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Extinct turtles

Extinct turtles

There are many extinct turtles and this list is just a highlight of the top 8 most popular. If you’re wondering, well how could they have gone extinct, there are several possibilities really. Extinction can be down to changes in the ecosystem of the species as well as drastic changes in climate and when a species is unable to adapt, it will go extinct.

In recent times, however, most extinction can be linked to humans and human activities. Human interferences, be it direct or indirect, have lead to the extinction of many species, turtles included.

Here is a list of turtles believed to be extinct. Many of these extinct turtles haven’t been seen in the wild for several years (even decades) now and may carry an IUCN conservation status of extinct.

1. Black softshell turtle

Black Softshell Turtle (Bostami Turtle)
Black Softshell Turtle (Bostami Turtle)
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Nilssonia nigricans
  • Adult Size: 35.5 inches
  • Average Lifespan:  N/A

Nilssonia nigricans is also referred to as the Bostami turtle in reference to the Shrine of Bayazid Bostami where they can be found. N. nigricans is extinct in the wild and the only known specimens are captive-bred found in an artificial pond (Shrine of Bayazid Bostami) near Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Before their extinction, this turtle may have been found between the Arakan streams and the Brahmaputra river system.

Although this may just be mistaken identities as N. nigricans closely resemble Ganges softshell turtle (N. gangeticus), Indian peacock softshell turtle (N. hurum), and Leith’s softshell turtle (N. leithii), turtles endemic to this geographical range.

N. nigricans grows to lengths of 3 feet and is black in coloration. As softshell turtles, the carapace of N. nigricans is leathery and tough. These chelonians also have a snorkel-like nose. It was once thought that N. nigricans were specimens of N. gangeticus or N. hurum.

2. Viesca Mud Turtle

We were unable to find an image of this species.
Please contact us if you have an image.

  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon hirtipes megacephalum
  • Adult Size: 6 to 7 inches
  • Average Lifespan:  N/A

K. h. megacephalum is a subspecies of the rough-footed mud turtle. It is also the only extinct subspecies of the species – Kinosternon hirtipes. In fact, many zoologists consider the K. h. megacephalum to be a species on its own.

Males of this species grow to about 7 inches while females grow to about 6 inches. This turtle was last seen in 1961 in Coahuila in Mexico. The species have been presumed extinct since at least the 1970s.

The Kinosternon hirtipes (the species itself) is endemic to southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

Like most freshwater turtles, K. h. megacephalum starts out mostly carnivorous (feeding on anthropods specifically insects and gastropods) and as it grows, it becomes more herbivorous.

3. Nubian Flapshell Turtle

Nubian Flapshell Turtle (Cyclanorbis elegans)
Nubian Flapshell Turtle (Cyclanorbis elegans)
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Cyclanorbis elegans
  • Adult Size: 27.5 inches
  • Average Lifespan:  N/A

C. elegans is a large softshell turtle that has historically been found across West Africa and parts of central and east Africa. They used to be found in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Ethiopia.

Very few of these turtles have been seen over the last 150 years. Most biologists believe that the C. elegans is extinct in Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghana. Interestingly a tiny comm 

Main threats: the main threats to the species have been local consumption as well as habitat destruction from human activities such as channelization, damming, sand mining, and pollution.

4. Pinta giant tortoise

Pinta giant tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii) resting in dirt
Pinta giant tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii) resting in dirt – Source
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Chelonoidis abingdonii
  • Lifespan: 101 years

C. abingdonii is believed to be extinct although there is the possibility of hybrid individuals of the same species. The C. abingdonii is located on the Pinta Island of Ecuador. These turtles are huge with sizes comparable to other Galapagos tortoises.

C. abingdonii is an herbivorous turtle that spends about 16 hours resting. These chelonians feed on grasses, cactus pads, greens, and fruits. These chelonians are believed to be able to go extended periods without nourishment and water.

Main threats: The main threat to C. abingdonii were the goats brought to Pinta Island in 1958. Overgrazing by the goats led to the depletion of vegetation that C. abingdonii fed on.

However, efforts were made to exterminate the goats. Once the goat population fell, the vegetation recovered. As of 2003 Pinta Island had no goats.

Other Chelonoidis species

Several other lesser-known tortoise species of the genus Chelonoidis are extinct. Very little is known o these turtles although most of them are huge herbivorous tortoises.

These species include Bahamian giant tortoise (C. alburyorum), Cuban giant tortoise (C. cubensis), Lutz’s giant tortoise (C. lutzae), C. marcanoi, Mona tortoise ( C. monensis), sombrero giant tortoise ( C. sombrerensis), and Floreana Island Tortoise (C. Niger).

