Elseya novaeguineae

(Meyer, 1874)
New Guinea snapping turtle

The round to oval, medially keeled, deep adult carapace (to 30 cm) is broadest behind the center, and has at least a slightly serrated posterior rim. The medial keel and posterior serrations are well-developed in juveniles, and, although they become less pronounced with age, are never entirely lost. The serrations are never as prominent in adults as they are in Elseya latisternum. No neurals are present. The cervical scute is well-developed. All vertebrals are broader than long; the 5th is the smallest and is expanded posteriorly; the 2nd is the largest. Lateral and posterior marginals are outwardly expanded. The adult carapace is uniformly brown to black. The plastron is long and narrow, allowing much of the carapacial opening to remain uncovered, and is posteriorly notched. Its forelobe tapers gradually toward the front, is rounded anteriorly, and broader at the bridge than is the hindlobe, which tapers toward the rear. The bridge is well-developed. The intergular is very narrow, almost three times as long as broad, and completely separates the gulars. The plastral formula is: pect >< fem > an > abd > intergul > gul > hum. Plastron and bridge are cream to yellow. The head is small and narrow with a projecting snout and an unnotched upper jaw. There is no medial ridge on the maxillary triturating surface. Dorsally, the head is covered with a large horny plate instead of smooth skin; there are two small chin barbels. Flattened tubercles are present in front of the tympanum; those on the neck are small and pointed. The skin of the head, neck, and limbs is gray.
Males have much longer tails than do females.

Elseya novaeguineae is restricted to New Guinea, where it occurs over much of the island. The record from the Palau Islands (Aoki, 1977) may represent an introduction (Rhodin, 1994).

Rivers and swamps are preferred, especially those along the coast.

Geographic Variation
Anders G. J. Rhodin (pers. comm.) reports a number of undescribed taxa related to Elseya novaeguineae on the island of New Guinea. One of these taxa, occurring in southeastern Irian Jaya, has previously been described as Emydura branderhorsti Ouwens, 1914. This is a large form (the type measures 38 cm), characterized in part by a creme-colored plastron with a distinct greenish hue. However, until a scientifically published study supports this view, it is best regarded as a synonym of Elseya novaeguineae.

Natural History
The large eggs are ellipsoidal (55 x 33 mm) and brittle shelled. Hatchlings have carapaces ranging from 35-48 mm that are brown with a small black blotch on each carapacial scute. An ecological study of this species would be rewarding.

McDowell (1983) has placed novaeguineae in the synonymy of dentata, but an electrophoretic study by Georges and Adams (1996) determined Elseya novaeguineae as a diagnosable taxon.

IUCN Red List Status (1996)
Not listed.