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Rafetus swinhoei (GRAY, 1873)

IUCN Red List - Rafetus swinhoei - Critically Endangered, CR

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Higher TaxaTrionychidae (Trionychinae), Trionychoidea, Testudines (turtles)
Common NamesE: Shanghai Softshell Turtle, Swinhoe’s Soft-shelled Turtle
Chinese: 斑鳖 
SynonymOscaria swinhoei GRAY 1873
Trionyx swinhonis — BOULENGER 1889
Rafetus swinhoei — MEYLAN & WEBB 1988
Trionyx swinhoei — ALDERTON 1988
Yuen maculatus HEUDE
Pelochelys taihuensis ZANG
Rafetus swinhoe — RUDOLPHI & WESER 1998
Rafetus leloii HÀ DÌNH DÚC 2000
Rafetus swinhoei — FARKAS & WEBB 2003
Oscaria (Rafetus) swinhoei — BONIN et al 2006
Rafetus vietnamensis LE et al. 2010
Rafetus swinhoei — TTWG 2021 
DistributionS China (Yunnan), Vietnam

Type locality: Shanghai, People's Republic of China.

vietnamensis: N Vietnam (Hoan Kiem Lake); Type locality: not explicitly given.  
TypesHolotype: BMNH 1946.1.22.9 (formerly and its skull, numbered separately as BMNH 1947.3.6.13.
Holotype: HK1 (”Hung Ky specimen”, Ngoc Son Temple and Hoa Binh Museum) [vietnamensis] 
DiagnosisDiagnosis (vietnamensis): “The giant fresh water soft-shelled turtle differs significantly from all the described genera in its body size, living conditions, appearance, skull morphology and DNA sequence. The diagnosis focused on identification of the species by using the specific characteristics of the wide and blunt appearance of the skull with a blunt curved maxillary arch, the giant size of the body, its habitat and especially the DNA sequence comparisons” [from LE TRAN BINH et al. 2010]. 
CommentPreviously considered as a synonym of Pelodiscus (=Trionyx) sinensis.

Conservation: This is one of the most endangered turtle species according to a 2003 assessment by the IUCN. Only a few living specimens have survived (Liu et al. 2019).

Synonymy: The description of Rafetus vietnamensis is very vague (see diagnosis). Rhodin et al (2010) provisionally synonymized vietnamensis with swinhoei and Farkas et al. (2011) do so formally.

