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African Sideneck Turtle (African Mud Turtle) [with Video]

The African Sideneck Turtle, also known as the African mud turtle, and as the West African mud turtle, is a popular pet choice for many turtle keepers.

These hardy turtles are closely related to other mud turtles endemic to Africa such as the yellow-bellied mud turtle. Because of their appearance,

African mud turtles are sometimes mistaken for terrestrial turtles. However, they are not and require aquatic housing. In fact, they live in aquatic habitats.

African Sideneck Turtle Facts and Information

AfricanSideneck Turtle with neck elongated
African Sideneck Turtle with its neck elongated in a turtle tank.

The scientific name of the West African mud turtle is Pelusios castaneus. This species belongs to the family Pelomedusidae that contains a variety of turtles native to Sub-Saharan African turtles.

The West African mud turtle belongs to the genus Pelusios, which include other mud turtles endemic to Africa. The turtles in the genus Pelusios are also collectively referred to as African mud turtles.

Additionally, this turtle is sometimes confused with the African helmeted turtle since they look alike. Both species are also commonly called the African side-neck turtle. They are, however, two distinct species.

This moderately sized turtle can grow up to carapace lengths of 11 inches. On average, their carapace lengths range from 8½ to 10 inches. The carapace of this turtle is dark brown, the same color as the rest of the body.

Its underbelly (plastron) is grayish black in color. One of the distinctive features of this turtle is its cute smiling face.

The Pelusios castaneus are endemic to West Africa and parts of Central Africa.

African Sideneck Turtle Diet

African Sideneck Turtle (Pelusios castaneus)

Pelusios castaneus surrounded by green foliage.

Wild West African mud turtles are omnivorous. They eat a variety of foods such as leeches, earthworms, aquatic insects, mollusks, crabs, shrimps, snails, frogs, and fish. They also eat seeds, fruits, and vegetation. These omnivorous turtles eat food that is available to them.

As pets, feeding them is not difficult as they aren’t picky eaters. However, it is a good idea to feed them a variety of foods so as to prevent them from fixating on a single food type.

Juveniles are more carnivorous and the majority of their diet needs to reflect their carnivorous nature. As they grow, they lean more towards omnivorousness.

Animal proteins you can feed them includes small amphibians such as frogs, crustaceans, beef hearts, pieces of cooked chicken, aquatic insects, fish, shrimp, prawns, and snails. They can also be fed commercially prepared turtle treats such as Reptomin Baby Shrimp Treat.

In terms of green foods, these turtles will eat dandelions, red-leaf lettuce and romaine lettuce (don’t feed them iceberg lettuce), spinach and collard greens. Commercial turtle food can be a convenient way to feed the African mud turtle. A turtle food such as the Zoo Med Gourmet Aquatic Turtle Food is an excellent choice.

The West African mud turtles will only eat in water and this can lead to a messy tank. To avoid this, you can feed them in a separate container. You should feed them as much as they can eat in a few seconds, once every three or two days. You should feed juveniles daily.

African Sideneck Turtle Habitat

Pelusios castaneus (African Mud Turtle)

The West African mud turtles are found across West Africa. They are known to dwell in lakes, swamps, streams, ponds, and even lagoons. They can be found in forests and savannahs alike.

If you wish to keep these turtles as pet, you need an aquarium. For single turtles, a glass aquarium with a water capacity of 40 gallons is usually adequate.

For a group of adult turtles, the water capacity of the tank needs to be about 150 gallons. The water level needs to be deep enough for the turtle to swim with ease. It needs to be at least 1½ the length of the turtle. You can decide to have a substrate at the bottom of the aquarium but it isn’t compulsory.

It is important to decorate the turtle tank with large flat rocks, which can also double as a basking spot, cork bark, and vegetation. The decorations should not be arranged in a way that can allow the turtle to get out of the tank as this can lead to injuries.

Also, a powerful pump and filter system is necessary. The pump needs to have a flow rate of about 350 gallons an hour.

 The temperature of the water needs to be between 70 degrees and 75 degrees, while the temperature of the basking area should be about 95 degrees. The air temperature of the room needs to be around 80 degrees.

