Trionyx triunguis, the African Softshell Turtle, is a member of Trionychidae within Cryptodira. Trionyx triunguis is considered to be the only extant species of its genus (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Bonin et al., 2006), although relationships among members and taxonomy within the clade are still poorly understood (e.g., Meylan, 1987; Engstrom et al., 2004). Trionychidae has an extensive fossil record dating from the Cretaceous (Meylan, 1987). Long thought to be the sister-group to Kinosternidae (e.g., Gaffney, 1975; Gaffney and Meylan, 1988), the relationship of this taxon to other turtles has recently been called into question on the basis of both molecular and morphological features (e.g., Shafffer et al., 1997; Joyce, 2007).
The most striking feature of Trionyx triunguis, along with other soft-shelled turtles, is the flattened, skin-covered carapace lacking horny scutes. The skull of these turtles is also very distinctive, however, in being relatively very elongate and narrow (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Bonin et al., 2006). Trionyx triunguis exhibits a typical skull for the group. Members of Trionychidae, including T. triunguis, exhibit a highly derived cranial arterial circulation that has implications for turtle phylogeny (e.g., Albrecht, 1967; Jamniczky and Russell, 2007). The species is also interesting in having only a single neural, and an unreduced eighth pair of costals that meet in the midline (Ernst and Barbour, 1989). Trionyx triunguis is quite large, reaching up to 112 cm in length and weighing up to 60 kg. It is dark brown to olive colored, and covered with white or yellows spots (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Bonin et al., 2006).
Trionyx triunguis is found in most of Africa except in southern- and northwestern-most areas. It also occurs in coastal areas of Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Bonin et al., 2006). It inhabits slow-moving bodies of fresh water, but is occasionally found in brackish environments in coastal parts of its range. It is an omnivorous ambush hunter, and preys on a variety of fish, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, and insects, as well as some fruits and nuts. Females lay 25-100 eggs in one clutch each year (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Bonin et al., 2006).
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Jamniczky, H.A., and A.P. Russell. 2007. Re-appraisal of patterns of non-marine Cryptodiran turtle carotid circulation: evidence from osteological correlates and soft tissues. Journal of Morphology 268:571-587.
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Meylan, P.A., and E.S. Gaffney. 1989. The skeletal morphology of the Cretaceous cryptodiran turtle, Adocus, and the relationships of the Trionychoidea. American Museum Novitates 2941:1-60.
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Shaffer, H.B., Meylan, P., and M.L. McKnight. 1997. Tests of turtle phylogeny: molecular, morphological, and paleontological approaches. Systematic Biology 46:235-268.
Trionyx triunguis page from the Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles (MEDASSET)