Published December 21, 2022. Open access.

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White-lipped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon leucostomum)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Testudines | Kinosternidae | Kinosternon leucostomum

English common name: White-lipped Mud Turtle.

Spanish common names: Tortuga tapa-rabo de la costa, tapaculo (Ecuador); tapaculo, culitapa, tortuga casquito, tortuga pecho quebrado de labios blancos (Colombia).

Recognition: ♂♂ 21.4 cmMaximum straight length of the carapace. ♀♀ 20.8 cmMaximum straight length of the carapace..1 The White-lipped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon leucostomum) can be distinguished from other Kinosternon species based on the following combination of characters: carapace brown and smooth in adults or with a single keel in hatchlings and juveniles.25 There is a light band that extends from the tip of the mouth to the neck, passing above the eye. The mandibles are light yellow. Females tend to have shorter tails and their upper jaw is not hooked like that of males, and the plastron is rather slightly convex (concave in males).3 This species differs from turtles of the genus Rhinoclemmys by being smaller and having a moveable hinge in the plastron.24

Figure showing variation among individuals of Kinosternon leucostomum

Figure 1: Individuals of Kinosternon leucostomum from Canandé Reserve, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador (); Guayas province, Ecuador (); La Sexta, Pichincha province, Ecuador (), Morromico Reserve, Chocó departmnet, Colombia (); and Tundaloma Lodge, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador (). ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: UncommonUnlikely to be seen more than once every few months. in land to frequentRecorded weekly in densities below five individuals per locality. along some water bodies. The abundance of Kinosternon leucostomum is linked to the availability of food and the presence of predators.3 These turtles occur primarily well-preserved freshwater habitats ranging from swamps and marshes to slow-moving rivers,3,4 but they also occur in brackish waters, estuaries, and heavily contaminated streams.6,7 They are aquatic, terrestrial, and nocturnal and spend the day hidden under fallen branches, among floating vegetation in the water, or buried in the substrate at the base of plants.3,8,9 Individuals are occasionally seen moving on land far from water.4 In large rivers, they are found between 2–3 m from the edge and at depths between 0.5 and 3 m.10 White-lipped Mud Turtles that inhabit seasonally dry areas estivate by burying themselves and then reactivate with the first rains; while in regions without seasonality they are active year-round.11

White-lipped Mud Turtles are omnivores and feed in shallow waters. Their diet includes a wide variety of algae, grasses, leaves, seeds, roots, snails, freshwater crustaceans, insects, tadpoles, and small reptiles, mammals, and carrion.1215 Their home range is linear in shape and 50–200 meters in length, but they also perform movements of more than 600 m to reach aestivation or nesting areas.3

Females reach sexual maturity when they are about 10 cm in carapace length, while males mature at 12 cm carapace length.2 Reproductive activity in Kinosternon leucostomum takes place in the afternoons and evenings, and the breeding season varies across localities or be can continuous throughout the year.7,11 Courtship is initiated by the female and copulation lasts approximately 20 minutes.3,4 Males are aggressive and territorial during the breeding months. It is estimated that there is one sexually mature male for each 3–4 fertile females.16 Clutches consist of 1–6 (usually 1–2) eggs.7 These are large and have thick shells, measure 30–41 mm x 17–22 mm, and have an average weight of 9 g. The female deposits them in depressions in the ground and covers them with leaf-litter or hides them under logs and branches.3,7 Incubation time is 60–265 days (about 2–9 months)7 and temperature determines the sex of offspring.17 In Mexico, temperatures above 27 °C produce females.3

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..18,19 Kinosternon leucostomum is listed in this category given its wide distribution over areas that have not been heavily affected by deforestation, including the entire Colombian Pacific coast and major ecological reserves in Ecuador: Cotacachi Cayapas, Cayapas Mataje, and Mache Chindul. Therefore, the species is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats. Although some populations in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama appear to be stable, those outside protected areas in Ecuador and some parts of Colombia are declining due to habitat loss and indiscriminate harvesting.2,3 Adult turtles are hunted for medicinal use, carving of handicrafts, consumption, or to be used or sold as pets.3,9,20

Distribution: Kinosternon leucostomum is native to an estimated 677,999 km2 area in the Chocó–Río Magdalena valley and Mesoamerica biogeographic regions.1 The species occurs throughout the Atlantic lowlands of southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, as well as on the Pacific lowlands of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador. In Ecuador, K. leucostomum has been recorded at elevations between 0 and 1374 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Kinosternon leucostomum in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Kinosternon leucostomum in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Kinosternon, which comes from the Greek words kinetos (meaning “movable”) and sternon (meaning “chest”),21 refers to the hinged plastron. The specific epithet leucostomum, which is derived from the Greek words leukos (meaning “white”) and stoma (meaning mouth),21 refers to the pale lip coloration.

