Published May 9, 2022. Open access.

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Brown Wood-Turtle (Rhinoclemmys annulata)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Testudines | Geoemydidae | Rhinoclemmys annulata

English common name: Brown Wood-Turtle.

Spanish common names: Tortuga trueno, bambera, montañera, tortuga pambilera (Ecuador, Colombia); tortuga sabanera parda (Panamá); tortuga del bosque, tortuga terrestre café (Costa Rica).

Recognition: ♂♂ 20.2 cmMaximum straight length of the carapace. ♀♀ 22.6 cmMaximum straight length of the carapace..1 The Brown Wood-Turtle (Rhinoclemmys annulata) can be identified from other Chocoan land and freshwater turtles mainly on the basis of carapace shape and coloration.2 The carapace may be yellowish to blackish, strongly domed, and has a distinctive vertebral keel with a yellowish coloration.35 The plastron is almost entirely black, with the exception of the periphery, which is yellowish cream.3,6 Rhinoclemmys annulata can be separated from R. melanosterna and R. nasuta by having a domed (rather than flattened) carapace, weakly-developed interdigital membranes, and no light dorsolateral stripes on the head.3,7 Males of R. annulata have a narrower carapace, a more concave plastron, and a longer tail than females.8 This species differs from mud turtles of the genus Kinosternon by lacking moveable hinges in the plastron.9

Figure showing variation among individuals of Rhinoclemmys annulata

Figure 1: Individuals of Rhinoclemmys annulata from Tundaloma Lodge, Esmeraldas province (); Guayas province (); and Canandé Reserve, Esmeraldas province (), Ecuador. ad=adult, sa=subadult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: RareTotal average number of reported observations per locality less than ten. in Ecuador,10 but frequentRecorded weekly in densities below five individuals per locality. in Costa Rica.11 Rhinoclemmys annulata is a terrestrial to semi-aquatic turtle that inhabits lowland rainforests, seasonally dry forests, swamps, forest clearings, and human-modified environments such as pastures and plantations.4,1012 Brown Wood-Turtles are the most terrestrial of the Rhinoclemmys genus, spending most of their life on the forest floor.9,11,13 However, it is not uncommon to see them nearby, or submerged in, bodies of water such as streams, drainage ditches, and swamps.9,11,14 Brown Wood-Turtles are active during the day, with an activity peak between 7:00 and 10:00 am or during and immediately after periods of heavy rain.8,11 When not active, these shy turtles rest among tangled vines, under dense herbaceous vegetation,15 in dense leaf-litter, beneath the root systems of trees, or between buttress roots.9,16 In Costa Rica, the average home range size of a sampled population was 2.86 ha.11 In a captive Colombian population, these turtles spent up to 85.6% of their time simply resting, 7.1% moving, and 2.1% basking.14

Brown Wood-Turtles are almost entirely herbivorous.11 In the wild, they feed primarily on ferns,11 but also on fruits, shrubs, spikemosses, vines, and seedlings.8,11 In captivity, they prefer bread and fruits such as papaya, cantaloupe, apples, and bananas.7,8 Because of their dietary preference, this species has been identified as an important seed disperser.11 The cryptic behavior and camouflage of Rhinoclemmys annulata constitutes its primary line of defense, since the species is not known to make burrows.8 Juveniles and eggs are preyed upon by hawks and vultures,12 and both young and adult individuals are infested by ticks and leeches.9,10,17 The breeding season of R. annulata occurs throughout the year and, in some areas, is correlated with precipitation.2,8 Females deposit 1–2 elliptical eggs that measure about 3.7 x 7.0 cm.4 These are laid in shallow nests or on bare soil.4 The females sometimes cover them with leaf-litter, but they provide no additional care to the clutch.4 The incubation period is 85–141 days (about 3–5 months) and the hatchlings measure an average of 6.3 cm in carapace length.3

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..18,19 Rhinoclemmys annulata 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 sold as pets.3,20 In Ecuador, it is estimated that nearly 60% of the forest habitat of the Brown Wood-Turtle has already been destroyed.21 These threats, in combination with the species’ natural low fecundity,3 may result in R. annulata being included in a threatened category in the future.22

Distribution: Rhinoclemmys annulata is native to an estimated 310,269 km2 area in the Chocó and Mesoamerica biogeographic regions.1 The species occurs throughout the Atlantic lowlands of southern Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, and the Pacific lowlands of eastern Panama, western Colombia, and Ecuador. In Ecuador, R. annulata has been recorded at elevations between 0 and 463 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Rhinoclemmys annulata in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Rhinoclemmys annulata in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Esmeraldas province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Rhinoclemmys, which comes from the Greek words rhinos (meaning “nose”) and klemmys (meaning “tortoise”),23 refers to the protuberant snout of some species of the genus.24 The specific epithet annulata is a Latin word meaning “furnished with a ring.” It probably refers to the growth rings on the scutes of the carapace.5

See it in the wild: Although Brown Wood-Turtles are commonly kept as pets in rural houses throughout western Ecuador, they are rarely encountered in the wild. Most recent observations come from forested areas along the Chongón Colonche and Mache Chindul mountain ranges as well as from private reserves Canandé and Jama Coaque. In these areas, the turtles may be found by walking along forest trails near slow-moving rivers, ponds, and swamps right after a heavy rain during morning hours.

