26 May 2023

Caspian Turtle – Al Asfar Lake (Hufuf)

Whilst birdwatching at Al Asfar Lake in late May Phil and I came across a Caspian Turtle Mauremys capsica in the unusual place of crossing a track rather than in the water. This is a tan to blackish, medium-sized (to 25 cm), semi-aquatic turtle that occurs in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran, northwards into Eastern Europe, through Turkey & Bulgaria into the former Yugoslavia. It has a low, oval carapace that is tan to olive or black with yellow to cream-colored patterning on their shells, legs and head. Some stripes extend anteriorly from the neck onto the head of which one on each side passes above the eye and onto the snout where it meets the stripe from the other side. The neck, limbs, and tail are tan-gray to olive or black with yellow, cream, or gray stripes or reticulations. Females are generally larger than males although have shorter, thinner tails. There are four sub-species of the Caspian Turtle of which the one occurring in Saudi Arabia is the Siebenrock's Caspian turtle. Siebenrock's Caspian turtle M. c. siebenrocki, occurs in Iran and Iraq, with relict populations in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. This light form with contrasting colors resembles M. c. caspica but has a yellow-to-orange plastron with a small to medium-sized regularly shaped dark blotch on each scute. The soft parts are lighter than in M. c. caspica. They can occur in large numbers in almost any permanent freshwater body within their range where they like to bask in the sun. Breeding usually takes place in early spring and nesting occurs in June and July. A typical clutch is four to six, elongated (20-30 x 35–40 mm), brittle-shelled, white eggs. Hatchlings have round carapaces about 33 mm in length and are brighter colored than the adults. In temporary waters it is forced to aestivate in the mud in summer. They are carnivorous, feeding on small invertebrates, aquatic insects, amphibians and carrion.