Central American river turtle

Central America


Dermatemys mawii


Currently the greatest threat to this species is the human over-consumption that has driven them to be threatened with extinction. Although some of the habitats where these turtles live have been degraded, over-exploitation started even before habitat degradation.

The Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii ), also known locally as the hickatee or tortuga blanca (white turtle), is the only living species in the family Dermatemydidae. Its closest relatives are only known from fossils with some 19 genera described from a worldwide distribution from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. The species is currently found in the Atlantic drainages of Central America, specifically southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It is a relatively large-bodied species, with historical records of 60 cm (24 in) stright carapace length and weights of 22 kg (49 lb); however, more recent records have found few individuals over 14 kg (31 lb) in Mexico or 11 kg (24 lb) in Guatemala.

D. mawii has a low, flattened, smooth carapace with a median keel present in juveniles, it is usually a uniform brown, almost black, gray or olive in color. The plastron is usually white to yellow, though may acquire substrate staining in some areas. In juveniles, a distinctive keel is found down the center of the carapace, and the outer edges have serrations. These features are lost as the turtle ages. Its skin is predominantly the same color as the shell, with reddish or peach-colored markings around the neck and underside. Males can be differentiated from females by yellow markings on either side of their heads, and longer, thicker tails.

D. mawii is a nocturnal, completely aquatic turtle that lives in Atlantic-draining larger rivers and lakes in Central America, from southern Mexico to the Guatemalan-Honduran border. The species is entirely aquatic and does not bask or leave the water, except to lay eggs.