Common name: East African Black Mud Turtle
Synonyms and Other Names: East African black mud turtle (Also: pan hinged terrapin)
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Identification: The East African black mud turtle has a domed, smooth carapace (upper shell) with a length of 130-200 mm (5.1-7.9 in) (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Branch, 1998; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999). The carapace is typically dark brown, gray or black, often with yellow markings on the margins (Pritchard, 1979; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Branch, 1993, 1998; Glaw and Vences, 1994; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999). The plastron (lower shell) is hinged, dark brown, gray or black, and can have yellow markings, or be entirely yellow (Pritchard, 1979; Branch, 1998; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999). The upper jaw has a blunt unnotched, nonbicuspid tomium (beak) and the head is a uniform brown, not vermiculated, occasionally with black spots (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Branch, 1998). These pelomedusids (primitive side-necked turtles) superficially resemble indigenous kinosternids (mud and musk turtles) but are generally larger and have a neck that retracts sideways. Pelusios subniger is illustrated in Pritchard (1979), Hedges (1983), Ernst and Barbour (1989), Branch (1993, 1998), Glaw and Vences (1994), and Spawls et al. (2002).
Size: carapace length of 130-200 mm
Native Range: Eastern and southeastern Africa, including Madagascar (Pritchard, 1979; Broadley, 1989; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Iverson, 1992; Branch, 1993, 1998; Glaw and Vences, 1994; Spawls et al., 2002).
Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Puerto Rico &
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps
Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Pelusios subniger are found here.
Table last updated 6/26/2022
† Populations may not be currently present.
Means of Introduction: Pelusios subniger in Florida were originally released by an animal dealer (Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999).
Status: Bartlett and Bartlett (1999) regard this turtle as tenuously established in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Specimens have not been found in interconnecting canals and waterways (Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999). No vouchers are available to verify the establishment of this species in Florida (K. Krysko, personal communication 2004). The uncredited photo labeled "Pelusios subniger subniger" in Bartlett and Bartlett (1999) has a bicuspid upper tomium and pale vermiculations on its head indicating that it is not P. subniger, but instead appears to have a morphology more closely conforming to P. casteneus (West African black mud turtle) or P. castenoides (East African yellow-bellied mud turtle) (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Branch, 1998). If the specimen illustrated by Bartlett and Bartlett (1999) actually came from Florida it calls to question the identity of any presumptively established populations of Pelusios.
Nonindigenous populations in Guadeloupe, Lesser Antilles, are actually nonindigenous Pelusios casteneus that were misidentified as P. subniger (Iverson, 1992; Powell and Henderson, 2003). Other nonindigenous populations of P. subniger on Mauritius Island, Glorieuses Îsles, and Diego Garcia are established (Broadley, 1989; Iverson, 1992).
Impact of Introduction: Unknown. Given that P. subniger and other species of Pelusios seem to occupy an ecological niche similar to indigenous kinosternids, there is potential for competition between these turtles. Their carnivorous diet (see below) has the potential to negatively impact indigenous aquatic fauna, especially fish, frogs and invertebrates.
References: (click for full references)
Bartlett, R. D., and P. P. Bartlett. 1999. A Field Guide to Florida Reptiles and Amphibians. Gulf Publishing Company, Houston. 280 pp.
Branch, B. [=W. R.] 1993. Southern African Snakes and Other Reptiles. A Photographic Guide. New Holland (Publishers) Ltd, London. 144 pp.
Branch, B. [=W. R.] 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Third Revised Edition. Ralph Curtis Books Publishing, Sanibel Island, Florida. 399 pp.
Broadley, D. [G.] 1989. Pelusios subniger (Lacépède 1788). Pp. 133-134. In: F. W. King and R. L. Burke (editors). Crocodilian, Tuatara, and Turtle Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. The Association of Systematics Collections, Washington, DC. 216 pp.
Censky, E. J., and H. Kaiser. 1999. The Lesser Antillean fauna. Pp. 181-221. In: B. I. Crother (editor). Caribbean Amphibians and Reptiles. Academic Press, San Diego. 495 pp.
Ernst, C. H., and R. W. Barbour. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. and London. 313 pp.
Glaw, F., and M. Vences. 1994. A Fieldguide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. Second Edition – Including Mammals and Freshwater Fish. Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig, Bonn. 480 pp.
Hedges, N. G. 1983. Reptiles and Amphibians of East Africa. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi. 140 pp.
Iverson, J. B. 1986. A Checklist with Distribution Maps of the Turtles of the World. John B. Iverson, Richmond, Indiana. 283 pp.
Krysko, K. L. 2004. Personal communication—Collection Manager, Division of Herpetology, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, 32611-7800.
Powell, R., and R. W. Henderson. 2003. A second set of addenda to the checklist of West Indian amphibians and reptiles. Herpetological Review 34(4):341-345.
Pritchard, P. C. H. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Neptune, New Jersey. 895 pp.
Schwartz, A., and R. W. Henderson. 1991. Amphibians and Reptiles of the West Indies: Descriptions, Distributions, and Natural History. University of Florida Press, Gainesville. 720 pp.
Spawls, S., K. Howell, R. Drewes, and J. Ashe. 2002. A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa. Academic Press, San Diego. 543 pp.
Revision Date: 4/16/2019
Somma, L.A., 2022, Pelusios subniger (Bonnaterre, 1789): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=2281, Revision Date: 4/16/2019, Access Date: 7/1/2022
This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.