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Central American River Turtle: Dermatemydidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Central American river turtles spend most of their lives in the water. Turtles have lungs and breathe air, but the Central American river turtle is able to stay underwater for long periods of time. In the rare instances when the turtles do leave the water, they are very slow, awkward walkers. They sometimes float in the surface waters on sunny days to soak up some heat, but they do not leave the water, as many other turtles do, to sunbathe, or bask. Besides floating near the surface on warm days, the turtles do little during the day. They become active at night, when they do most of their feeding.


Besides Central American river turtle, this animal has other common names, including hickety in Belize; jicotea, tortuga plana, and tortuga aplanada in Mexico; and tortuga blanca in Mexico and Guatemala. The word "blanca" means "white" in Spanish and refers either to the white underside of the turtle or to the color of its meat. Some people refer to this turtle as the Mesoamerican (MEH-soh-American) river turtle. Mesoamerican is the word used to describe the culture of Mexico and northern Central America before the Spanish explorers arrived.

Central American river turtles mate anytime from March to September. For the most part, the only time the turtles leave the water is during the nesting season, which starts in September, when the rainy season is in full force. The turtles nest any time from September to December, but some females start as early as late August or wait until March or April. When she is ready to lay her eggs, the female walks a few feet onto the shore, usually no more than 10 feet (3 meters), and digs a hole. She lays two to twenty brittle-shelled eggs that are about 2.1–2.8 inches (53–71 millimeters) long and 1.2–2 inches (30–51 millimeters) wide and weigh about 1.2–2.5 ounces (34–71 grams) each. A typical nest has eight to fourteen eggs. The female buries the eggs under mud and bits of rotting, nearby plants. The mother turtles usually produce two nests a year, but some have only one nest, and others may make three or four nests each season. Usually the largest females lay the most eggs in a year, and the smallest females lay the fewest. Because female Central American river turtles lay their eggs so close to the water, during the rainy season the lake or river can overflow onto the shore and flood the nests. The good news is that the eggs can survive being underwater for up to one month. The eggs need about seven to ten months to hatch, and most hatch anytime from late May to July, just when the rainy season starts up. As happens with many other kinds of turtles, warmer nest temperatures turn most Central American river turtle eggs into female hatchlings, or newly hatched young, and cooler temperatures produce males. The warm or cool weather has to occur when the eggs are about halfway along in their development.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesCentral American River Turtle: Dermatemydidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Central American River Turtles And People - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS