Backyard Buddies
Oblong Turtle

Photo: Gnangarra

Oblong Turtle

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Oblong turtles live in Perth and throughout the south-west of Western Australia. They are also known as western long necked turtles or snake necked turtles. They are different from most turtles as their shell is not round.

Oblong turtles are dark brown to black, with a paler undershell. They live in rivers, lakes and swamps and prefer slow moving water.

Turtles may be famous for being slow and steady, but don't be surprised if you see an Oblong turtle lunging from the shallows with the speed of a hungry crocodile, neck extended for the strike. Large females will prey on birds including Purple Swamphens. They need to build up their body fat when they are active to survive during less favourable conditions.

They locate their prey in low visibility water by echolocation, the same way that bats and some dolphins do. They emit a series of high frequency clicks and listen to the echoes that return from various objects near to them. They use these echoes to locate and identify the objects. 

From September to January, you may see Oblong turtles trying to cross the road. Watch out for them near their habitats of permanent and seasonal freshwater bodies including rivers, lakes, farm dams, swamps, and natural and constructed wetlands. Females will be leaving the water during spring and summer in search of sandy soils in which to lay their eggs.

When she finds a safe spot, the female Oblong turtle digs a hole with her back feet and lays 2-16 leathery eggs. Depending on the temperature and the conditions, it can take 26 to 41 weeks for the eggs to hatch. Often the little turtles will try to get back across the road their mum came over to get back to water.

You have Oblong turtle hatchlings to thank for keeping down the number of mosquitoes. One tiny turtles can eat up to 70 mosquito larvae a day. The oval shaped black shell, also called the 'carapace', of a hatchling is about the size of a 20 cent piece.

Turtles don't have teeth, and instead tear their food with their back claws, but they do have strong jaws so it's best to avoid their heads if you pick one up to remove it from the road.

Hold the animal away from your body so that it won't squirt on you. Be careful as the hind legs have small claws that may give you a scratch. Take the turtle to a safe spot in the direction it was travelling and put it down gently.

You can also lend a helping hand if you find a turtle that has become trapped in your yard. Place them in a position where they can make their own way back to the wetland or nearby water source unimpeded.

If you spot an injured turtle, and you're in Western Australia, please call WildCare on (08) 9474 9055. This service is available 24-hours, 7 day a week. If you're not in WA,  so please call your nearest wildlife care group to help an injured turtle if you see one.

A turtle's shell is made of live tissue and so it cannot be repaired with fibreglass or other material. If cracked, the shell must be cleaned surgically by a vet, while the turtle is under a general anaesthetic. Next, the turtle needs specialised care, antibiotics and pain relief so that it can heal its shell over time, free from infection and safe from predators.

Tip

If you're doing some landscaping or gardening, stay away from muddy areas so that you don't accidentally unearth a turtle. When it's too hot or cold for an Oblong Turtle, it will hide away in damp mud and enter a deep sleep called 'aestivation'. This is similar to hibernation, but not as deep. Turtles can't convert the food they eat into body heat like we do, but instead they rely on the temperature of their environment and the sun to warm them enough for activity.

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Photo: OEH