The Marsh Terrapin, or Helmeted Terrapin, is a medium-sized terrapin, growing to around 30cm in length and 2.5kg in weight. Males are generally larger than females.
Marsh Terrapins are very common in still or slow-moving water, especially in temporary pans and even in arid environments like the Karoo and Kalahari. They are true omnivores, feeding on anything from water weeds to insects, crustaceans, amphibians, fish and even birds and small mammals caught at the water’s edge in very crocodile-like fashion. They will also pick ticks and other ectoparasites from the hides of wallowing animals. When their watery abodes dry up and there’s no others around to move to (these chelonians will move considerable distances from one pool to another), Marsh Terrapins will bury themselves in wet soil or mud and aestivate, sometimes for months or even years.
Mating occurs in the water, mostly during the summer months, after which the female digs a pit 10-18cm deep in moist soil above the high-water mark, using her hind feet, in which she lays a clutch of up to 40 or more (usually between 10 and 30, but sometimes as few as 2) soft-shelled eggs. The young hatch in 3-4 months and emerge after the rain has softened the soil enough for them to dig themselves free.
In South Africa, Marsh Terrapins occur in every province, being absent only from the most arid parts of the Northern Cape Province. They also occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar.