Backyard Buddies
Eastern Long-necked Turtle

Photo: Rosie Nicolai

Eastern Long-necked Turtle

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One of the more unexpected visitors to the backyard during summer is the Eastern Long-necked, or snake-necked, turtle Chelodina longicollis, one of 23 Australian freshwater turtle species.

Long-necked turtles hibernate during winter and the summer rains are their cue to haul themselves out of their creeks and ponds to find food. They eat fish, tadpoles, frogs and crayfish which they tear apart with their front claws - turtles do not have teeth.

They are very common in eastern Australia and live in bodies of slow moving water like farm dams, rivers and lakes.

These turtles move about the landscape in groups of up to several dozen. Heavy rains can trigger this migration as can their home creek or lake drying up and they are vulnerable to being run over moving across roads.

You may find a turtle has taken up temporary residence in your garden pond, resting and feeding before moving on. Turtles can walk up to a kilometre a day in their hunt for their favourite foods: molluscs, crustaceans, tadpoles, and insects.

But your resident turtle may be doing more than just having a snack: it may also be planning to start a family. If so, you'll see it dig a deep hole before laying  between 4 and 20 eggs which hatch between three and eight months later.

Did you know?

Long-necked turtles are extremely tough, sometimes living in some pretty unappealing places, such as polluted creeks and even sewage treatment plants. Like their distant relatives the crocodiles, they can also survive horrific injuries and infections, such as near-total loss of the shell, thanks to an unusual immune system.

Tip

If you find a turtle on the road and want to rescue it, be careful how you pick it up. Armed with defensive scent glands above each leg, turtles can squirt a liquid with a stinking and persistent odour. The best way is to pick them up by the shell and hold them well away from you so the liquid doesn't touch you.

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Photo: OEH