The Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (Myuchelys georgesi) is a species of short-necked freshwater turtle in the family Chelidae and is iconic to the Bellinger River, NSW. Previously known as Elseya georgesi, the Bellinger River turtle was first observed by John Cann in 1971, the Bellinger River Snapping is restricted to only a 25 kilometre stretch of the Bellinger River.
Photo: Juvenile Bellinger River Snapping turtle Myuchelys georgesi. Photo credit: Kristen Petrov
Photo: Distribution of Bellinger River Snapping Turtle Photo credit: Ian Roth- NSW, Department of Primary Industries
Bellinger River Snapping turtles should not be confused with the non-native short-necked turtle Emydura macquarii which also inhabits the Bellinger River. Distinctive features on Bellinger River Snapping turtles include a yellow stripe from the angle of the jaws, as well as distinct ‘bar-bells’ on the chin.
The Bellinger River Snapping turtle nests between October and December and lays one clutch of 10-25 eggs. Eggs are laid in excavations on the river banks. Hatchlings appear after approximately 72 days in the nests and reach sexual maturity at 8 years for females and 5-6 years for males. Bellinger River turtles prefer deep waterholes with rocky substrate and bedrock where they can camouflage. These turtles obtain a high proportion of their diet from benthic macro-invertebrate communities. As juveniles, they have strong leniencies towards carnivorous diets, while as adults they are omnivorous, commonly consuming caddisfly larvae, pyralidae larvae (moth larvae), ribbon weed and algae.
In 2005 the population was estimated between 3100-5900 individuals. After abnormal rainfall conditions and historically low river levels the population declined and in early 2015 was estimated between 1,600 and 3,200 individuals. However on the 18th February 2015, the population experienced a mass mortality event brought on by a novel virus. Affected turtles displayed symptoms of blindness, were malnourished and lethargic.
Photo: Affected Bellinger River Snapping turtle Photo credit: Rowan Simon