Side neck is a cute-looking turtle from Africa who can not pull its head inside the shell.

Originating from the Pelomedusidae family, the African sideneck turtle has a pre-historic timeline. The registered fossil (Pelomedusid) suggests them to be the largest ever lived freshwater turtles with a carapace length of 8ft.

Also known as the helmeted turtle, it is currently one of the two living genera of the family. Unlike many other turtle families, they have unique characteristics like aestivating throughout the dry season. These are the only turtles who are known to hunt in groups.

These are considered safe and beautiful choices to get in a home aquarium, and hobbyist turtle owners find them fun & exciting while also an easy aquatic pet. Their unusual head-tucking style catches a lot of attention.

We have brought you some exciting information about the sideneck turtle, with a detailed care guide to help you raise them healthy.

Species Analysis

Briefing on Species
Scientific Name Pelomedusa Subrufa
Nick Names African Sidenecked Turtle, African Helmeted Turtle, Marsh Terrapin, Crocodile Turtle, African mud turtle
Family Pelomedusidae
Origin Sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Yemen, Madagascar
Average Age 50 years
Average Size 20 – 30 cm
Type Freshwater
Color Pattern Brownish to Black carapace
Price Range $70 – $100

Range & Habitat

One of the most popular turtles family from the tropical African region is the sideneck turtle. Edward Drinker Cope first identified these families in 1868 in the Sub-Saharan part of Africa.

Later these were also found in other parts such as Madagascar, Seychelles, Yemen, Sudan, Cape Peninsula, etc.

In the current scenario, these turtles are available in the favorable tropical areas of India, Australia, North & South America, Eurasian region. The geographical distribution could have happened due to the vicariance of zones, while a wide distribution of the species might have led to extinction forces.

The African sideneck turtle lives in a semi-aquatic environment and hence is relatively found in and around rivers, rain pods, marshes, lakes, fertilized land, and all sorts of still water or water beds. They have never been seen in deserted areas or mountain regions.

The sideneck turtle’s habitat is usually in the river beds or shallow lakes where they get their favorite feed. Since the hot, dry summers are unbearable to them, these turtles dig burrows, hibernate themselves for the whole season, and wait for the wet rainy season to come out.

How Big do African Sideneck Turtles Get?

These turtles are pretty small in length compared to others in their community. Here the males are in general recorded lesser in size than females.

The adult African sideneck turtle size may reach up to 7 inches in length at the max, calculated from straight carapace length.

As an exception, in this case, a full-grown African side neck turtle of this species has been observed to achieve 12 inches length, so there may be a flexible upper limit size of these species.

Turtles of another genus in this family have higher and lower size structures.


These little side neck turtles have attractive personalities in the combination of color, shape, size, and attitude. They have dark brown to black shell covering or carapace, with yellow plastron underside or abdomen area, while the legs and tail are brownish.

The most prominent feature is the neck, which against their natural body gift, cannot get inside the shell because it is extra-long.

This long neck with the head is strong enough to handle the body weight. The neck helps the turtle upright itself if it accidentally turns upside down.

Quick Fact: These turtles, while facing tense situations, set their neck sideways, below the upper shell walls. This exclusive to watch act fetches it the name “African Sideneck Turtle.”

It has a friendly, polite face with circular eyes and a mouth that resembles a smile. The turtle also displays pointed nails and sharp claws that make it a ruthless predator.

How Long Do They Live?

It will be a long-term relationship with this side neck if you plan to get one in your home tank.

These are robust and can survive the extremes of the environment without troubling their health conditions. But on the contrary, these are vulnerable attackers, as being slow movers, become easy prey.

In general, they have the internal capacity to stay alive for tens of years, and if kept in a secured, well-monitored area with proper feeds, they may live up to 50+ years.

However, the maximum life expectancy under captivity is reportedly 20 years on average.

But the average lifespan of African sideneck turtles decreases to 20 – 30 years in the wild. Probably because of aging, they couldn’t find easy food, die out of hunger, or hunt down.