5. Réunion giant tortoise

Réunion giant tortoise (Cylindraspis indica) 1894
Réunion giant tortoise (Cylindraspis indica) 1894 – Source
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Cylindraspis indica
  • Size: 47.2 inches (120 cm)

C. indica was a giant tortoise that used to be endemic to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. While numerous in the 17th and 18th centuries, by the 19th century, this species was extinct. C. indica grew to up to 43 inches and were the largest tortoise of the genus Cylindraspis.

C. indica had long limbs and a long neck. Males were bigger than females. The strong powerful jaws of this tortoise were strongly serrated.

Main Threats: C. indica was a species endemic to just the Réunion Island. Wild populations were high and they were very prosperous. Due to their friendly and curious nature, C. indica was easy prey to the first human settles.

Large numbers were packed onto passing ships for consumption on sea trips. Additionally, the introduction of species such as rats, cats, and pigs also caused a lot of damages as these animals fed on hatchlings and eggs of the species. By the 1840s, the C. indica went extinct.

6. Saddle-backed Mauritius giant tortoise

We were unable to find an image of this species. You can see a statue of one here.

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Cylindraspis inepta
  • Size: 23.6 to 27.5 inches (60 to 70 cm)

C. inepta was a giant tortoise native to Mauritius. These giants were last seen in the early 18th century. As you can see, they have been extinct for centuries now. Their extinction, however, was due to human interference.

C. inepta specialized at feeding on high bushes and low hanging branches of trees. The saddle-backed Mauritius giant tortoise is closely related to C. triserrata (domed Mauritius giant tortoise,) which also inhabited Mauritius. Both turtles are extinct.

Main Threats: C. inepta faced threats from early settlers who overhunted them. These large turtles were friendly and didn’t avoid humans. This made the easy prey. Also the introduction of rats, cats, and pigs also negatively affected wild populations. These turtles were hunted for food, fat, and oil.

7. Domed Mauritius giant tortoise

Domed Mauritius giant tortoise (Cylindraspis triserrata)
Domed Mauritius giant tortoise (Cylindraspis triserrata) about to eat grass
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Cylindraspis triserrata
  • Size: 23.6 to 27.5 inches (60 to 70 cm)

C. triserrata is another of the extinct giants of the genus Cylindrapsis. These turtles went extinct shortly after the discoveries of the Mascarene Islands. The C. triserrata in particular was endemic to Mauritius.

These turtles went extinct as they were easy to hunt/collect. Over collection for food, fat and oil was the demise of the genus. The C. triserrata was closely related to the Saddle-backed Mauritius giant tortoise, with whom the species shared a home.

While the saddle-baked Mauritius giant fed on high bushes and low hanging branches of trees, the C. triserrata fed on fallen leaves, grass, and fruits on the forest floors.

Main Threats: The main cause of the extinction of these turtle species was overharvesting. Also, the introduction of invasive species also damaged the wild populations.

8. Domed Rodrigues giant tortoise

Domed Rodrigues giant tortoise (Cylindraspis peltastes) (1)
Drawing of Domed Rodrigues giant tortoise By Paul Jossigny
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Cylindraspis peltastes
  • Size: 15.7 inches (40 cm), 26 lbs (12 kg)

C. peltastes is a species of extinct tortoises that was endemic to Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean. These tortoises were hunted to extinction by humans in the early 1800s. C. peltastes was the smallest chelonian of all the Indian Ocean giant tortoises (Cylindraspis).

Due to their small size, these chelonians were low grazers. Their close relative, the saddle-backed Rodrigues giant tortoise, fed on high bushes and low hanging branches of trees.

Main Threats: The main threats to the C. peltastes included overharvesting for food, fat, and oils and the introduction of several invasive species that competed with the chelonians for food and also hunted the turtles.

Some of these invasive species include cats, rats, and pigs. These animals preyed on the hatchlings and eggs of the species. Additionally, another invasive species, goats, also competed with C. peltastes for food.

By late 1802, the last of the domed Rodrigues giants died in large fires set to clear the large for agriculture.

Conclusion

This is the list of some of the more popular extinct turtles. While some of these turtles are classified as critically endangered, specimens haven’t been spotted for decades now.

For instance, the Nubian flapshell turtle was last spotted in 2000 and since then not a single specimen has been no confirmed sightings.

In recent times the loss of these species is down to human activities such as overcollection, pollution, and land development (this leads to the loss of natural habitat).

Needless to say, about half of all turtle species are threatened by extinction. It is our responsibility to ensure that these don’t also become extinct turtles.

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