Droughts are common in the rocky lands of the Deccan Plateau. When the monsoons arrive, they fill up the lakes and bring freshness to the environment. But the landscapes, at large, remain dry. At the edges of waterbodies, we often find the most activity happening. One such instance was spotting an Indian flapshell turtle at the Hyderabad Collective at Bodakonda. What was even more surprising was the time of its spotting. A specie that is known to hide or camouflage even in the daytime was found frolicking in the monsoon puddles of the drylands of the Deccan.
How Are Indian Flapshell Turtles Different From The Rest?
The Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys Punctata) is a freshwater turtle commonly found in tropical South Asian Countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Pakistan. Its identifiers are the femoral flaps that extend from the shell and cover the limbs when the turtle withdraws into its shell. A flapshell turtle can grow up to 370mm in length and live for about 20 years. The oval soft shell of the flapshell turtle is an evolutionary connection to hardshell turtles. The younger ones have circular shells. Their nose resembles a pig’s snout – extended and flat, claws – large and heavy and tail – short.
Homes of Indian Flashell Turtles
The Indian flapshell turtles have a strong affinity for fresh, shallow and stagnant waters of lakes, river streams, ponds, streams and marshes. They can also find their way to irrigation canals and tanks. Waterbody bottoms that are sandy/muddy are preferred by them so that they can burrow into them with ease. The chances of finding them near paddy fields are high as the crop grows in ‘temporary’ wetlands in largely dry regions. They like to be low-key about their presence and often hide in the muddy edges of these water bodies.
Flapshell turtles are terrestrial beings found in the freshwaters of drylands and try to avoid travelling on dry surfaces. Waterhole to waterhole and stream to stream is how they move on drylands to keep themselves hydrated. However, they are highly adaptable beings. They can survive in extreme droughts for about 120-160 days. Even so, they aren’t migrating in nature. Several flapshell turtles are prone to death every year during the dry spell.
Lifestyle of Indian Flapshell Turtles
As reptiles, flapshell turtles are cold-blooded. Hence, they love to bask in the sun with outstretched limbs. But they are also wary and alert of the surroundings and can dive underwater in no time. They can stay subsurface for hours together, quietly camouflaging with the murky edges. Their flat pig-like noses and long necks help them to just come up to the surface of the water from time to time to breathe. Diurnal in nature, they are active during the day. Being part of an already sparse environment, they have evolved into being omnivorous and leave no chance to munch on things from flowers, fruits and grasses to frogs, fish and rodents. This balanced and nutritious diet allows them to remain healthy in harsh weather conditions.
Indian Flapshell Turtle found in the paddy fields of the Hyderabad Collective at Bodakonda Village. It was later rescued and released into a freshwater pond.
Predator That Also Falls Prey
The Indian flapshell turtle not only preys on smaller beings like reptiles and aquatic animals by smartly concealing itself, but can also fall prey to bigger-sized living beings like crocodiles, otters and big cats. The biggest predators, however, are humans. Indian flapshell turtle eggs and meat are a source of food in many South Asian countries, where several are killed and sold for profit every year. Conservation efforts have only increased the prices in the illegal international markets where numerous turtles are sold as pets, food or for their believed medicinal value.
Being a non-migrant species, flapshell turtles are forced to leave their natural habitats due to relentless human interventions like the construction of bridges, dams and the consequent pollution. Even agriculture, excavation and landscape activities often end up destroying their habitats, particularly the nests of eggs. There is no tab on the population of Indian flapshell turtles around the world and the species is categorized as Least Concern (LC) in the IUCN red list.
The exploitation of the specie can end if we understand its place in the ecosystem and value it for its contribution to enhancing the ecology.
Indian Flapshell Turtle – Keeping Freshwaters Fresh
Every being has a role to play in the ecosystem of life.
Indian Flapshell turtles help keep the aquatic population in check. They feed on smaller snails, insects and even fragments of dead animals, which helps maintain the freshness and health of even stagnant waters (known to be not as fresh). Their contribution hasn’t been overlooked though. Humans have frequently used them for their own benefits too – whether trying to clean highly polluted rivers or open wells.
When natural systems are brought out of their context and enforced for results, they lose meaning. Nature works best when left on its own. The same applies to any living being – from smaller ants to flapshell turtles to big cats to humans. We all fit into a natural cycle of life and death. Letting others do their part is more important than doing what’s not naturally yours.
When it comes to protecting the Indian flapshell turtles, we can start by saving the natural wetlands and entrust their health and maintenance to our freshwater frolickers, for we survive if they do.