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Elseya dentata (GRAY, 1863)

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Higher TaxaChelidae, Chelodininae, Pleurodira, Testudines (turtles)
Common NamesE: Northern Australian Snapping Turtle 
SynonymChelymys dentata GRAY 1863: 98
Chelymys elseyi GRAY 1864:132 (nomen nudum)
Chelymys elseya GRAY 1870: 76 (nomen nudum)
Elseya dentata — GRAY 1867
Elseya intermedia GRAY 1872: 23
Elseya dentata — BOULENGER 1889
Elseya dentata — COGGER 2000: 194
Elseya flaviventralis GEORGES et al. 2000: 7 (nomen nudum)
Elseya dentata — GEORGES & THOMSON 2010
Elseya (Elseya) dentata — THOMSON et al. 2015
Elseya (Elseya) dentata — TTWG 2017: 194 
DistributionN Australia (from the Kimberley district of Western Australia eastward through the Northern Territory to the Roper River of eastern Northern Territory)

Type locality: Beagle’ s Valley, upper Victoria River, N. T. (15 ̊ 34' S, 130 ̊ 54' E)

intermedia: Type locality: upper part of Victoria River, NT, Australia.  
TypesLectotype: BMNH 1947.3.6.3 (formerly, upper Victoria River, NT, collected J.R. Elsey (original description gives the locality as Beagle's Valley, and collector J. MacGillivray). Designation by Wells & Wellington (1985). The subsequent designation of 1947.3.6.2 (formerly as lectotype by Thomson et al., 2015, is invalid due to the prior designation by Wells & Wellington.
Holotype: BMNH 1947.3.4.14 [intermedia] 
DiagnosisDiagnosis (genus): The members of the genus Elseya can be diagnosed by the following combination of external characters—head and neck, when extended, much shorter than the carapace; gular scutes entirely separated by the intergular scute; prominent alveolar ridge on the triturating surfaces of the jaw sheaths (secondarily reduced in Elseya schultzei, E. novaeguineae and E. rhodini); a horny casque (head shield) on top of the head of adults, entire, fragmented or deeply fenestrated; temporal region covered with prominent scales; front feet with five claws, rear with four claws. The anterior bridge strut of Elseya is angled sharply (approx. 45°) away from the rib/gomophosis of pleural one, a character shared with Emydura but excluding Elusor, Pseudemydura, Rheodytes, Myuchelys and Flaviemys. The anterior and posterior sides of the anterior bridge suture in Elseya are widely spaced both proximally and distally, with or without a medial constriction, whereas in Emydura only the proximal end of the suture is expanded followed by immediate constriction to a diameter confluent with the peripheral part of the bridge suture [from THOMSON et al. 2015].

Diagnosis (dentata): Elseya dentata is a large species of freshwater turtle of the Family Chelidae that is readily identified by the following combination of characters: The head is very broad and deep, with a very wide mandibular symphysis and a distinct median alveolar ridge on the upper jaw. The horny plate on top of the head does not extend laterally and there are two small white barbels under the chin. The neck is large and muscular with scattered enlarged conical tubercles over a covering of smaller flat tubercles. The mature carapace is robust, thick and smoothly rounded anteriorly, generally oval in shape and with some posterior expansion. Additionally, there is slight upturning at the lateral marginals but the posterior of the carapace is largely un-serrated. In general shape, the posterior margin of the carapace is acutely tapered, not at all rounded in shape. The plastron is always long and relatively narrow, being widest at the bridge and gently tapering both anteriorly and posteriorly, although the anterior plastral lobe does tend to slightly widen with age. The intergular shield completely separates the gulars, and is longer than wide, and much narrower than the adjacent gular shields. Hatchlings differ somewhat in that they have a noticeably serrated posterior margin to the carapace and fairly prominent central ridging (both characters which are lost with age), and some lateral upturning to the carapace as well. In immature specimens, the carapace is pale to light brown, but with age it changes to very dark brown in colouration. Mature individuals have the dorsal colour of the head and neck a uniform dark greyish-brown, and no facial striping, however laterally these areas are much paler - and may even have a piebald or blotched pattern, to being almost totally white in some older specimens. The iris is brownish, with a very light inner ring and is distinctly flecked with darker brown, and usually the tympanic region is whitish also. The ventral colouration is distinctly variegated or piebald in pattern in both sexes, unlike other members of the dentata-complex which are either very pale or very dark and usually unpatterned. Elseya dentata attains a maximum carapace length of around 340mm, but this size would be exceptional, as most mature specimens are only about 280-300mm [from WELLS 2007].

