Animal of the Month
December 2019
Name: Cantor's Giant Softshell Turtle

Class: Sauropsida
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Family: Trionuchidae
Genus: Pelochelys
Species: P. cantorii

Size: About 47-79 inches long.
Weight: 150 lbs.

Characteristics:Small flat head, tubular nose, round eyes near end of snout, large flat soft "shell" on the back. Bares four flippers and a small tail.
Color(s): Brown with speckles or gray.
Behavior: Aquatic, ambush predator. Spends most of its life buried in the mud.
Preferred Habitat: Large lowland rivers.
Range: Across Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Indonesia, China, Malaysia and Cambodia. It once also lived in Singapore.
Omnivorous, feeding on fish, prawns, aquatic plants, mollusks and crabs. In captivity it may only eat fish, or refuse food altogether.
Lifespan: Unknown.


Whether it's a freshwater turtle or a sea turtle, turtles are famous for their hard shells. These shells keep the turtles safe from predators. However, there is one turtle that breaks this rule, a mysterious ambush predator that lives in the rivers of Southeast Asia. This bizarre creature is Cantor's giant softshell turtle. It holds the title of largest freshwater turtle on Earth, and unlike other turtles it does not possess a hard shell! Cantor's giant softshell turtle is truly a strange sight to be-hold. Looking more like a pancake than a turtle, softshell turtles spend nearly all of their lives buried in sand and mud. Their favorite homes are slow-moving rivers in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Indonesia, China, Malaysia and Cambodia.

Cantor's giant softshell turtle is named in honor of Theodore Edward Cantor, a Dutch zoologist and botanist. Softshell turtles are the largest freshwater turtles on Earth, though their exact size has been exaggerated. Some people have reported softshell turtles that were six feet long! Unfortunately, these claims have not been proven. The maximum known size for the softshell turtle is about 39 inches long. As far as turtles go, that's certainly nothing to sneeze at!

These turtles possess a tubular nose with which they stick above the surface of the sand they are buried in. They eat many small aquatic creatures including fish, crustaceans and mollusks, as well as water vegetation. They hunt by ambushing their prey, meaning they hide out of sight and then surprise their prey before it can escape. They are one of the fastest-striking animals in the world, even beating the king cobra in killing speed! They also possess a bite that can crush bones. The turtles are known to only emerge from their hiding spots twice a day to breathe and to eat. Imagine holding your breath for twelve hours at a time! In February through March, female softshell turtles will lay 20-28 eggs in sandy riverbanks.

Overall, there is still a lot we don't know about these turtles, and to make matters worse they are endangered. The main threats they are facing are overhunting and habitat destruction. They are often hunted for their meat as well as their eggs. Sometimes they are taken for pets, or to be used as a form of traditional (and unscientific) "alternative medicine". As a result they have declined severely across much of their range in Southeast Asia.

Despite the pressures, Cantor's giant softshell turtle is enduring. In 2007, Conservationists were overjoyed to discover a healthy population of the turtles along the Mekong River in Cambodia. This led to the founding of the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center in 2011. CITIES has also listed this species in Appendix II, meaning its trade is to be strictly monitored. With continued research and awareness, we can preserve the largest freshwater turtle on Earth.

To learn more about these bizarrely awesome turtles and how to help them, check out these organizations:

Conservation International-Asian Species Action Partnership - Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle Conservation Project aims to conserve the endangered turtle so as to allow the population to reach viable numbers and at the same time instil a conservation ethos in the local people to ensure future protection.

Conservation International, Greater Mekong page-Conservation International is one of the world's leading organizations in environmental conservation and sus-tainable development. They have many projects to protect ecosystems and the local people within them across the world, including the Greater Mekong River where softshell turtles reside.


Contact Us