* Japanese name: Suppon
* Scientific name: Pelodiscus sinensis
* Description: This is a medium-sized turtle whose carapace (the upper part of the shell) grows up to 25-cm long, and is colored olive, gray, or mottled pale green/brown. It has a long head with a pointed snout and bulging eyes, giving it a somewhat crocodilian appearance. The lower half of the shell, called the plastron, is typically darker than the carapace in juveniles, and pink or white in adults. No surprise that the carapace of the soft-shelled turtle is soft and rubbery.
* Where to find them: Soft-shelled turtles are very fond of the water and will usually be seen swimming in slow-flowing rivers and canals, or in ponds with a sandy or muddy bottom. Rice fields are also popular habitats. They may sometimes be seen basking in the sun on stones, but they will quickly slip into the water if they see you. During the day they spend much of the time buried in mud, absorbing oxygen through their skin. They can be seen across Honshu and Kyushu. This turtle has also, incidentally, spread widely across the world — for example, it is found in Guam, Hawaii and the continental United States. Asian immigrants in these places farm the turtle for food, and escapees have established their own populations.
* Food: Voracious carnivores, soft-shelled turtles will eat most things they can fit into their mouths: insects, crustaceans, mollusks and fish. They supplement their diet with the seeds of river and marsh plants. In some parts of Japan (and in many parts of Asia), the turtle is bred for food, typically soups. Soft-shelled turtles were traditionally caught by hand, at night.
* Special features: The introduction of the soft-shelled turtle to new areas is thought to have had a negative impact on indigenous fauna. In China and Japan, some people consider these aquatic reptiles to be a health-restoring “tonic” food. Populations of the turtle can become rapidly established. Females lay clutches of 15 to 28 eggs, with multiple clutches per year. The eggs are buried in moist soil from May to August, and hatch within 2-3 months. Mating, taking place from May to July, occurs when the male clasps the female’s shell with the claws on his forelimbs, and mounts her, sometimes biting her neck and legs. The turtle hibernates from October to April.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET
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