Yellow-headed temple turtle
Hieremys annandalii is a large aquatic turtle, reaching a carapace length of 50.6 cm (Peter Paul van Dijk, pers. comm.). Its uniformly dark-brown or black adult carapace is elongated (much longer than wide), rather low in profile but not depressed, and usually has a serrated posterior border with a pronounced notch between the supracaudals. A single, rather low medial keel is present along the vertebrals on the nearly round carapace of juveniles. The 1st vertebral scute is broader anteriorly than posteriorly and the other four are broader than long. The 5th is broader posteriorly than anteriorly. Occasionally a 6th vertebral is present. The 4th vertebral covers portions of four neural bones. The posterior neurals are not noticeably elongated, and the 4th to 6th are hexagonal and shorter posteriorly. The 2nd neural is also hexagonal, but its short side is anterior. Lateral marginals are not downturned. The plastron is solidly connected to the carapace, and its buttresses are short. There is a well-developed bridge with large axillary and inguinal scutes. The plastron is well-developed, but lacks a hinge and is shorter than the carapace. Its forelobe is angular; the hindlobe is shorter than the bridge and contains a wide anal notch. The humero-pectoral seam lies over the entoplastron. Plastral formula is: abd > fem > pect > gul > an > hum. The adult plastron and bridge are yellow with a large black blotch on each scute, but the juvenile plastron is immaculate cream-colored. With age these blotches often grow together so that the entire plastron may become black. The skull has an incomplete temporal arch, as most of the quadratojugal is absent. Squamosals are also absent. The postorbital is widely separated from the supratemporal. Parietals and postorbitals touch, and, in doing so, keep the frontal bone from entering the temporal emargination. The pterygoid is not in contact with the articular surface of the quadrate. The orbito-nasal foramen is large. The triturating surface of the upper jaw is broad, but its ridge is reduced to a slight swelling. The maxilla is prevented from touching the lower parietal process by the palatine. The upper jaw has a medial notch with a toothlike cusp on each side. The lower jaw is denticulated along its margin, and the snout is not overly protruding. The head is blackish to olive with some gray markings, and in younger individuals a series of yellow or cream colored stripes adorns it. One passes anteriorly from each side of the neck over and through portions of the tympanum and orbit to each nostril, a second passes posteriorly from the cusp on the upper jaw along the margin of the jaw onto the side of the neck, and a third begins on the lower jaw and extends posteriorly to the side of the neck. Sometimes several of the stripes join to form a large light-colored blotch behind the eye. In older turtles these stripes fade and may disappear entirely. Chin and throat are cream to white and may contain dark flecking. All toes are heavily webbed, and the fifth contains two phalanges. Forelimbs are covered with large scales, and the limbs are usually darker gray on the upper surfaces and lighter gray below. The tail is short and gray.
The 52 chromosomes of the karyotype are composed of 18 metacentric or submetacentric macrochromosomes, 10 telocentric or subtelocentric macrochromosomes, and 24 microchromosomes (Carr and Bickham, 1986).
Males have concave plastra and thicker tails than do the females.
Hieremys annandalii occurs primarily in Thailand and Cambodia, but is also known from the lowlands of the Mekong delta in Vietnam. The only record from Malaysia is questionable since it is of an individual collected in the pool of a luxury hotel (Peter Paul van Dijk, pers. comm.).
This large species lives in swamps, flooded fields, and rivers with slow current. Smith (1931) purchased many specimens which were caught at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River near Bangkok, so Hieremys annandalii apparently can tolerate brackish conditions.
The nests are excavated in December and January, and the usual clutch is four elongated (57-62 mm), hard-shelled eggs. Hatchlings have carapaces about 60 mm long. Hieremys is herbivorous and will accept almost any fruit, green vegetable, or aquatic plant.
The common name "temple terrapin" comes from the native custom of placing these turtles in the pools and canals of Buddhist temples, especially those of the Tortoise Temple in Bangkok (where the most abundant turtles are released pet Trachemys scripta elegans).
IUCN Red List Status (1996)