This critically endangered freshwater turtle was long thought to be in the otherwise South American genus Podocmemis, which includes the Arrau and Yellow-spotted side-necked turtles, also displayed at the DWA. More recent research indicates it belongs in its own genus, but that its closest living relatives are South American, evidence of Madagascar and South America both being part of the Gondwana Super-Continent until it split apart approximately 135 million years ago. Efforts are underway to establish a captive-breeding program.
In the 1960s, vast numbers of the tiny, brightly colored young of this species were sent to the US with shipments of tropical fish, but most did not survive. Since females may exceed 17 inches in shell length, they are not appropriate for most home aquariums. Serious private collectors and zoos have done well with them, and they have bred many times in captivity. While considered vulnerable to extinction, they remain an important resource for Native Americans in parts of their wide South American range.
This South American turtle is famous for the mass gatherings of females that come ashore to lay their eggs, often a hundred at a time. Otherwise, these plant-eaters hardly ever leave the water. Females are much larger than males, reaching a shell length of three feet. Because their eggs and flesh have long been prized as food, they have been subject to overhunting, and are now classified as Conservation Dependent.