Added September 14 2003. Last updated April 12 2009 with additions of extra genera and a paragraph on classification debate re Mesoclemmys and other genera.


(Advanced) Snake-Necked Turtles

A group of aquatic turtles found in Australia, New Guinea and non-Andean South America. Despite the name, only Chelodina, Chelus and Hydromedusa have a vertebral column the length of which is longer in the neck than the body. These three genera also have eyes well to the front of the skull, and in addition those of Hydromedusa and Chelodina are placed higher, towards the top rather than the side of the head. These adaptations are suited to a life walking on the bottom of rivers and other shallowish waters.

Some of the South American species are the most southerly chelonians of the New World, being found as far as Argentina. This, and the fact that they are mainly active at dusk or night, indicates that despite their tropical origin they are more at home in moderate than high temperatures. Furthermore they seem to prefer low-light or dark conditions, even in captivity. By contrast the Australian Chelodina are diurnal and leave the water to bask.

Although nowadays difficult to obtain, mainly because of the ban on export of native fauna by Brazil and Australia, most of the animals represented here have been kept successfully and bred. In view of their relative rarity and also their adult size, however, it should be questioned whether some if not any of these species are suitable for a beginner, or for anyone other than a dedicated chelonian keeper.

The division of the family into three subfamilies (Austrochelidinae, Chelidinae and Hydromedusinae) is given by the World Chelonian Trust but not by the EMBL reptile database. In the former system the Austrochelidinae contain all the South American except for Hydromedusa, which are placed in the Hydromedusinae, and Chelinae contains the Australian and New Guinea species. There are also other genera in this system which appear to have been synonymised with the ones below in the EMBL system. Rather than taking our word for it (we are not qualified to express an opinion either way), visit both the websites, where abundant literature references are given.

Since we added this page, classification has been further extended and some confusion caused by the creation of the genus Mesoclemmys, which comprises mainly species formerly considered part of Phrynops. At the same time the genera Batrachemys, Bufocephala and Ranacephala are recognised by some authors but not others, the latter preferring to regard these three genera as part of Mesoclemmys instead.

Genus Common Name No. of species Location Notes
Acanthochelys Radiolated Swamp Turtles 4 S America (Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina)  
Batrachemys Frog-Headed Turtles 0-6 S America Genus not recognised by most authorities, being considered instead part of Mesoclemmys
Bufocephala Toad-Headed Turtles 0-1 S America Genus not recognised by most authorities, being considered instead part of Mesoclemmys: consists of the species vanderhaegei.
Chelodina Snake-Necked Turtles 13 Australia and New Guinea  
Chelus Mata-Mata 1 N Bolivia, E Peru, Ecuador, E Colombia, Venezuela,
Guyana, French Guiana, Surinam, N/C Brazil, Trinidad
Elseya   7 Australia and New Guinea  
Elusor Mary River Turtle 1 Australia (SE Queensland)  
Emydura River Turtles   Australia and New Guinea  
Hydromedusa Snake-Headed Turtles 2 Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina  
Mesoclemmys Toad-Headed Turtles 10 S America Contains species formerly assigned to Phrynops
Phrynops Toad-Headed Turtles 4 Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, N Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Guyana, French Guiana, Surinam, Trinidad  
Platemys Western Twist-Neck Turtle 1 Amazon and Carribean drainages of South America (Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, Surinam, NE Bolivia, E Ecuador, Peru, SE Colombia, Brazil)  
Pseudemydura Western Swamp Turtle 1 SW Australia  
Ranacephala Frog-Headed Turtles S America Genus not recognised by most authorities, being considered instead part of Mesoclemmys: consists of the species hogei.
Rheodytes Fitzroy Turtle 1 Australia, Queensland  


Turtles and Tortoises of the World, David Alderton, Blandford, London 1999.

Schildkröten, Gerhard Müller, Eugen Ullmer, Stuttgart 1995.

Urania Tierreich: Fische, Lurche, Kriechtiere, Kurt Deckert et al, Urania-Verlag, Leipzig 1991.


World Chelonian Trust

EMBL reptile database

Back to Chelonian Families | Back to Chelonians | Back to Reptiles | Back to Herps | Back to Home Page