Indian Peacock Softshell (Nilssonia hurum)

Indian Peacock Softshell (Nilssonia_hurum)

Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle Overview

The Indian peacock softshell turtle is a riverine turtle endemic to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. They are generally omnivorous (predominantly carnivorous) and nocturnal.

As a softshell turtle, the Indian peacock softshell turtle has a leathery shell that is soft to touch. The Indian peacock softshell turtle isn’t usually kept as pets, however, on very rare occasions, you may come across a pet peacock softshell turtles. In their native India, while they are illegal to keep, however, several Indian peacock softshell turtles are maintained in temple tanks and ponds.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Nilssonia hurum
  • Average Adult Size: 23 in. (600 mm) & 66 lb. (30 kg)
  • Clutch Size: 10 to 30 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: unknown
  • Food: Fish, mollusks & insects
  • Enclosure Size:  N/A
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable on IUCN Redlist

Facts and Information

The species Nilssonia hurum (scientific name of Indian peacock softshell turtles) belong to the family Trionychidae, which contains all other softshells such as the spiny soft-shelled, the smooth soft-shelled and the Florida soft-shelled.

The genus Nilssonia also contains the black softshell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans). The two (N. hurum & N. nigricans) look very much alike. In fact, unless you’re an expert on both, it’s impossible to tell them apart.

The species has a carapace length of 23 inches or 60 cm. Their shell is leathery and their nose is snorkel-like and downturned. They have yellow, orange or grey patches on their snout and around the eyes. Their leathery shell is dark olive-green color, flat and oval in shape with rows of small rounded protuberances.

Adults have white undersides (plastron), while hatchlings and juveniles have a much darker plastron. As they grow, their plastron lightens in color. Adult males have longer and thicker tails than adult females do. This is the only known sexual dimorphism present in this species.

The N. hurum can be found in northern and central India as well as in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal. As aquatic reptiles, they are common along the tributaries of the Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra, and the Subarnarekha (all rivers found in the Indian subcontinent). 

Apart from the four geographical regions (India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh) already mentioned, it is possible that wild populations exist in western Myanmar.

Indian peacock softshell Turtle Habitat

This unique species can be found in rivers, lakes and even ponds. As freshwater turtles, they seek to avoid saline river mouths. They may burrow into the muddy pond/lake beds during the dry season when these lentic water bodies dry up.  

While they can survive on land for short periods, they spend almost all their lives in water, only coming to the surface about every half an hour to breathe. They also do bask on the water’s surface. While juveniles and hatchlings prefer shallow waters, adults prefer deep waters.

In captivity, they are found in temples tanks and village ponds in Puri and Assam.

Indian peacock softshell Turtle’s Diet

The N. hurum are nocturnal as well as omnivorous although they are primarily carnivorous. Adults are known to eat mollusks such as snails, gastropods, and clams; fish such as Mola carplet, Tengara catfish, and Gangetic leaf fish; frogs; prawns; carrion and vegetables. The juveniles and hatchlings tend to feed more on mosquito larvae and fish.

In captivity, such as at the temple in Puri, Orissa in eastern India where they are kept in a tank, the Indian peacock softshell turtles are fed confectionery made of palm sugar and rice.

Captive Indian peacock softshell turtles are also found in village ponds, and temple tanks in Assam and Uttar Pradesh (both in India). Here they are fed bread, cakes, fruits, animal viscera, puffed rice, and foods generated as garbage.

Conservation/Threats

While there is no population status available, the species is the most common large softshell turtle in the lower Ganges river system. To the north, they are outnumbered by the N. gangetica. Specimens of the species can be found in low current rivers, ponds, and lakes in this region.

Large wild populations can also be found in the Rapti, Kane, and Sarju river systems. In Pakistan’s Punjab Province, the N. hurum is the second most common turtle species, and they can be found in muddy ditches, marshes, and lakes. In Bangladesh, the N. hurum and the N. nigricans are the most abundant large softshell turtles in the geographical region.

They have a Vulnerable status on the IUCN Red List as their populations are declining. The species is also listed under Appendix I of CITES. In Pakistan, the species is protected under Appendix III of the Wildlife Protection Ordinance for Northwest Frontier Agency, Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh.

In India, the species is protected under the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. Finally, in Bangladesh, the species is protected under Schedule III of the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Act.

The main threats to the survival of wild populations include reduction in fish populations due to overfishing, mining, pollution and river traffic (the main food of wild Indian peacock softshell turtles is fish); and hunting for meat and calipee.

Conclusion

The Indian peacock softshell turtle is a unique turtle which is hardly kept as pets. Although you can find a captive specimen in the temples and ponds of Puri, and Assam, they are virtually nonexistent in the States and other parts of the world. Unlike the N. nigricans, the  N. hurum is not critically endangered.

However, the species is still protected under many laws in their India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Although not endangered, the population of the species is declining due to exploitation, and as such conservation measures such as the protection of nesting grounds, and better enforcement and partial amendments of the existing laws may be needed to keep the species from becoming endangered.

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