See it in the wild: Since Kinosternon leucostomum is semi-aquatic and nocturnal, turtles of this species are most easily located by walking along the shores of muddy water bodies. During the day, White-lipped Mud Turtles may be found hidden under branches, leaves, trunks, or in small holes along water bodies. In Ecuador, this species is labeled as being common in reserves Canandé and Itapoa, Esmeraldas province.

Special thanks to Cheryl Vogt for symbolically adopting the White-lipped Mud Turtle and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Authors: Gabriela SandovalaAffiliation: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Sandoval G, Arteaga A (2022) White-lipped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon leucostomum). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/UMFV8346

Literature cited:

  1. Rhodin AGJ, Iverson JB, Bour R, Fritz U, Georges A, Shaffer HB, van Dijk PP (2021) Turtles of the world: annotated checklist and atlas of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution, and conservation status. Chelonian Research Monographs 8: 1–472. DOI: 10.3854/crm.8.checklist.atlas.v9.2021
  2. Rueda-Almonacid JV, Carr JL, Mittermeier RA, Rodríguez-Mahecha JV, Mast RB, Vogt RC, Rhodin AGJ, de la Ossa-Velásquez J, Rueda JN, Mittermeier CG (2007) Las tortugas y los cocodrilianos de los países andinos del trópico. Conservación Internacional, Bogotá, 538 pp.
  3. Giraldo A, Garcés-Restrepo MF, Carr JL (2012) Kinosternon leucostomum. In: Páez VP, Morales-Betancourt MA, Lasso CA, Castaño-Mora OV, Bock BC (Eds) Biología y conservación de las tortugas continentales de Colombia. Serie Editorial Recursos Hidrobiológicos y Pesqueros Continentales de Colombia, Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt (IAvH), Bogotá, 332–339.
  4. Savage JM (2002) The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica, a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 934 pp.
  5. Berry JF (1978) Variation and systematics in the Kinoternon scorpioides and K. leucostomum complexes (Reptilia: Testudines: Kinosternidae) of Mexico and Central America. PhD thesis, The University of Utah, 323 pp.
  6. Ceballos CP, Zapata D, Alvarado C, Rincón E (2016) Morphology, diet, and population structure of the Southern White-lipped Mud Turtle Kinosternon leucostomum postinguinale (Testudines: Kinosternidae) in the Nus River drainage, Colombia. Journal of Herpetology 50: 374–380. DOI: 10.1670/15-035
  7. Giraldo A, Garcés-Restrepo MF, Carr JL (2013) Kinosternon leucostomum (Duméril y Bibron en Duméril y Duméril 1851). Catálogo de Anfibios y Reptiles de Colombia 1: 45–49.
  8. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  9. Carr JL, Almendáriz A, Simmons JE, Nielsen MT (2014) Subsistence hunting for turtles in northwestern Ecuador. Acta Biológica Colombiana 19: 401–413. DOI: 10.15446/abc.v19n3.42886
  10. Morales-Verdeja SA, Vogt RC (1997) Terrestrial movements in relation to aestivation and the annual reproductive cycle of Kinosternon leucostomum. Copeia 1997: 123–130. DOI: 10.2307/1447847
  11. Acuña-M. RA (1998) Las tortugas continentales de Costa Rica. Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, 96 pp.
  12. Vogt RC, Guzman Guzman S (1988) Food partitioning in a Neotropical freshwater turtle community. Copeia 1988: 37–47. DOI: 10.2307/1445920
  13. Villa J (1973) A snake in the diet of a kinosternid turtle. Journal of Herpetology 7: 380–381.
  14. Berry JF, Iverson JB (2001) Kinosternon leucostomum (Duméril and Bibron) White-lipped Mud Turtle. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles 724: 1–8.
  15. Vargas-Salinas F, Muñoz-Avila JA, Morales-Puentes ME (2019) Biología de los anfibios y reptiles en el bosque seco tropical del norte de Colombia. Editorial UPTC, Tunja, 484 pp. DOI: 10.19053/978-958-660-341-6
  16. Bonin F, Devaux B, Dupré A (2006) Tortugas del mundo. Lynx, Barcelona, 416 pp.
  17. Ewert MA, Nelson CE (1991) Sex determination in turtles: diverse patterns and some possible adaptive values. Copeia 1991: 50–69. DOI: 10.2307/1446248
  18. Morales-Betancourt MA, Lasso CA, Páez VP, Bock BC (2005) Libro rojo de reptiles de Colombia. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt, Bogotá, 257 pp.
  19. Reyes-Puig C (2015) Un método integrativo para evaluar el estado de conservación de las especies y su aplicación a los reptiles del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 73 pp.
  20. Arango J, Patiño D, Benítez L, Botero A (2018) New records of Kinosternon leucostomum postinguinale (Duméril and Bibron, 1851) from the Central Cordillera of Colombia. Revista Colombiana de Ciencia Animal-RECIA: 82–85. DOI: 10.24188/recia.v10.n1.2018.635
  21. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Kinosternon leucostomum in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaChocóMorromico ReserveThis work
ColombiaNariñoBajo CumilincheUPTC 025
ColombiaNariñoBellavistaGiraldo et al. 2013
ColombiaNariñoCarretera San Jorge–TumacoGiraldo et al. 2013
ColombiaNariñoCORPOICAPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoDirección General Marítima (DIMAR)Pinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoEl PalmichalPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoEstación Mar AgrícolaPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoSan Andrés de TumacoMLS 245
ColombiaNariñoUniversidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede NariñoPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaValle del CaucaBuenaventuraBerry 1978
EcuadorAzuayLa MaravillaiNaturalist
EcuadorCañarManta RealCogalniceanu et al. 2015
EcuadorEl OroArenillasiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroBalsasiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroBarbonesiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroBellamaríaiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroEl GuaboiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroLa FinquitaiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroLa IberiaiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroMachala, ProvidenciaiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroPlatanillosiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroPuerto BolívariNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroRemolinos Garzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroTillaesiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroVía a ChillaiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasBorbón, 6 km S ofCogalniceanu et al. 2015
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCasa del MedioThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro ZapalloiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasConcepciónCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasDurango, 5 km W ofCogalniceanu et al. 2015
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl AchoteCogalniceanu et al. 2015
EcuadorEsmeraldasEstero El CeiboCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda EquinoxCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda ErazoiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda La MolinitaCarr et al. 2014
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoaThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa BocaCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote RoseroThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasLuis Vargas TorresCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasNueva EsperanzaCarr et al. 2014
EcuadorEsmeraldasPalmera de los AndesiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya GrandeCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío BogotáCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío CachabiCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío DurangoCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío SantiagoCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan José de TaguaCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasVía Lita–San LorenzoDHMECN 5436
EcuadorEsmeraldasVía San Lorenzo–RocafuerteCogalniceanu et al. 2015
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasCerro MasvaleCogalniceanu et al. 2015
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquilCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil, Barrio San EduardoiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil, Hogar de CristoiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil, Parque CentenarioiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil, SaladoUSNM 94337
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil, SaucesiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasPuente Río ChimboCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorGuayasRío DauleBerry 1978
EcuadorGuayasRío GuayasCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorImbaburaEl CorazóniNaturalist
EcuadorLos RíosBosque Protector Pedro Franco DávilaiNaturalist
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorLos RíosCruse de BabaiNaturalist
EcuadorLos RíosIntriagoiNaturalist
EcuadorLos RíosVincesCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorManabíCocosoloCarlos Robles
EcuadorPichinchaEl Monte LodgeTom Quesenberry
EcuadorPichinchaEl NaranjaliNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaHostería ArasariiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaKapari LodgeThis work
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaMindo, vía al CintoiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaNanegal GrandeCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente Maldonado, 2 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto Quito–La SextaThis work
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Vía NanegaliNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorPichinchaRío CuberaiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaSan Miguel de los Bancos, 6 km W ofCogalniceanu et al. 2015
EcuadorPichinchaSantuario de Aves Rio SilancheiNaturalist
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca La FlorianaiNaturalist
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa ConcordiaiNaturalist
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa IndependenciaiNaturalist
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSan Miguel de los ColoradosCarr & Almendáriz 1990
PeruTumbesReserva Nacional de TumbesPritchard & Trebbau 1984