The Wildebeest's guide to South Africa

Marsh Terrapin

Afrikaans name: Moeraswaterskilpad

Marsh Terrapins may often be seen basking on the banks of a pond

Photo © Steven Herbert

Pelomedusa subrufa

The Marsh Terrapin is found in a variety of still and slow-flowing bodies of water across South Africa. It is also found over a lot of East and West Africa. They do, however, avoid desert, thick forest and high altitude areas.

This terrapin can grow up to 30 cm in length. They have two small 'tentacles' underneath their mouth.

Marsh Terrapins are eaten by Nile Crocodiles and are not often seen in the same bodies of water.

The Marsh Terrapin may often be seen basking in the sun on the edge of the water.

They are able to survive droughts by burrowing into moist soil where they lie dormant.

Marsh Terrapins eat a wide variety of things including water plants, frogs and insects.

Apparently they are not good for eating as their meat has a musky smell.

Females lay up to 30 eggs in a pit near the water. The young hatch about 100 days later. A newly hatched Marsh Terrapin weighs about 10 grams.

Marsh Terrapin in Kruger National Park

Photo © Steven Herbert

Above - I have noticed that Marsh Terrapins have become quite used to cars in some game parks like Kruger National Park. In fact, I presume that people feed them, which is why they approach vehicles on causeways such as this one. While it is fun to feed wild animals it is not really a good idea particularly mammals such as hyenas, monkeys and Chacma Baboons. They become pests and often need to be culled or relocated.

References and further reading

Wildlife of the Cape Peninsula - Author: Duncan Butchart - Published: 2001 - Page: 72

Wild About Johannesburg - Author: Duncan Butchart - Published: 1995 - Page: 64

Wild Issue 47 - Author: - Published: 2019 - Page: 88

The South African Tortoise Book - Author: RC Boycott and O Bourquin - Published: 1988 - Page: 60

Tortoises, Terrapins & Turtles of Africa - Author: Bill Branch - Published: 2008 - Page: 83

Southern African Wildlife - Author: Readers Digest - Published: 1989 - Page: 209

The Reptiles of the Kruger National Park - Author: U. de V. Pienaar, WD Haacke and NHG Jacobsen - Published: 1983 - Page: 24

The Sandton Field Guide - Author: Sandton Nature Conservation Society - Published: 1982 - Page: 99

Questions and Answers - Snakes and Reptiles of Southern Africa - Author: John Comrie-Greig - Published: 1992 - Page: 11

Reptiles of Southern Africa - Author: Rod Patterson and Anothony Bannister - Published: 1987 - Page: 16

Illustrated Guide to the Game Parks and Nature Reserves of SA - 2nd edn - Author: Readers Digest - Published: 1991 - Page: 407

Game Ranger in your Backpack - Author: Megan Emmett and Sean Pattrick - Published: 2013 - Page: 192

Freshwater Life - Author: C. Griffiths, J. Day & M. Picker - Published: 2015 - Page: 64

Bill Branchs Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa - Author: Bill Branch - Published: 1988 - Page: 39

A Field Guide to the Eastern Cape Coast - Author: R. Lubke, F. Gess & M. Bruton - Published: 1988 - Page: 255

A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa - Author: Graham Alexander and Johan Marais - Published: 2007 - Page: 359


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