Animal Database

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Animal Database
Animal Database
Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle
The full size of the Dong Mo Rafetus swinhoei is clear here, 25Nov08
Common Name Red River Giant Softshell Turtle, Shanghai Softshell Turtle, or Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle.
Range Vietnam and China.
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Reptilia
Order Testudines
Family Trionychidae
Genus Rafetus
Species Rafetus swinhoei
Conservation Status
Critically Endangered

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), also known as the Red River giant softshell turtle, Shanghai softshell turtle, or Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, is an extremely rare species of softshell turtle found in Vietnam and China. In Chinese, it is known as the speckled softshell turtle (Chinese: 斑鱉; Pinyin: bān bīe). Only four living individuals are known and it is listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List. It is hoped that a pair at Suzhou Zoo in China will breed. In 2019, Forrest Galante and his crew managed to caught an adult Yangtze giant softshell turtle on ground camera before it disappeared in the water. In October 22, 2020, the Asian Turtle Program found a wild female Yangtze giant softshell Turtle in Dong Mo Lake.[1]


The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is noted for its deep head with pig-like snout and eyes dorsally placed. This critically endangered species holds the title of being the largest freshwater turtle in the world. It measures over 100 cm (39 in) in length and 70 cm (28 in) in width, and weighs about 70–100 kg (150–220 lb). The specimen caught from Vietnam weighed over 200 kg (440 lb). Its carapace, or shell, can grow larger than 50 cm (20 in) in length and width. Its head can measure over 20 cm (7.9 in) in length and 10 cm (3.9 in) in width. The male is generally smaller than the female and has a longer, larger tail.


The Yangtze giant softshell turtle has been known to inhabit the Yangtze River and Lake Taihu, situated on the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces, in eastern China, and Gejiu, Yuanyang, Jianshui and Honghe in Yunnan Province in southern China.

The last known specimen caught in the wild in China was in 1998 in the Red River between Yuanyang and Jianshui; it was then released. Only four specimens are known to live in Vietnam and China, one each at Hoàn Kiếm Lake (taxonomy questioned) and Dong Mo Lake Sơn Tây in Hanoi, Vietnam, and two in Suzhou zoo in China.

A specimen at the Beijing Zoo died in 2005, and another one at the Shanghai Zoo died in 2006; both of them were caught at Gejiu in the 1970s.

In 1999, 2000, and 2005, turtles have re-emerged from Hoan Kiem Lake on special occasions, when it was seen by a large audience and caught on film. Only a single turtle is believed to be left in the lake. In April 2011, it was captured because it had open sores that needed to be treated.

Ecology and Behavior[]


It eats fish, crabs, snails, water hyacinth, frogs, and leaves.


The Yangtze giant softshell turtle may lay from 60 to more than 100 eggs. It nests at night and during the morning.

A fertile female from Changsha Zoo was introduced to the only known male in China, a 100-year-old individual in Suzhou Zoo, in 2008. The female, who is over 80 years old, was said to settle in well after her 600-mile move, and biologists were optimistic for breeding success. The move was coordinated by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Turtle Survival Alliance. In July 2013 National Geographic reported that in the sixth breeding season for the Suzhou mating pair, no offspring have been produced.

Relationship with Humans[]

Scientific Description and Systematics[]