Turtle Teachings – self-containment at it’s maximum
The Indian peacock softshell turtle (Nilssonia hurum) belongs to the Trinochydae family and is a large riverine species found in rivers and reservoirs in Northern and Central India. The authors recount their surprised delight to have found one of this species far from its home.
It was a cloudy afternoon of July, 2015 when we were on the search of some insects beside a pond in Khatra area of Bankura district, West Bengal. The side of pond was covered by small grass, dense but small bushes, followed by large trees. Suddenly we saw a movement in a bush and after a few seconds, we saw a face. Our initial reaction was that might be an Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata) which is very common in that area of Chotonagpur plateau. But it was just like a dream, when the little guy left its hide-out and showed us its full body. To our emmense delight, we realised that this was an Indian peacock softshell turtle (Nilssonia hurum). The absence of yellow patches on its carapace confirmed that it was not a flapshell, and the eye spots on the carapace confirmed about the Indian Peacock Softshell.
In the Indian peacock softshell turtle, the carapace is low and oval and the anterior edge has blunt tubercles. The head is large, and the snout is strongly downturned. The carapace is dark olive green to nearly black, sometimes with a yellow rim. The head and limbs are olive green; the forehead has dark reticulations and large yellow or orange patches or spots, especially behind the eyes and across the snout. The plastron is white or light gray with five large callosities.
The Indian peacock softshell turtle utilizes rivers, lakes, and ponds, from the upper reaches of the rivers, to the lowest but avoid the saline water. It is strictly aquatic and buries itself in mud or sand at the bottom keeping just eyes and nostrils out. It feeds on snails and fishes. It is still a mystery to us what it was doing inside the bushes! We conjecture that it might have moved towards the bushes mistakenly, since there was a water channel behind the bushes.
This species is traded in East Asian markets at volumes of 60 to 80 tons per week. They have been categorized as Vulnerable (IUCN), Appendix I (CITES) & Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Indian peacock softshell turtle is widespread in the northern and central parts of the Indian subcontinent, but the southern and eastern limits of its distribution remain unclear.
Although found in the Northern and Central part of India, there is no particular data of finding of this particular species from the Chhotonagpur Plateau eco-region of India. That’s why it is so much important for the region, as well as for West Bengal.
Cover Image: Anik Karmakar (Bishnupur, Bankura, West Bengal)
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