In Ecuador's Yasuní National Park, butterflies sip a yellow-spotted river turtle's tears. The mineral-rich liquid helps the insects reproduce. In exchange, the reptile gets a good eye-cleaning.
The Yellow-spotted Amazon River Turtle or Yellow-spotted River Turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) is one of the largest South American river turtles. It can grow up to 45 cm long and weigh up to 8 kg. This species can be recognized by its black or brown oval carapace (upper shell) with distinctive low keels on the second and third scutes. Yellow spots on the side of its head give this species its common name. These spots are most prominent in juveniles and fade with age. Females can be up to twice the size of males.
Podocnemis unifilis is a type of side-necked turtle, so called because they do not pull their heads directly into their shell, but rather bend the neck sideways to tuck the head under the rim of the shell. Side-neck turtles are classified as members of the suborder Pleurodira.
These turtles are found in tributaries and large lakes of South America's Amazon Basin. During flood season, they may venture into flooded forests or floodplain lakes. They feed on fruits, weeds, fish, and small invertebrates.
The females lay two clutches of eggs each year, each with 4 to 35 eggs in it. They make their nests in sandy areas on the banks of rivers where the eggs will hatch 66 to 159 days after they are laid. The eggs are laid at the peak of dry season so that the nest will not be washed away with the floods of the rainy season.
The average life span is 60 to 70 years.
Podocnemis unifilis was one of the foreign species exploited by the American pet turtle trade in the 1960s. Importation of this species is now strictly regulated by Federal law but a CSSP (Captive Self-Sustaining Population) exists in the United States—some groups in zoos, others in the hands of private collectors. Individuals of this species have lived more than 30 years in captivity.
Photo by Pete Oxford/Minden Pictures
VIDEO Yellow-spotted Amazon River Turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) in the Yasuni