Yellow-Headed Sideneck

By Wu-Gwei



Podocnemis unifilis


Male   10" - 14"            Female   15" - 18" (record of 27")


Hatchlings are omnivorous feeding on insects, larvae, molluscs, carrion and aquatic vegetation. Adults are predominantly herbivorous feeding on plant materials (mostly water hyacinth) and fruits fallen into the water.


Air Temperature:  Mid 70s F to mid 80s F

Basking Temperature:  Mid 80s F to mid 90s F

Water Temperature: Mid 70s F to mid 80s F

DO NOT let temperatures drop below 60F!


Small ponds, lagoons, streams and tributaries of large rivers. During the wet season, they avoid fast flowing waters by inhabiting flooded forests and lakes, whereas during the dry season they concentrate in the principal riverbeds


Widespread in the Amazon and Orinoco drainages of northern South America including Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Columbia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Bolivia, and Brazil




Being a large avid basking turtle, a secure basking area must be provided for the larger specimens. Very aquatic and only come out of the water to bask and lay eggs. A powerful heat lamp and UVB light are necessary for these gentle giants. They are hardy, but very sensitive to lower temperatures. A submersible pond heater is a must for outdoor set-ups and the temperature must not drop below 60 F.


A 100 gallon tank minimum for smaller adult males and 160 gallon or larger pond for the bigger females. They are excellent swimmers and do best in large enclosures such as ponds, pools or stock tanks. The water level should be as deep as possible, but beware of turtles climbing out.


Hatchlings will feed on various invertebrates, fish, turtle/fish pellets and plenty of aquatic vegetation. Adults are herbivorous and will take in pellets and protein when offered. There is no need to offer high-protein foods on a regular basis for adults. Pellets should be offered sparingly once to twice a week, with emphasis on tortoise pellets more so than aquatic turtle pellets (higher in protein).

Provide an abundant and varied supply of aquatic plants and leafy greens in the tank at all times.


Podocnemis unifilis is a gentle turtle and usually do well with other South American species having similar requirements.



Podocnemis unifilis are among the most gentle turtles in the world moving with grace as they swim and feed. They adapt well to captivity and will take food readily from the keeper’s hand.

Once popular in the 1970s in the pet turtle trade, they are now listed on CITES Appendix II. Their decline is due to the pet trade, habitat destruction and locals consuming these large turtles and their eggs. They are not readily available in the US pet trade, however, there are a few private breeders and captive hatchlings cost between US$250-350. These turtles are also listed by US ESA as endangered and require a permit for interstate sales; gift and loans are exempted.