Pelomedusa Subrufa

Pelomedusa Subrufa is the scientific name of the African helmeted turtle. It is also known as the ‘African side-necked turtle,’ ‘marsh terrapin,’ and ‘crocodile turtle.’

It is a species of side-necked terrapin in the Pelomedusidae family. They are endemic to Africa, specifically from Ghana to the Cape of Africa but have been distributed by humans in non-native habitats. As freshwater turtles, they are commonly found in ponds, swamps, and lakes.

What are the African helmeted turtle’s characteristics?

The African helmeted turtle is a freshwater turtle that has brown to black shells, grayish-brown limbs and tail, and a yellowish underside. They grow up to 20 to 32.5 cm (7 to 12.8 inches) in carapace length. Males have long and thick tails while females have longer carapaces.

African helmeted turtles are unique because they do not have a lower shell (hinged plastron). They cannot fully tuck their heads so they usually bend them to the side, hence, their name. They can vigorously flick their necks to stand when they fall upside down. They have a nose that is shaped similarly to pigs and their mouths appear to be smiling.

What do African helmeted turtles eat?

As omnivores, African helmeted turtles eat fish, shrimps, earthworms, veggies, small snails, and insects. They use their sharp claws to capture and rip their food while they’re in the water.

What is the African helmeted turtle’s habitat?

African helmeted turtles inhabit stagnant and freshwater such as dams, lakes, ponds, and pans.

How do African helmeted turtles breed?

During mating, the male turtle will follow the female and nod his head in front of hers. If she is uninterested, she may nip or snap at him and walk away. However, if she is receptive to his advances, she responds by nodding her head or simply standing still so he can mount her. 

While they are copulating, each turtle shakes its head back and forth vigorously.

Females lay eggs once a year, with a clutch that ranges from 2 to 10 eggs, and will hatch in approximately 75 to 90 days.

How long do African helmeted turtles live?

They have a lifespan of 50 years or more.

Can you keep African helmeted turtles as pets?

You can have them as pets but they require extra care. A large, clean, and well-maintained terrarium with basking platforms is needed because these turtles love to swim. 

They also need to maintain a fresh and varied diet to prevent deficiencies in Vitamin A and D3. Although they have very specific care requirements, turtles make great pets because they’re naturally curious and won’t shy away from being observed.


The African helmeted turtle is a freshwater turtle that is known for its bendable neck and lacks a lower shell. They have a very long lifespan of 50 years or more. Although they require extra care, these turtles make great pets. With their permanent smile, these turtles are great for people who are looking for a long-term pet commitment.