Phylum: Chordata (vertebrate)
Order: Testudines (protective covering)
Suborder: Pleurodira (sideneck)
Oblong turtles are common in rivers, lakes and swamps from Hutt River in the north right through to the Fitzgerald River in the south west of Western Australia. They prefer slow moving water but will enter rivers to migrate in summer if their habitat has dried out. Urban development around Perth has severely hampered overland migration and researchers have found the numbers have dropped by 10% in some suburban lakes over the last 10 years (2000 – 2011).
The top shell or carapace is dark brown to black and the bottom shell, the plastron is pale. The skin of the rest of the body that protrudes from the shell is dark brown to black often with flecks. If the water is light and silty then the turtles can be much lighter in colour. Older animals often have tiny green plants or algae growing on top of their shell which is a great camouflage in the billabongs and swamps. Barbels, which protrude from the chin, are very sensitive to touch and have a role to play in courtship. The shell is made up of bony plates that form over the ribs and fuse with them and the shoulder and pelvic girdles. These plates are overlaid with skin/keratin patches called scutes that are shed like our skin. Thus the shell is a living, metabolising body part and is very sensitive to touch.
Cracked shells are treated like we treat a cracked tooth. The wound is cleaned surgically while the turtle is under a general anaesthetic and given time to heal without infection by administering antibiotics and pain relief. Care of these injuries is specialised and is done by veterinary staff or highly trained wildlife rehabilitators under veterinary supervision.