Freshwater Turtles of Australia

John Cann & Ross Sadlier, CSIRO Publishing, 2017; RRP A$150

This is a large, handsome hardback book detailing this country’s freshwater turtles and also containing some information and photographs of New Guinea’s turtles.

Each genus of turtle has its own section, with three or four pages of information on that genus followed by detailed entries for each species. Under each species’ entry is some general information including history, then a full description including drawings of the shell (front and lateral views) and the skull and jaw bones and several photographs. A section on the distribution of each species, including a map of its range, follows. Then there’s a ‘natural history’ section that includes diet, behaviour, breeding and other information, accompanied by more high-quality photos.

Despite these positive features, I found the table of contents hard to use when I was looking for specific turtles. Anyone searching by common name would have similar difficulties, as the authors seem to be using not-so-common ‘common names’! For example: our local Oblong Turtle (Chelodina colliei) is listed as ‘Collie’s Turtle’. In my several years of working with the group that rescues and rehabilitates this species, I’ve never heard it called that! When the species’ name was changing in recent years we indicated to local turtle biologist Gerald Kuchling that we thought ‘Oblong’ could be replaced by ‘South-western Long-necked’ and the northern species Chelodina oblonga could then be referred to as the Oblong Turtle. It’s all terribly confusing—and not confined to our state’s species. I went looking for the Bellinger River Turtle, since my mother often sends me clippings from her local Coffs Harbour newspaper about its plight and recovery. I couldn’t find it because in this book it’s listed as George’s Saw-shell Turtle (Wollumbinia georgesi). Even if I had gone looking for it under the scientific name given it by the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage (Myuchelys georgesi), I would have been baffled. At least the information on the NSW government site explained that it was referred to as W. georgesi in some publications; no such clarification existed in the new book. I really feel that the book would have benefitted from listing alternate common and former or alternate scientific names at the top of each species’ listing—and in the table of contents.

The Western Swamp Tortoise (Psuedemydura umbrina) is called the Western Swamp Turtle in the book and whilst the authors can be forgiven for that (since it’s really a turtle and not a tortoise, despite the common name), there are other errors in the text, perhaps due to poor proofreading. Under Collie’s Turtle (distribution) we’re told it exists ‘…from the Hull River…north of Perth’ but the river in question is the Hill River. In the description of this same species the text begins by calling it by the wrong (old) name i.e. Chelodina (Macrodiremys) oblonga, then goes on to say that ‘The Oblong Turtle’s neck…’, confusing us even more! Later on in the distribution section it is referred to as Collie’s Turtle. There may even be some factual errors, e.g. the weight of 9.5g for hatchling Collie’s Turtles seems high. Our experience in the rescue group has been that they weigh 4-6g on emerging, though perhaps the higher weight included the yolk-sac that’s present at their exit from the shell. (Young turtles often hatch and then wait below ground for favourable conditions before emerging from the nest, which is when the yolk-sac comes in handy as they wait under the surface!)

In conclusion, I’d say that this comprehensive and well-formatted book doubtless contains a lot of great information but that it has the potential to confuse anyone but an expert herpetologist.

Tanya Marwood