hey everybody, welcome to another amazing installment of Weird Biology and WOWIE ZOWIE do I have an odd one for you today!

this bizarre creature is among the largest of its kind, but bears hardly any resemblance to the rest of the family. (we’re sure this gets mentioned a lot at its family holiday dinners.) it has a real mouthful of a name and the spirit of a cranky old man about to whack you in the shin with his walker.

give it up for…

I’ll just give this image a moment to sink in.

(it’s also called the small-headed softshell turtle, because scientists are a bunch of mean highschoolers.)

seriously, I don’t even really know where to START with this guy. unlike the humble regular earnest hardworking turtle, the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle does not have an armored shell (hence the name). instead, its shell is soft and leathery. like a pair of well-broken-in Timblerland boots, except that the boots will not bite you.

oh, he is absolutely going to bite you.

this soft pliable shell cuts down on the turtle’s weight by a huge amount, making them far more agile in the water and faster on land than a conventional everyman turtle (this should make you worried). the flattened shape of the shell also makes them more hydrodynamic, making them faster in the water than you can possibly imagine.

for a turtle, I mean.

this is an important advantage, because the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle spends most of its life in the water. they live on the bottoms of sandy rivers across a wide area of central and southern Asia, where they reach sizes best described as fucking huge. adults can reach up to 45 inches (shell length only) and 260 fucking pounds (whole damn turtle). 

their total body length can be over a meter. fuuuuuuuuck. a turtle that size needs a LOT of shoulder room, especially because the adults are a bunch of cranky ginormous chompmonsters. (can’t really blame them, I guess. I’d be irritable too, if my head was that small)

now imagine a cheesed-off 260-pound turtle swimming towards you at Mach Fuck.

Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtles are aggressive, and will attack anything they consider a threat (including humans, fishing boats, and probably also rocks). their primary attack is to just bite the fuck out of whatever is annoying them , but their secondary move is the one to watch out for.

when terminally pissed off, the turtle extends the full length of its surprisingly long neck and delivers a literal cannon headbutt. this attack has been documented as being powerful enough to damage fishing boats. imagine what it would do to your face. (nothing good. if you see this turtle winding up, run.)

the true face of terror.

when left to its own devices, the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle spends its time buried at the bottom of the river, waiting for its next meal to happen by. (which it can do almost indefinitely because softshell turtles can breathe underwater, holy shit.) once another animal smaller than itself passes overhead the turtle strikes, mortally wounding the prey with its nightmare bite (no joke, the first strike usually kills instantly. this is a creature capable of taking a chunk out of your leg). it’s a pretty solid gig, if you’re a lonely grumpmonster.

beats pumping gas all day, I guess.

in fact, the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle spends so much of its life underwater that we… don’t really know all that much about it. apart from the biting thing, I mean. the turtle has been very clear on that.

we’re not even entirely sure how long they live, though captive turtles have made it more than 70 grouchy, grouchy years. locals in India claim that in the wild individual river bastards can stick around for up to 140 years, which I am inclined to believe because these people fish for a living and they have to remember where the boat-sinking nightmare turtles live.

it’s only common sense.

despite its wide range, the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle is now considered Endangered. (note: this is not allowed. what would we replace them with? large cantankerous frogs? big passive-aggressive catfish? I DON’T THINK SO.)

this is primarily due to human hunting, as the turtles are consumed in huge number throughout Asia. (humans will eat anything.)

the government of India has now moved to protect the turtle, restricting trade and moving to conserve the species. we dearly hope this will be enough to save the grumpy frumpy river grandpa.

please stay with us forever, Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle. we love your tiny tiny face and terrible attitude.

thanks for reading! you can find the rest of the Weird Biology series here.

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img1- Wikimedia Commons img2- conservationindia.org  img3-zoosrcool.wordpress.com  img4- Joel Sartore  img5- Turtle Survival Alliance   img6- Turtle Survival Alliance img7- The TeCake img8- Joel Sartore

Happy International Turtle and Tortoise Week, Narrow-Headed Softshell friend!  We celebrate you and hope you’re around for many more generations of shell lovers to admire! 


Mariposas en el Amazonas beben lágrimas de tortugas como fuente de sodio

Butterflies in the Amazon drink turtle’s teardrops, a source of sodium

Its true. Can happen in other locations as well. Another way turtles and torts serve their environments! #ShellsMatter 

The race between the tortoise and climate change


File:Desert tortoise.jpg

There is absolutely no denying that our planet’s climate is changing. Incontrovertible evidence manifests itself from the fields of archaeology, dendrochronology, climatology, oceanography, epidemiology, bacteriology and hydrology; to name but a few. It therefore comes at no surprise that climate change has dramatic and unforgiving effects on a huge array of organisms and the ecosystems which they occupy. Again the evidence mounts, and these unprecedented changes to our climate directly impacts on the distribution, physiology, phenology, reproduction and ultimately the survival of species around the world. The causes of climate change are still debated, but there is one undeniable fact that appears from this daunting issue. Climate change poses a serious threat to the conservation of Earth’s biodiversity.

There is a vast amount of literature concerning the impact of climate change on organisms. Unfortunately all paint the same grim picture. Much of this research concerns the demographic changes in populations of short-lived species. Through no fault of their own, researchers have focused on these species, due to limitations in time, labour, funding and logistics. However, trawling through online journals, a piece of research caught my eye. Focusing on the threatened Agassiz’s tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) , this research, spanning over 30 years, focuses of the survival and demography of a long-lived species, in the wake of the increasingly unpredictable climate of the Sonoran Desert.


A map showing not only the Agassiz’s tortoise range, but the recently separated species; the Sonoran Desert Tortoise. Once though to be subspecies, genetic evidence shows us that they are actually two distinct species, isolated by the Colorado river. Find out more.

Models have predicted that the open expanses of the Sonoran Desert would, as the years progressed, become increasingly unsuitable, if the climate were to become warmer and dryer. The fact is that the climate has become warmer and dryer, but has this had the predicted and unfortunate effect on the Agassiz’s tortoise population? Well the results paint a slightly more complicated picture. From 1978-1996, tortoise numbers appeared to remain constant, even though the climate did become steadily warmer and dryer. However, from 1997 onwards, persistent droughts dramatically lowered the tortoises’ survival. Dehydration and starvation appear to have been the primary cause, but predation may have also increased, as a lack of preferred small mammalian prey (a direct result of drought), has forced coyote (Canis latrans) to switch to tortoises.

The impact of climate change on species and ecosystems around the world is unprecedented, and this study, like so many others is at worst, disturbing, yet at best, revealing. On an individual level, these data provide us with evidence that the Agassiz’s tortoise population is at a real risk of disappearing. At a broader level it provides scientists with another string to their bow, when persuading others that our modern lifestyles will have a direct impact on our planet, and ultimately us.


Lovich, J.E. et al. 2014. Climatic variation and tortoise survival: Has a desert species met its match? Biological Conservation, 169:214-224.


Leatherback Sea Turtle by toryjk on Flickr.


Fun fact: Unlike other Sea Turtles, The leatherback turtle has a thick ‘leather’ like skin supported by, but not attached to,  small bones. This allows them to dive far deeper into the ocean, withstanding stronger water pressure than any other turtle is capable of. Its also the largest living turtle.


Leatherback Sea Turtle by toryjk on Flickr.


Fun fact: Unlike other Sea Turtles, The leatherback turtle has a thick ‘leather’ like skin supported by, but not attached to,  small bones. This allows them to dive far deeper into the ocean, withstanding stronger water pressure than any other turtle is capable of. Its also the largest living turtle.