Gendering (Male/ Female)

Inspecting for the correct gender of your African Sideneck Turtle may not be that easy, as they do not show exact biological determinations defining the sex of an organism.

But with experience and knowledge, one can make out the gender with the help of specific symbolism on the body. There are three main characteristics of the side neck turtle that may help classify the gender on a comparative basis.

  • The males have long and thick tails. On the other hand, the females have small and thin tails.
  • The males have a small shell, while the females have a more extended shell.
  • The females have tiny front leg claws, while the males have bigger feet on the front leg.
  • Females display a straight plastron, while males have it concave.

Cost & Availability

With the geographical expansion of their habitation, the African side-necked turtle is sold and reared by aquarists in most of the tropical and temperate zones.

The side neck easily adapts to the local conditions and hence is preferred by buyers for commercial purposes or petting at home.

The African side neck turtle for sale is approximately $90 for one in the international market.

I prefer buying from an authentic source to ensure that it is breathing well and has no health issues.

Care Guide Specifics

Quick Care Points
Petting Simple
Social Adjustable
Temperament Peaceful, Shy
Food habits Omnivore
Reproduction Easy & Straightforward

Diet and Feed

The African turtle is one of the easiest turtles to manage at home or in captivity. Their basic needs are to be fulfilled on time, but otherwise, these are not very demanding.

These are omnivores creatures, which means they pick up vegetation, plants, meat, and living feeders.

While free in the wild, they feed themselves over small to bit large fishes or other species (vertebrates and invertebrates) that reach the water surface. Its sharp claws on the front limb allow the turtle to tear the prey and pull it down to the water bed.

But if you are petting the side neck in your home aquarium, you need not feed them with meat particles. Instead, there are a variety of foods for African sideneck turtles from which to choose.

  • Green vegetables (lettuce, spinach, kale)
  • Fruits
  • Water Plants
  • Turtle Pellets
  • Insects
  • Invertebrates
  • Worms
  • Fishes
  • Reptiles
  • Shrimps
  • Prawn
  • Dead meat (chicken, beef) almost anything

African Turtle Facts: The African side neck turtles are the best parasite removers. Animals like buffaloes or rhinos come to these turtle zones to remove bloodsuckers and flies from their skin.

Social Behavior

Turtles are generally introverted creatures and go into their shells whenever they sense danger. The African sideneck turtle used to stay in groups or community environments and thus have made their skin adaptable face foes and friends.

These turtles initially show hesitancy in their behavior when introduced to a new place but later get on with their activities comfortably.

They possess friendly behavior towards other aqua animals or humans while petting; however, it is advised to stay at a distance from them if you are an in-experienced turtle keeper.

They may get nervous by any of your activities and bite you on a finger, plucking it off the body.

Small fish in the tank are safe until the turtle is not hungry.

Author Note: These are popularly termed crocodile turtles because of their unusual attacking technique. They attack the prey in a manner that appears to be hunted by crocodiles.

Mating and Reproduction

The African sideneck turtle is easy to breed and produce species if you look forward to getting commercial gains.

They do not require extra setup creation into the tank or any artificial push in the situation to mate with each other and fertilize the egg.

If it is the appropriate season and the mating partners are kept in a secluded area, the males start punching and biting the females to provoke them to copulate. With mutual understanding, the couples mate, which mostly happens during moderate temperatures.

Females can lay more than ten clutches of eggs in a season. It takes almost two months for the baby African sideneck turtle to come out from the eggs.

The females lay their eggs in deep muddy regions.

Read here for Realities about Turtle Genitalia

Common Health Conditions

Though easy to handle and care for, these African sideneck turtles are fragile with their internal biology. They are seen attracting many disease forms due to many offbeat situations.

Their health should regularly get examined by a concerned and knowledgeable who not just advise you in care scenarios and helps cure the sickness.

Some of the significant health hazards these turtles meet are the body’s minerals, bacterial infections, and respiratory diseases.

Here are some basic instructions that you can follow to cure and avoid the illness and keep the turtle healthy.

