A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Broad-shelled turtle
Also called
broad-shelled river turtle,
side-necked turtle,
broad-shelled snake-necked turtle

Chelodina expansa
(more recently, Macrochelodina expansa)
Family: Chelidae
Suborder: Pleurodira
Order: Testudines
Class: Sauropsida

Large, long-necked freshwater turtle with very flattened pointy head and long, thick neck. Head, neck and limbs are grey.

Carapace (shell) is oval, wide, and flattened — broader at the tail end — and its colour may vary from grey to blackish brown. The plastron (the underneath part of the turtle's shell) is cream, and is narrower than the carapace.

Broad-shelled turtles are most often found in medium to large rivers, lakes and ponds, but also inhabit the larger parts of swamps, creeks, dams, and inland drainage systems.

They prefer cloudy water with considerable sediment, and like seclusion — lying concealed at the bottom of the water in sediment or debris. They are rarely seen except in autumn when females come out on land to nest, where they excavate a hole and lay between 5 and 30 eggs.

If you come across one on land laying eggs, stay well away, because if it is scared off it may not lay again for some time.

Adult carapace may grow to 50 centimetres (20 inches), and its head and neck are about 80 per cent as long as the carapace, making total length with neck extended up to about 80 centimetres (32 inches).

Secretive, likes to be left alone. Doesn't like noise, excitement, or being disturbed. Definitely not a party animal.

Using our photos

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Betsy's nesting photos

Our photographer tells the story of how he witnessed Betsy the broad-shelled turtle laying eggs at Calamvale Creek.

“After I had unintentionally disturbed Betsy on May 8 when she was about to lay eggs (see story at Betsy Part 1), I was delighted and amazed to see her on land again 10 days later.

“Again I was privileged to spot her as she was searching for another site to lay eggs.

“After scaring her last time, I was careful not to do the same again. This time she was a little closer to the creek bank.

“I moved quite a distance from her as soon as I saw her, and even though I got some photos that look like I was standing next to her, in fact I was behind cover away from her, and she did not see me until the final few seconds as she entered the creek.

“Weather conditions this time were the same as when she had appeared 10 days earlier. There had been rain overnight and early morning, and the day was overcast.

“Again, it was around 11 a.m. when she came out of the creek and started searching for a suitable nesting site.

“It took her 2 hours and 15 minutes to dig the nest, lay the eggs, cover the hole and re-enter the creek.

“During that time, several people walking past stopped to look at her. Some took photos with their mobile phones.

“She had ants all over her, had visits from a curious white ibis and a swamp hen, and had to endure harassing attacks from noisy miners.

“I felt sorry for her having to put up with all this in an unfamiliar environment. But her motherly instinct was obviously strong.

“I lost sight of her as she was swimming toward more familiar territory and the safety of one of the lagoons.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Betsy the broad-shelled turtle

Also called:
broad-shelled river turtle, side-necked turtle, broad-shelled snake-neck turtle

Chelodina expansa (more recently, Macrochelodina expansa)

The turtle returns … and lays her eggs

Hello. It's me again. Betsy the broad-shelled turtle from Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia.

There's been a storm across the valley and the clouds are rolling in, so I've come out of the creek in my second attempt to lay eggs. (Read about my first attempt if you want to know what happened.) I've quickly found a suitable nest site, have dug a hole, and am now laying.

broad-shelled_turtle_1A (37K)

I will lay at least 5 eggs. They are chalky white, slightly marbled, somewhat flexible, and are about 4 centimetres (an inch-and-a-half) long. The hole has to be deep and wide enough to hold all the eggs, so I do the excavation work with my strong, clawed, back legs. Oh dear! Ants are crawling all over me. And people walking past are stopping to gawk at me. And I had to put up with a dog sniffing me.

Protective fluid

broad-shelled_turtle_2A (39K)

I mix a milky protective body fluid with the soil I use to cover the eggs. The creamy sandy mixture you can see in the photo above is moist and slimy, and will nourish the eggs when I leave them.

Ooh — ahhh. If you were here you would hear me sigh every now and then as I deposit the eggs. It's very tiring doing all this work on land. I'm used to the buoyancy of the water in the creek — this land stuff is hard work, and so I have to rest after every movement I make.

Filling the hole

Whew! I've been at this for two hours, so now that the eggs are laid it's time to fill the hole and get back to the water.

broad-shelled_turtle_3A (36K)

I can't see my back legs, or the dirt, but I remember where I put them, so I shovel a foot-full of soil back into the hole at sporadic intervals. The specially prepared moist soil goes back first, then the rest of the dirt goes in to cover it.

After every few scoops, I lift my body and use my plastron (the underneath part of my shell) to drop down hard and flatten the soil.

Back to the creek

OK. That's a pretty neat job. Now it's time to head back to the creek.

broad-shelled_turtle_4A (36K)

It doesn't seem like much fun living on land. In the 2 hours and 15 minutes I've been here I've had to put up with ants walking all over me, inquisitive waterfowls staring at me, people with mobile phones taking photos of me, dogs sniffing me, and noisy miners using me as a prop to re-enact Alfred Hitchcock's horror movie The Birds.

chelodina_expansa_5A (38K)

Only a few more metres and I'll be back in the creek away from this madhouse. I'm glad there's no-one around to notice I've soiled the back of my carapace. I'll have to wash it off as soon as I get in the water.

Back home again

broad-shelled_turtle_6A (25K)

Splash! Back in the water at last. Hey it's good to be back home again. Sometimes this old creek feels like a long-lost friend.

I just hope my babies will be safe among all those land weirdos for six months or a year until they hatch.

broad-shelled_turtle_nestsite_7A (28K)

Shhhhhh. The babies are sleeping.

— Betsy the broad-shelled turtle

The baby turtles hatch!

After 270 days, the baby turtles hatched. Read the story of the exciting discovery here.