Hey everybody, welcome to another amazing installment of Weird Biology and WOWIE ZOWIE do I have an odd one for you today! This bizarre creature is among the largest of its kind, but bears hardly any resemblance to the rest of the family. (We’re sure this gets mentioned a lot at its family holiday dinners.) It has a real mouthful of a name and the spirit of a cranky old man about to whack you in the shin with his walker.
Give it up for…
(I’ll just give this image a moment to sink in.)
It’s also called the small-headed softshell turtle, because scientists are a bunch of mean highschoolers. Seriously, I don’t even really know where to START with this guy. Unlike the humble regular earnest hardworking turtle, the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle does not have an armored shell. (Hence the name.) Instead, its shell is soft and leathery. Like a pair of well-broken-in Timblerland boots, except that the boots will not bite you. (This turtle is absolutely going to bite you.)
This soft pliable shell cuts down on the turtle’s weight by a huge amount, making them far more agile in the water and faster on land than a conventional everyman turtle. (This should make you worried.) The flattened shape of the shell also makes them more hydrodynamic, making them faster in the water than you can possibly imagine. ...For a turtle, I mean.
This is an important advantage, because the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle spends most of its life in the water. They live on the bottoms of sandy rivers across a wide area of central and southern Asia, where they reach sizes best described as HOLY COW ENORMOUS. Adults can reach up to 45 inches (shell length only) and 260 pounds (whole dang turtle).
Their total body length can be over a meter. Yiiiikes. A turtle that size needs a LOT of shoulder room, especially because the adults are a bunch of cranky ginormous chompmonsters. (Can’t really blame them, I guess. I’d be irritable too, if my head was that small. Zing!)
Now imagine a cheesed-off 260-pound turtle swimming towards you at Warp Nope- Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtles are aggressive, and will attack anything they consider a threat. (Including humans, fishing boats, and probably also rocks.) Their primary attack is to just bite the heck out of whatever is annoying them, but their secondary move is the one to watch out for. When terminally irritated, the turtle extends the full length of its surprisingly long neck and delivers a literal cannon headbutt. This attack has been documented as being powerful enough to damage fishing boats. Imagine what it would do to your face. (Nothing good. If you see this turtle winding up, run.)
When left to its own devices, the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle spends its time buried at the bottom of the river, waiting for its next meal to happen by. (Which it can do almost indefinitely because softshell turtles can breathe underwater, whaaaat.) Once another animal smaller than itself passes overhead the turtle strikes, mortally wounding the prey with its nightmare bite. (No joke, the first strike usually kills instantly. This is a creature capable of taking a chunk out of your leg.) It’s a pretty solid gig, if you’re a lonely grumpmonster.
In fact, the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle spends so much of its life underwater that we… don’t really know all that much about it. Apart from the biting thing, I mean. The turtle has been very clear on that.
We’re not even entirely sure how long they live, though captive turtles have made it more than 70 grouchy, grouchy years. Locals in India claim that in the wild individual river meanies can stick around for up to 140 years, which I am inclined to believe because these people fish for a living and they have to remember where the boat-sinking nightmare turtles live. It’s only common sense.
Despite its wide range, the Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle is now considered Endangered. (Note: this is bad. What would we replace them with? Large cantankerous frogs? Big passive-aggressive catfish? I DON’T THINK SO.) This is primarily due to human hunting, as the turtles are consumed in huge numbers throughout Asia. (Humans will eat anything.) The government of India has now moved to protect the turtle, restricting trade and moving to conserve the species. We dearly hope this will be enough to save the grumpy frumpy river grandpa.
1. Krishna Kumar Mishra, Wikimedia Commons
2. Wibowo Djatmiko, Wikimedia Commons