  • Sometimes you see small boils over the turtle’s skin. It is usually due to a lack of Vitamin D and calcium. You should enable proper sunlight in and around the space where the turtle stays. It helps to improvise Vitamin D levels, thereby curing the turtle.
  • Though they are hard to skin, the shells of a turtle stand vulnerable to bacterial or parasitic infections, usually due to a long stay in stagnant or contaminated water. Minor wounds in the shell pave the entry of such infectious diseases and cause difficulty in breathing, digestion, color change in the shell, and weakness.
  • Cold weather conditions may also trouble the turtle and cause running nose or respiratory issues. You can arrange a system to warm up the tank water.

Tank Setup Details

Tank Specifics
Capacity 300 Litres
Water Temperature Up to 75 F
pH Level 6.5 – 7
Basking 100 F
Tank Lighting Proper Lighting
Tank Type Community tank
Substrate A mix of Sand & Gravel

Tank Capacity

The turtle is around a foot long and likes to move around or stay at rest basking in the light. Hence, they require normal-sized tanks that fulfill their basic needs.

The tank size for an African sideneck turtle should be more than 80 Gallons capacity, which is more in the area than covering a height.

If you have more than one turtle or a community set up with other aquatics, you should focus on providing a better wider space that fits all accordingly.

Pro tip: Keep the depth of the tank greater than the size of the turtle. This will prevent the turtle from jumping out of the tank, while if the turtle gets upside down, it can easily swim back to normal.

Tank Decorations and Other Setup

You can provide the sideneck turtle with multiple space accessories; and mimic a natural setting to keep it calm, along with some essentials.


Plants are the basic ingredients of an eco-friendly setup. You can put a few mud-grown plants in the tank, which gives an eye-soothing look to the aquarium, and the turtle at times gets engaged in activities of rubbing or scratching the bushes.

Do not over-crowd the tank with greens as it reduces the space for the turtle’s movement. Make sure it doesn’t manage the plants to climb up the tank lid and move out, which they usually keep attempting.


The African sideneck turtles would stay equally happy, even sands & gravels at the water bed, but the setup looks incomplete without them.

So, it would be best if you planned to provide something natural and homely to them. Sand and gravel are one of the choicest elements as substrate elements in the tank.

You can also include medium-sized pebbles in the tank. The cave-like structures look good in a tank and provide a hide-out for these turtles to feel safe and calm,

With these settings, keep a check over the cleanliness of the tank base, as the waste material may get collected beneath the gravel and contaminate the tank water.


This is an essential part of the African turtle’s tank setup. Turtle naturally bask in the sunlight for most of their time in the day.

But since you may not arrange the pelomedusa subrufa’s aquarium in an open space, there is a unique option available for such an African turtle pet.

UVB bulbs are available in the market that you can fix in the tanks for lighting the space. These lights are equally effective for managing the vitamins and calcium of the turtle.

UV lights are essential for turtle’s health, and so you can turn them on for 8 – 10 hours daily.

Tank Cleanup & Water Filtration with Oxygenation

The turtle’s tank water easily gets contaminated for multiple reasons: they tend to discharge more waste than fish, almost after every meal.

And being a habitat of freshwater, filtered water in a clean tank is advisable for better health conditions.

You need to use more powerful aquarium filters than the regular ones for fish tanks. These will alternatively keep up the oxygen levels due to continuous shuffle.

The other part is tank cleaning which requires completely emptying the tank and using a brush to rub the walls to remove algae formations. You should thoroughly unclutter the dirt from sand, pebbles, and other tank materials for impurities such as left-over food or turtle waste.

Suitable Tankmates

These African long-neck turtles are such creatures that don’t mind a crowded place to live in until the other aquatics are not aggressive predators. But what’s more, an issue of concern is to protect the companions from becoming food of this sideneck.

So, dwelling the turtle together with small or medium fishes would endanger the lives of those fishes, while aggressive natured large ones may harm the turtle or frighten it to sickness.

