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November an important and risky time for turtles

News release
03 November 2020

Posted 03 November 2020.

November through to December is the time of year that both Murray short-necked turtles (Emydura macquarii) and eastern long-necked turtles (Chelodina longicollis) venture outside the safety of the water to nest and lay eggs.

Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board Wetland Ecologist Courtney Monk said it’s during this time that predation by foxes on eggs and road fatalities of females out looking for nesting sites are a huge threat to both species.

“While our River Murray turtles are not listed as endangered now, these threats have already significantly reduced the number of juveniles and breeding females in the river system, and are making both species increasingly vulnerable,” she said.

“So keep a look out, as turtles provide an important service by helping to keep the river and wetlands clean, and are a significant part of the river ecosystem.

“Turtles are aquatic, but must lay their eggs in nests on land.

“Female turtles begin to emerge from the water now to dig their nest, often just after a period of rainy weather like we have experienced.

“You may see them walking around and exploring the landscape in the weeks leading up to nesting season.”

Murray short-necked turtles generally nest close to where they live, usually within 50 metres of the water’s edge, whereas long-necked turtles may walk considerable distances from water (up to 200 metres), although many nests are close to the water.

The female turtle digs an L-shaped nest chamber with her rear legs, preferably in soft sandy soil.

The eggs roll backwards into the bottom of the nest. She then pushes a dirt ‘plug’ over the entrance and pats it down by standing over the nest and dropping herself down on it several times.

The eggs take six to eight weeks to hatch, and some Murray short-necked turtles will lay two clutches of up to 30 eggs in a season.

Another species of turtle known as the broad-shelled turtle (Chelodina expansa) is the largest and least common of the three species in the River Murray, living only in permanent, deep water.

Broad-shelled turtles breed much later than the other turtle species, nesting in autumn and often quite a distance from the water, sometimes more than 500 metres.

Everyone can join in monitoring by keeping a lookout on roads for nesting females and near water for any turtle signs such as nests, eggs and live or dead turtles,” Ms Monk said.

For more information or to participate in monitoring visit TurtleSAT and Turtles Australia, some of the organisations working to improve our knowledge and the situation for turtles along the River Murray.

This project is supported by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the Landscape Levies.

More information

Media and Communications Project Officer