Pelomedusa subrufa olivacea
The genus Pelomedusa is comprised of a single species, Pelomedusa subrufa, with three subspecies previously recognized, P.s.
subrufa, P.s. olivacea, and P.s. nigra (Bonin, Devaux, and Dupré, 2006; Ernst and Barbour, 1989). It is still strongly
recommended that groups of the three subspecies continue to be
housed separately in order to maintain the genetic identity of
each of these forms until further genetic research is completed.
Often confused with Pelusios (right), Pelomedusa (left) are easily
identified as lacking a plastral hinge that is well developed in all species
of Pelusios. Pelomedusa commonlyreach a SCL of 12 - 20 cm with some
individual reaching up to 30 cm.
Coloration is variable throughout the species & subspecies. Carapace and head coloration includes beige, brown, or olive. The plastron is
yellow, cream, or dark. Neck, limbs, and tail are gray brown to olive dorsally and yellowish to white ventrally. Sexual dimorphism does occur
(see Husbandry section) with males possessing significantly larger tails; extending beyond the outer edge of the anal scutes when
withdrawn while the tail of the female does not extend beyond the anal notch. Males exhibit a slight plastral concavity, females have flat
plastrons. It should also be noted that males develop broader heads than females. Larger individuals (both sexes) begin to develop a slight
concavity of the carapace along the vertebral scutes.
North African Helmeted Turtle
P.s. olivacea (Schweigger,
1812) - pectoral scutes are widely
separated by the femoral scutes.
Range extends from Ethiopia and the
Sudan, west to Nigeria and the
Common African Helmeted Turtle
P.s. subrufa (Lacepède, 1788)
- pectoral scutes meet at the
midline of the plastron.
Range extends from Sudan to Ghana
and southward to Western Cape
Province as well as Madagascar.
Black Helmeted Turtle
P.s. nigra (Gray, 1863)
- pectoral scutes meet at the midline of the
plastron with dark triangles on the ventral
surface of the marginals. Limited range
extends from South Africa and in
KwaZulu-Natal, from the Free State to Kimberly.
Pelomedusa subrufa subrufa
Used with permission -Chris van der Walt, Centurion,
South Africa - 2007
Note: Both P.s. subrufa (above and below left) and P.s. olivacea
(below right) can exhibit dark seams on the ventral side of the
marginals. These do not form the sharp triangular pattern seen
on P.s. nigra.
Carapacial color variation ranges from nearly black to light yellow
in both subrufa and olivacea. Pictured below: P.s. subrufa (left) &
P.s. olivacea (right)
Within all subspecies the degree to which the pectoral scutes are joined or separated varies greatly. Often individuals of P.s. olivacea will
exhibit pectoral scutes that are or appear to be touching. Most often this is due to a scute abnormality and may be linked to captive
diets. One cannot rule out the overlap of the ranges of P.s. subrufa & s. olivacea and the possible crossbreeding of subspecies.
The classic pectoral arrangement used for differentiating subspecies of P.
subrufa. The variability of this trait raises questions to the existence of
separate subspecies. Pictured below: P.s. subrufa (left) & P.s. olivacea (right)
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