And what if you have a school of turtles. Can African sideneck turtles live with other turtles? Yes, you can definitely keep more than one turtle in a tank, even if they belong to different families.

You can introduce a few peaceful large fishes or groups of the same species in the tank if the capacity is high. Regularly inspect the tank to check if the turtles are not indulging in aggressive territorial grudges.

It is observed that these sideneck turtles are not rude hunters, and most of the time, they ignore the small-sized fishes even if it is potential prey to them. This could be because the turtles are not always hungry, or they react too slow by the time fishes swim away.

Fishes like firemouth cichlids are never bothered, and a pair of these fishes can even breed in the same tank in the companionship of turtles and still keep their eggs safe till hatching.

Goldfishes that are bigger in size may stay safely, while Silver Dollar fishes of the same size as turtles are highly vulnerable to attacks from turtles.

Other fishes that may stay safely with sideneck are:

  • Oscars
  • Guppies
  • Zebra Danios.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can African sideneck turtles be out of water?

Since the turtles are semi-aquatic animals, they usually come out of the water and stay a couple of hours a day basking in the sun or finding some food. This may usually last up to 10 hours.

But they also possess a unique characteristic known as estivation when they spend all the hot season in the mud hole.

It is noted that they can stay out of the water while hibernating in the hole for almost ten months.

Why do they rigorously keep trying to jump out of the aquarium?

It is in the regular habits of these turtles to move out of water. Aquarium spaces do not easily become familiar to them; hence they make efforts to climb the tank walls.

Be careful while holding them. It would be best to keep the tank lid appropriately closed to keep them inside.

Along with that, you can put them out of the tank for a few hours daily, which will change their mood, and they won’t attempt any new act.

Is your African sideneck turtle shedding?

Like any other reptile, even the turtles go through the regular shedding process. The Scute shedding takes place when the turtle is at a growing age. The old scutes or sectional plates on the shell shed off to make space for a new bigger scute.

There are chances that the shell has an acute parasitic infection, and hence the damaged scute naturally gets removed to get rid of the disease. Few other reasons are overeating or excess ammonia in water leading to shedding.

The skin shedding also takes place in the turtles at a regular interval. Still, it usually stays unnoticed as the removed skin is translucent and easily gets off in the water.

Why is my side neck turtle stays asleep most of the time?

Turtles usually stay active if the conditions are favorable, but excessive sleeping could be due to too cold water temperature in the tank. Hence the turtle is moving into its brumation stage, which usually happens if the turtle senses the surrounding temperature is getting cold.

It is a kind of hibernation in turtles when they go inactive for a long sleep into a hiding space.

Do the African turtle species eat fruits?

Yes, these turtles can eat fruits; however, it is generally not included in their regular diets. You can offer them a few pieces of fruits but do not overdose on them to avoid excess sugary content.


The African sideneck turtle is a great choice to have in-home aquariums. They give an elegant look to the place and variation in aquatic petting from regular fishes.

However, these are tricky to care for, and a slight mishandling may trouble their health. So, it may become a chaotic schedule for some to keep monitoring the turtle.

But we would recommend you get one of these at your home, and follow the simple instruction that we have provided, which wouldn’t cost you extra time and you can enjoy the aquatic as well.

Related Reading-

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About the Author

Shelby Crosby

Shelby is a passionate fishkeeper who has been writing about fish for over 5 years. She is a pro aquarist and holds a BSc Honors Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries. She creates her own beautiful aquarium layouts and loves to share her knowledge of tropical fish with other hobbyists.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

  • BSc Honors in Wildlife and Fisheries in 2011 (University of Northern British Columbia)
  • Completed her undergraduate thesis on the effects of zoochlorella supplementation on the growth and health of fish.

Writing Experience

Miss Crosby is a Freelance blogger; many of her articles are posted online on various blogs. She has also written a few short articles for "Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine" in the past. She is a regular contributor to Her education, first-hand experience with fishkeeping, and in-depth knowledge in aquaculture make her one of the most competent writers in the industry.

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