Diagnosis (dentata): Large short-necked chelid turtle. Juveniles have moderately spinose shells, reducing in prominence with age; many large adults with entire margin to the shell. Dark streaks or mottling of the otherwise cream plastron; carapace dark brown, almost black. Head shield entire, not as extensive or as fenestrated as the head shields of members of subgenus Pelocomastes. The alveolar ridge is moderate and does not increase the width of the triturating surface of the upper jaw in adults. Can be distinguished from all members of subgenus Pelocomastes by the medial constriction of the anterior bridge strut suture [from THOMSON et al. 2015].

Diagnosis (jukesi): see WELLS 2002. 
CommentType Species: Chelymys dentata GRAY 1863 is the type species of the genus Elseya GRAY 1867.

Fossil species: E. (Pelocomastes) nadibajagu Thomson and Mackness, 1999 (Pliocene) and Elseya (Pelocomastes) uberrima (de Vis, 1897) (reviewed by Thomson, 2000) (Pleistocene) are fossil species of the genus Elseya.

WELLS 2007 and a few other authors also consider E. jukesii WELLS 2002 and Elseya stirlingi Wells and Wellington, 1985 as valid. Fritz & Havas (2007:162) and Georges & Thomson (2010) do not accept the description of jukesi as acceptable as it was published privately.

Habitat: freshwater (rivers, swamps) 
EtymologyNamed after the dentate margin of the shell of younger animals.

