it gets too hot, too cold, or too dry, black mud turtles will burrow into mud and aestivate (remain dormant, with slowed metabolism) until conditions improve.
This turtle is also known as the East African side-necked turtle because its neck retracts sideways.
Females dig nest cavities and lay their eggs in late winter or early spring. Baby turtles hatch out about two months later.
The East African black mud turtle is considered a hardy species that does not have a well advertised list of predators. Like other freshwater turtles, it is protected by its shell and its ability to escape underwater. However, like other turtles, juveniles can be quite vulnerable to predation and even adults will occasionally be predated upon by a larger animal that can bite through its shell.
This species has an expansive range and is relatively abundant in the wild. It does not appear to be threatened, although over-collection for the pet trade could become a long-term concern.
Summer 2012 Zoogram
Ernst and Barbour, Turtles of the World, p. 20.