Habitat: freshwater (rivers and tributaries) 
  • Anonymous 2016. Testudinate China [in both English and Chinese] Testudinate Industry Branch of the China Fishery Association, published on occasion of WCH8; author not explicitly stated, 54 pp.
  • Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2012. Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei): The legendary Sword Lake Turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 10 (1): 4-20 - get paper here
  • Bonin, F., Devaux, B. & Dupré, A. 2006. Turtles of the World. English translation by P.C.H. Pritchard. Johns Hopkins University Press, 416 pp.
  • Boulenger, G.A. 1889. Catalogue of the chelonians, rhynchocephalians, and crocodiles in the British Museum (Natural History). British Museum, London, 311 pp.
  • Bour, R. 2008. Global diversity of turtles (Chelonii; Reptilia) in freshwater. Hydrobiologia 595:593–598 - get paper here
  • Ernst,C.H. and Barbour,R.W. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. - London
  • Farkas B, Fritz U 1998. On the identity of Rafetus swinhoei (GRAY 1873) and Pelochelys maculatus (HEUDE 1880) (Reptilia: Testudines: Trionychidae). Zool. Abh. Staatl. Tierk. Dresden 50 (1): 50 (1): 59-75 - get paper here
  • Farkas, B. & Webb, R.G. 2003. Rafetus leloii HÀ DÌNH DÚC 2000, an invalid species of softshell turtle from Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam (Reptilia, Testudines, Trionychidae). Zool. Abh. (Dresden) 53: 107-112
  • Farkas, B. L. 1992. Wiederentdeckung eines Exemplars von Rafetus swinhoei (GRAY, 1873) im Naturhistorischen Museum Wien. Salamandra 28 (2): 145-152 - get paper here
  • Farkas, Balázs; Minh Duc Le, and Truong Quang Nguyen 2011. Rafetus vietnamensis Le, Le, Tran, Phan, Phan, Tran, Pham, Nguyen, Nong, Phan, Dinh, Truong and Ha, 2010 – another invalid name for an invalid species of softshell turtle (Reptilia: Testudines: Trionychidae). Russ. J. Herpetol. 18 (1): 65 – 72 - get paper here
  • Gray,J.E. 1873. Notes on Chinese mud-tortoises (Trionychidae), with the description of a new species sent to the British Museum by Mr. Swinhoe, and observations on the male organ of this family. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (4) 12: 156-161 - get paper here
  • Jian, Wang; Shi Hai-Tao, Wen Cheng, and Han Lian-Xian 2013. Habitat Selection and Conservation Suggestions for the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) in the Upper Red River, China. Chelonian Conservation and Biology Jul 2013, Vol. 12, No. 1: 177-184. - get paper here
  • Kuchling, Gerald, Dingqi Rao and Shunqing Lu. 2013. In search of China's last Giant Softshell Turtles (Rafetus swinhoei). Turtle Survival Alliance 2013: 44
  • Kuchling, Gerald, Lu Shunqing and Rao Dingqi. 2014. Challenges for Rafetus in China continue to mount. Turtle Survival 2014: 50 - get paper here
  • Le Duc, Olivier; Pham, Thong Van; Zuklin, Tomas; Bordes, Cédric; Leprince, Benjamin; Ducotterd, Charlotte 2020. A new locality of presence for the world’s rarest turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) gives new hope for its survival. J. Nat. Conserv. 55: 125833 - get paper here
  • Le Tran; Le Quang Huan, Tran My Linh, Phan Trong Hoang, Phan Minh Tuan, Tran Thi Thanh Huyen, Pham Thu Thuy, Nguyen Dang Ton, Nong Van Hai, Phan Van Chi, Dinh Duy Khang, Truong Nam Hai, Ha Dinh Duc 2010. COMPARATIVE MORPHOLOGICAL AND DNA ANALYSIS OF SPECIMENS OF GIANT FRESHWATER SOFT-SHELLED TURTLE IN VIETNAM RELATED TO HOAN KIEM TURTLE. Tạp chí Công nghệ Sinh học 8(3A): 949-954
  • Li, H., Liu, J., Xiong, L., Zhang, H., Zhou, H., Yin, H., Jing, W., Li, J., Shi, Q., Wang, Y., Liu, J. and Nie, L. 2017. Phylogenetic relationships and divergence dates of softshell turtles (Testudines: Trionychidae) inferred from complete mitochondrial genomes. J. Evol. Biol., doi:10.1111/jeb.13070 - get paper here
  • Liu, Huinian; Xin Li, Chang Zhang 2019. Invest in amphibians and reptiles. Science 364 (6446): 1144 - get paper here
  • Meylan, P. & R.G. Webb. 1988. Rafetus swinhoei (Gray) 1873, a valid species of living soft-shelled turtle (Family Trionychidae) from China. Journal of Herpetology 22 (1): 118-119 - get paper here
  • Nguyen, S.V., Ho, C.T. and Nguyen, T.Q. 2009. Herpetofauna of Vietnam. Chimaira, Frankfurt, 768 pp.
  • Rudolphi, Michael and Ronald Weser. 1998. Die Weichschildkröten Nordvietnams unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Nackendornen-Weichschildkröte, Palea steindachneri (Siebenrock, 1906). Sauria 20 (1): 2-14. - get paper here
  • Siebenrock, F. 1902. Zur Systematik der Schildkrötenfamilie Trionychidae Bell, nebst der Beschreibung einer neuen Cyclanorbis - Art. Sitzungsber. K. Akad. Wiss. Wien. Math-Naturwiss. Cl. 111: 807-846 - get paper here
  • Stanford, C.B. et al. 2020. Turtles and Tortoises Are in Trouble. Current Biology 30: R721–R735 - get paper here
  • TTWG; Rhodin, A.G.J., Iverson, J.B., Bour, R., Fritz, U., Georges, A., Shaffer, H.B., and van Dijk, P.P. 2021. Turtles of the World: Annotated Checklist and Atlas of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution, and Conservation Status (9th Ed.). In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Iverson, J.B., van Dijk, P.P., Stanford, C.B., Goode, E.V., Buhlmann, K.A., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Chelonian Research Monographs 8:1–472. doi:10.3854/crm.8.checklist.atlas.v9.2021. - get paper here
  • Wang K, Lyu ZT, Wang J, Qi S, Che J 2022. Updated Checklist and Zoogeographic Division of the Reptilian Fauna of Yunnan Province, China. Biodiversity Science 30 (4): 21326, 1–31 - get paper here
  • Wang, Kai; Jinlong Ren, Hongman Chen, Zhitong Lyu, Xianguang Guo Ke Jiang, Jinmin Chen, Jiatang Li, Peng Guo, Yingyong Wang, Jing Che 2020. The updated checklists of amphibians and reptiles of China. Biodiversity Science 28 (2): 189-218 - get paper here
  • ZHOU, T; P-P Li. 2007. Chelonian species diversity and current status in China. (in Chinese). Sichuan Journal of Zoology 26 (2):463-467 - get paper here
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