Turtles need UVB light to synthesize vitamin D3. This vitamin helps them absorb nutrients. As such, it is important to install a UVB light over the basking area. This light needs to be changed every 9 months.

African Sideneck Turtle Breeding

The West African mud turtles nest and lay eggs during the dry season/harmattan in the northern hemisphere. They usually lay eggs twice a year.

The eggs are known to hatch during the rainy/wet season. Since the months in which these seasons occur vary from region to region, the nesting and hatching periods vary as well. Annually, fertile females lay 6 to 18 eggs.

African Sideneck Turtle Predators

African Sideneck Turtle (Pelusios castaneus) hiding in shell

The West African mud turtles have few natural predators. They are collected by humans for food as well as traditional medicine. In countries such as Ghana, Benin, and Togo, they are also exported for the pet trade. However, these activities don’t seem to have any effect on wild populations.

African Sideneck Turtle Endangerment

These turtles are list as least concern on the IUCN red list since 1996 and they are doing very well in the wild.

African Sideneck Turtle Health Issues

If kept properly, African Sideneck Turtles should not have many ailments or problems, but following is a few that might arise. Some turtles, may have a damaged shell, these are usually minor and will heal very well with a Betadine® scrub; more major issues may need to be treated with Silvadene® cream or similar treatment for wounds.

With both of these treatments, direct exposure to sunlight is highly recommended. Nematode parasites are often found in newly imported turtles, so if you are considering obtaining a turtle that has recently been imported, it should be given dewormer like panacur shortly after getting established in its new habitat. 

Some African Sideneck Turtles may have minor eye problems upon arrival, but this is usually a symptom of dehydration and perhaps even substandard shipping conditions. Again, sunshine is highly recommended to treat these issues and of course making sure your turtle has plenty of water.

These turtles are more than likely used to warm weather and plenty of sunshine, so when exposed to cold weather for longer durations of time, some experience respiratory problems.

If you live in a cold climate, a UV light will help with this issue. Most of these issues are sparse and as you can see, they are fairly easy to alleviate.

African Sideneck Turtle Care Video Guide


The African mud turtle is a lively pet. They are naturally curious and relatively easy to care for. In addition, they are readily available in most turtle pet shops.

They may be aggressive when kept together in a small enclosure, during mating season or feeding time. They are generally not aggressive towards humans. These excitable turtles make interesting pets and are a good choice to start with. We urge you to leave any comments on the African mud turtle.

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Wednesday 23rd of December 2020

I have a side neck turtle i was upgrading her tank to a 30 gallon tank is that to small


Thursday 11th of June 2020

This article was great but I didn't see anything about the turtles skin shedding. Tell me you just forgot to mention this and there's no need for me to be concerned. Also what to do when turtle will not bask? I took him outside but he/she just hides under in my shadow.


Saturday 9th of November 2019

Have West Africa side neck ? turtle and he's shedding his skin around neck area. Need help


Wednesday 24th of July 2019

Hi! My name is Sue and I am writing on behalf of my friend who has an African side-neck. She told me that for the last two days, her turtle, Ninja has been very quiet. I can't find any information on this type of behavior. Would you be able to share any insight on this? Thanks so much!

LaShunda Jefferson

Wednesday 3rd of July 2019

I have an almost 1 yr old male African Side-Neck. He is still in his 20 gallon tank but will be upgraded very soon. His name is Dude!

Unfortunately he was not given de-wormer at the pet store & we have been battling a very stubborn worm. He was treated late May to earlier June 2019. But it recently re-appeared & so now the vet has him on a double dose of de-wormer. I hope we can nip it in the bud this time! I have been told to clean his tank completely for the next 4 no good bacteria left in the tank as he could be pooping out invisible worm eggs & re-digesting them...Ewwwwhhhh

I was tryna find different fruits & veggies he can eat. This site was very helpful!

Thank you...LaLa


Thursday 4th of July 2019

Thanks for sharing! Happy to hear we were able to provide some help!