Interesting Facts About The Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtles: World’s Largest Freshwater Turtle

Did you know that only three living the Yangtze giant softshell turtles are known, two in Suzhou zoo in China and one in Hanoi, Vietnam, (the fourth one was reported dead in January 2016)? The Yangtze giant softshell turtle, also known as the Shanghai softshell turtle, Red River giant softshell turtle, speckled softshell turtle or Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, is one of the rarest and most threatened softshell turtle species found in China. It’s listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Scientists, researchers, and conservationists hope that a pair at Suzhou Zoo in China will breed.
The Yangtze giant softshell turtle measures over 39 inches (100 cm) in overall length and 28 inches (70 cm) in width. It can weigh up to 150–220 lb (70–100 kg). You can easily note the Yangtze giant softshell turtle for its dorsally placed eyes and deep head with a pig-like snout.
The average size of large turtle specimens (turtles weighing over 22 lb (10 kg)) that researchers could collect in the Yangtze River per one study was 55 lb (25kg), even though they didn’t definitively identify all specimens as Rafetus. Its head can measure over 7.9 inches (20 cm) in length and 3.9 inches (10 cm) in width. Its shell, or carapace, can grow larger than 20 inches (50 cm), with the largest shell that one could find measuring about 34 inches (86 cm) in length. However, along the curve carapace lengths of up to 42 inches (106 cm) have been reported. It’s also possible for the largest specimens (often reported in Vietnam) to have weighed up 485 to 546 lb (220 to 247.5 kg). The males are smaller than the females and have a longer, larger tail.
Let’s now look at more little-known interesting facts about the Yangtze giant softshell turtles:
1. The last known the Yangtze giant softshell turtle specimen captured in the wild in China was in 1998 in the Red River between Jianshui and Yuanyang; researchers released it later. The Yangtze giant softshell turtles have been known to inhabit the Lake Tai and Yangtze River, situated on the border of Gejiu, Yuanyang, Jianshui and Honghe in Yunnan Province in southern China, and Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces, in eastern China.
2. The recent development plan to build hydropower cascade of twelve dams on the Red River in China may flood all of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle’s habitat and change the ecosystem of lower Vietnam. In fact, this softshell turtle species is already on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss, the use of the bones and carapace in alternative medicine, and hunting for subsistence and local consumption. Skulls are also kept as trophies.
3. The Yangtze giant softshell turtle can lay from twenty to more than eighty eggs. It nests during the morning and at night.
In 2008, biologists, researchers, and conservationists introduced a fertile female from Changsha Zoo to the only known male in China, a 100-year-old turtle in Suzhou Zoo. The female, who’s over eighty years old, was reported to settle in well after her 600-mile move. At that point, biologists were quite optimistic for breeding success. The Turtle Survival Alliance and the Wildlife Conservation Society coordinated the move. In July 2013, National Geographic reported that the female had laid eight eggs in the sixth breeding season for the Suzhou mating pair. However, none were fertile.
4. The only known remaining female the Yangtze giant softshell turtle specimen kept at the Changsha Zoo was transferred to transfer to the Suzhou Zoo to breed with male specimen after an agreement was made.
There have been significant conservation efforts focusing on searching for live specimens in the wild and breeding captive turtles in China. Also, conservationists and biologists are making efforts to improve conditions for breeding at both the Western Temple in Suzhou and Suzhou Zoo.
In 2015, scientists and conservationists attempted the first artificial insemination for this species. They successfully inseminated the female in May 2015. They extracted the semen from a sedated male using the electro-ejaculation procedure.
The scientists and researchers expected the female to lay eggs in a few weeks after, and they’ll determine the fertility of eggs in a couple of weeks after laying. After nearly two months, the female had laid two clutches of eggs, totaling 89 eggs. Unfortunately, none were viable.
5. As of mid-2017, conservationists are still traversing the remotes parts of China searching for any remaining wild turtles.
Their survey mainly targets parts of the Red River in the Yunnan Province. There have been reports from the locals alleging that they have seen one to two turtles with the similar description to that of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle. Therefore, there’s a small chance this species still live in the wild.

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