Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle
The carapace (probably to 90-115 cm, but Annandale and Shastri, 1914 reported an 183 cm individual) is dark gray to olive with dark gray or yellowish, irregular to wavy, dark-bordered blotches. Juveniles may have four ocelli on the carapace or numerous black elongated spots. No vertebral keel or surface tubercles are present in adults, but do occur in juveniles. The carapacial pattern continues onto the neck and outer surfaces of the forelimbs. The plastron is cream-colored. Five or more yellow stripes are present on the dorsal and lateral surfaces of the neck; two stripes converge on the back of the head to form a medial stripe on the dorsal surface of the head (the convergence occurs on the neck in C. chitra). The head and other skin are olive.
Adult males have longer, thicker tails than either adult females or juveniles.
Chitra indica ranges from Pakistan through peninsular India, and into Nepal and Bangladesh, where it is known from the following river systems: Indus, Ganges, Godavari, Padma, Mahanadi, and Coleroon (Das, 1995).
This species prefers clear, sandy sections of large rivers, and is highly aquatic, seldom crawling onto land except to oviposit.
Nesting in the Chambal region of central India occurs from the end of August to mid-September. The flask-shaped nests are dug in sand or sandy-loam and are 33 cm deep with a 15 x 23 cm egg chamber (Das, 1995). The mean clutch size for 10 nests examined by Das (1995) was 118 eggs (65-187), The eggs are round, hard-shelled and 25.4-28.2 mm in diameter (Das, 1995). Hatchlings emerge in October, and have carapace of 39-43 mm.
Chitra indica eats fish, snails, shrimps, and may take some plant materials (Smith, 1931; Das, 1991, 1995). Fish are ambushed with a sudden lunge of the head and neck as they swim past the softshell buried in the sand. Small fish may be sucked in whole (Sachsse, 1971). Larger ones are gradually swallowed, or, if too big, are torn apart with jaws and forefeet and swallowed in pieces. Hossain and Sarker (1995b) reported that stomachs of six Bangladesh Chitra indica contained only animal remains: mollusks (Achatina, Bellamya, Pila, Unio), crustaceans (prawns, crabs), fish (muscles and bones), and the intestines and fragments of unidentified animals. The average food consumption was 171.7 g; the total food consumed by the six turtles was 1030 g. By weight mollusks made up 45.7%, fish 32.3%, animal carcasses 12.6%, and crustaceans 9.3% (only about 24 g/day). Sachsse (1971) reported that juveniles will eat Daphnia, Chironomus and Corethra larvae, vertebrate parts, and small fish, but avoid snails.
Das (1991, 1995) reports that C. indica does not bite, but may strike with closed mouth and discharge a foul smelling musk. Minton (1966) mentions a mild disposition.
IUCN Red List Status (1996)
Chitra indica is considered Vulnerable (A1cd) (Baillie and Groombridge, 1996) since it is exploited for its flesh and eggs. There has also been some deterioration of its riverine habitat.