The specific epithet of 'jukesi' honours Australian naturalist Brian Jukes, a past resident of the area where this species lives. [from wELLS 2007]. 
  • Artner, H. G. 1999. Nomenklatur aktuell: Gattung Elseya. Emys 6 (3): 30.
  • Bonin, F., Devaux, B. & Dupré, A. 2006. Turtles of the World. English translation by P.C.H. Pritchard. Johns Hopkins University Press, 416 pp.
  • Bour, R. 2008. Global diversity of turtles (Chelonii; Reptilia) in freshwater. Hydrobiologia 595:593–598 - get paper here
  • Cogger, H. G. 2014. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, 7th ed. CSIRO Publishing, xxx + 1033 pp. - get paper here
  • Cogger, H.G. 2000. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, 6th ed. Ralph Curtis Publishing, Sanibel Island, 808 pp.
  • Ernst,C.H. and Barbour,R.W. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. - London
  • Georges, A. 1996. Electrophoretic delineation of species boundaries within the short-necked freshwater turtles of Australia (Testudines: Chelidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society (1996), 118: 241–260. - get paper here
  • Georges, A. & Thomson, S. 2010. Diversity of Australasian freshwater turtles, with an annotated synonymy and keys to species. Zootaxa 2496: 1–37 - get paper here
  • Gray, J. E. 1863. Additional observations of Chelymys dentata. Ann. Mag. nat. Hist. (3) 12: 246 - get paper here
  • Gray,J.E. 1863. On the species of Chelymys from Australia, with the description of a new species. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (3) 12: 98-99 - get paper here
  • Gray,J.E. 1864. On the genera of Chelydidae and the characters furnished by the study of their skulls. Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1864: 128-135 - get paper here
  • Gray,J.E. 1872. Appendix to the Catalogue of Shield Reptiles in the Collection of the British Museum. Part I. Testudinata (Tortoises). British Museum, London, 28 pp.
  • Iverson, John B., Scott A. Thomson and Arthur Georges 2001. Validity of taxonomic changes for turtles proposed by Wells and Wellington. Journal of Herpetology 35 (3): 361-368 - get paper here
  • Kaiser, H.; Crother, B.I.; Kelly, C.M.R.; Luiselli, L.; O’Shea, M.; Ota, H.; Passos, P.; Schleip, W.D. & Wüster, W. 2013. Best Practices: In the 21st Century, Taxonomic Decisions in Herpetology are Acceptable Only When Supported by a Body of Evidence and Published via Peer-Review. Herpetological Review 44 (1): 8-23
  • Lieb, Carl S.; Jack W. Sites, Jr. & James W. Archie 1999. The use of isozyme characters in systematic studies of turtles: preliminary data for Australian Chelids. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 27: 157-183 - get paper here
  • Seddon, J. M.;Georges, A.;Baverstock, P. R.;McCord, W. 1997. Phylogenetic relationships of chelid turtles (Pleurodira: Chelidae) based on mitochondrial 12S rRNA gene sequence variation. Mol Phylogenet Evol 7 (1): 55-61 - get paper here
  • Thomson S.A. and Mackness B.S. 1999. Fossil turtles from the early pliocene bluff downs local fauna, with a description of a new species of Elseya. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 123(3):101-105 - get paper here
  • Thomson, S.; Amepou, Y., Anamiato, J. & Georges, A. 2015. A new species and subgenus of Elseya (Testudines: Pleurodira: Chelidae) from New Guinea. Zootaxa 4006 (1): 059–082 - get paper here
  • Thomson, Scott, Arthur Georges and Colin J. Limpus 2006. A new species of freshwater turtle in the genus Elseya (Testudines: Chelidae) from Central Coastal Queensland, Australia. Chelonian Conserv. Biol. 5 (1): 74-86. - get paper here
  • TTWG; Anders G.J. Rhodin, John B. iverson, Roger Bour, Uwe Fritz, Arthur GeoRges, H. BRadley Shaffer, and Peter Paul van Dijk 2017. Turtles of the World: Annotated Checklist and Atlas of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution, and Conservation Status (8th Ed.). In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Iverson, J.B., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Pritchard, P.C.H., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Ed Chelonian Research Monographs 7:1–292. doi: 10.3854/crm.7.checklist.atlas.v8.2017 - get paper here
  • Wells, R. W. 2007. Some Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Considerations on the Class Reptilia in Australia. Some Comments on the Elseya dentata (Gray, 1863) complex with Redescriptions of the Johnstone River Snapping Turtle, Elseya stirlingi Wells and Wellington, 1985 and t Australian Biodiversity Record (2): 1-12 - get paper here
  • Wells, R. W. 2007. Some taxonomic and nomenclatural considerations on the class Reptilia in Australia. A new genus of the family Chelidae from eastern Australia. Australian Biodiversity Record (3): 1–13 - get paper here
  • Wells, R. W. and Wellington, C. R. 1985. A classification of the Amphibia and Reptilia of Australia. Australian Journal of Herpetology, Supplementary Series (1): 1-61 [sometimes cited as 1983] - get paper here
  • Wells, R.W. 2002. Taxonomic notes on some Australian freshwater turtles of the genera Chelodina and Elseya (Reptilia: Chelidae). Australian Biodiversity Record (2): 1–30. - get paper here
  • Wilson, D.S. et al. 2003. Estimating age of turtles from growth rings: a critical evaluation of the technique. Herpetologica 59 (2): 178-194 - get paper here
  • Wilson, S. & Swan, G. 2010. A complete guide to reptiles of Australia, 3rd ed. Chatswood: New Holland, 558 pp.
  • Winkler, J.D. 2006. Testing phylogenetic implications of eggshell characters in side-necked turtles (Testudines: Pleurodira). Zoology 109: 127-136 - get paper here
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