Special thanks to Lauren Klaras for symbolically adopting the Brown Wood-Turtle and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2022) Brown Wood-Turtle (Rhinoclemmys annulata). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/CNDL4838

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, Carr JL, Garcés-Restrepo MF (2012) Rhinoclemmys annulata. 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, 300–304.
  4. Giraldo A, Garcés-Restrepo MF, Carr JL (2013) Rhinoclemmys annulata. Catálogo de Anfibios y Reptiles de Colombia 1: 31–34.
  5. Ernst CH (1980) Rhinoclemmys annulata (Gray) Brown land terrapin. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles 250: 1–2.
  6. 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.
  7. Carr JL, Almendáriz A (1989) Contribución al conocimiento de la distribución geográfica de los quelonios del Ecuador occidental. Revista Politécnica 14: 75–103.
  8. Mittermeier RA (1971) Notes on the behavior and ecology of Rhinoclemmys annulata Gray. Herpetologica 27: 485–488.
  9. Leenders T (2019) Reptiles of Costa Rica: a field guide. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 625 pp.
  10. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  11. Moll D, Jansen KP (1995) Evidence for a role in seed dispersal by two tropical herbivorous turtles. Biotropica 27: 121–127.
  12. Acuña-M. RA (1993) Las tortugas continentales de Costa Rica. Editorial ICER, San Pedro de Montes de Oca, 58 pp.
  13. Medem F (1962) La distribución geográfica y ecología de los Crocodylia y Testudinata en el Departamento del Chocó. Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas, y Naturales 11: 279–303.
  14. Castillo Flor YL, Giraldo A, Garcés-Restrepo MF, Galvis-Rizo CA (2015) Comportamiento en cautiverio de Rhinoclemmys annulata (Geoemydidae) y Chelonoidis carbonaria (Testudinidae). BSc thesis, Universidad del Valle, 27 pp.
  15. MECN (2010) Serie herpetofauna del Ecuador: El Chocó esmeraldeño. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 232 pp.
  16. Medem F (1956) Noticia sobre el primer hallazgo de la tortuga Geoemyda annulata (Gray) en Colombia. Caldasia 34: 317–325.
  17. Garcés-Restrepo MF, Giraldo A, Carr JL, Brown LD (2013) Turtle ectoparasites from the Pacific coastal region of Colombia. Biota Neotropica 13: 74–79. DOI: 10.1590/S1676-06032013000300009
  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. 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
  21. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  22. Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1996) Rhinoclemmys annulata. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.1996.RLTS.T19501A8941417.en
  23. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  24. Ernst C (1981) Rhinoclemmys Fitzinger Neotropical forest terrapins. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles 274: 1–2.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Rhinoclemmys annulata in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaNariñoFinca GavilánICN 7519
ColombiaNariñoRío CurayGiraldo et al. 2012
ColombiaNariñoSan JuánGiraldo et al. 2012
ColombiaNariñoTumacoGiraldo et al. 2012
EcuadorAzuayFlor y SelvaThis work
EcuadorBolívarLas NavesiNaturalist
EcuadorCañarCochancayMVZ 77497
EcuadorCañarManta RealAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorChimborazoBucayCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorCotopaxiEl Jardín de los SueñosPhoto by Christophe Pellet
EcuadorCotopaxiYakusinchiPhoto by Jane Sloan
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological StationOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBoca del Río EsmeraldasCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasCabeceras de BilsaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasCachabiCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro MutilesAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasEsmeraldas*Gray 1860
EcuadorEsmeraldasEstero El CeiboCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasEstero El PlacerCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda EquinoxCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasInésVázquez et al. 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa BocaMHNG 2226.039
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa ConcordiaiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasLaguna de CubeLuis Coloma, pers. comm.
EcuadorEsmeraldasLas MedianíasiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasLuis Vargas TorresCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasMisión Santa MaríaTorres-Carvajal & Salazar-Valenzuela 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasNueva EsperanzaCarr et al. 2014
EcuadorEsmeraldasPartidero-Poza HondaVázquez et al. 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya GrandeCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasPulúnCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasRefugio de vida silvestre El PambilariNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasRicaurteCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío TulubíiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan AntonioiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan José de TaguaCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeThis work
EcuadorGuayasChongónCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorGuayasCorralitoROM 42188
EcuadorGuayasDaularPhoto by George Varela
EcuadorImbaburaParambaBoulenger 1898
EcuadorLos RíosBosque Protector Pedro Franco DávilaCruz & Sánchez 2016
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorLos RíosEl VergeliNaturalist
EcuadorLos RíosJaunecheAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorLos RíosPuerto de IláOrcés 1949
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedoOrcés 1949
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedo, 8 km E ofCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorManabíBahía de CaráquezPhoto by Jose León
EcuadorManabíBosque Protector CantagalloACBIO 2012
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorThis work
EcuadorManabíEl ParaísoiNaturalist
EcuadorManabíEl PitalDHMECN 12965
EcuadorManabíJama Coaque ReserveLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíLa CrespaiNaturalist
EcuadorManabíMantaUSNM 96020
EcuadorManabíParque Nacional MachalillaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorManabíReserva AyampeDHMECN 11955
EcuadorManabíReserva Biológica Tito SantosHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíRío AyampeiNaturalist
EcuadorManabíSan Ramón, 6 km SW ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente Maldonado, 9 km W ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorSanta ElenaAtahualpaROM 26036
EcuadorSanta ElenaAtahualpa, 2 km E ofGBIF
EcuadorSanta ElenaComuna Las BalsasiNaturalist
EcuadorSanta ElenaDos MangasPhoto by Rita Hidalgo
EcuadorSanta ElenaSamai LodgeiNaturalist
EcuadorSanta ElenaShambalaiNaturalist
EcuadorSanta ElenaTributary of the dry Rio EngabaoROM 26036
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda EspinosaCAS 13297
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasJoe Ramsey farmCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasReserva Forestal La PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSan Miguel de los ColoradosCarr & Almendáriz 1990
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosCarr & Almendáriz 1990