Euphrates softshell turtle

Euphrates softshell turtle
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Trionychidae
Genus: Rafetus
Species: R. euphraticus
Binomial name
Rafetus euphraticus
Daudin, 1802
  • Testudo euphratica Daudin, 1801
  • Testudo rafcht Olivier, 1807
  • Trionyx euphraticus Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1809
  • Testudo rascht Gray, 1831 (ex errore)
  • Gymnopus euphraticus Duméril & Bibron, 1835
  • Tyrse rafeht Gray, 1844 (ex errore)
  • Trionyx rafeht Gray, 1856
  • Rafetus euphraticus Gray, 1864
  • Pelodiscus euphraticus Baur, 1893
  • Amyda euphratica Hay, 1904
  • Tyrse euphratica Hay, 1904
  • Trionix euphracticus Richard, 1999 (ex errore)
Rafetus euphraticus

The Euphrates softshell turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) is a species of softshell turtle in the Trionychidae family. It is found in the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Iraq, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, and Khūzestān Province of Iran. The species is threatened by waterway pollution and habitat destruction.[2]


The turtle was originally called Testudo rafcht by Guillaume-Antoine Olivier, who shot a three-foot-long specimen in June 1797 when crossing the Euphrates near Anah[3]

The Euphrates softshell turtle became known to the western science when the French naturalist Guillaume-Antoine Olivier shot a specimen while crossing the Euphrates near Anah in June 1797.[3] The local residents told him that the meat of this animal was not good to eat, but its fat was considered an excellent medication for a variety of skin diseases. Olivier named the species Testudo rafcht, because, as he said "the Arabs called it rafcht".[4]

Olivier's book did not explain what the name meant in Arabic; however a number of modern Arabic web pages say that the turtle is known locally as al-rafš(الرفش), which is translated in standard dictionaries as "the spade" or "the shovel", and perhaps refers to the shape of the creature's carapace.[5] Olivier passed the information about the creature to François Marie Daudin, who described it in his Histoire des reptiles (1801).[4][6]

Later naturalists apparently often misread Olivier's rafcht as rafeht.[7] The name Rafetus euphraticus, and the Rafetus genus itself, were proposed by John Edward Gray in 1864, who mentions in his work that the species had been variously known as Trionyx euphraticus, Testudo euphraticus, Trionyx rafeht, Tyrse rafeht, or Testudo rafeht.[8]

Endangered status

Rafetus euphraticus is an endangered species. According to the field research in Iran's Khuzestan, main threats to this species' survival in that region are habitat destruction, pollution, and killing by fishermen.[2]


  1. Fritz, Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 320–321. ISSN 1864-5755. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  2. 1 2 Ghaffari, Hanyeh; Taskavak, Ertan; Karami, Mahmood (2008). "Conservation Status of the Euphrates Softshell Turtle, Rafetus euphraticus, in Iran". Chelonian Conservation and Biology. Chelonian Research Foundation. 7 (2): 223–229. doi:10.2744/ccb-0717.1. Retrieved 9 November 2009.
  3. 1 2 Voyageurs et explorateurs provençaux, By Henri Barré, Michel Clerc, Paul Gaffarel, G. de Laget, H. Pellissier, Raymond Teisseire. Page 133.
  4. 1 2 Olivier, Guillaume-Antoine (1807), Voyage dans l'Empire othoman, l'Égypte et la Perse: fait par ordre du Gouvernement..., 6, pp. 325–328. See also plate 41 in the accompanying atlas. As Olivier wrote in French, his ch more or less corresponds to the English sh, or to š used in the standard transcription of the Arabic.
  5. E.g., the leaflet سلحفاة الفرات طريّة الترس Rafetus euphraticu، أغرب سلاحف الماء الحلو في الشرق الأوسط from the WME News web site, which also has an English version, Mesopotamian softshell turtle (Rafetus euphraticus), the strangest fresh water turtle of the Middle East. Al-rafš(الرفش) is also contained in a number of web page found by a Google search on "سلحفاة الفرات", which is the Arabic for "Euphrates Turtle" (as seen in the above WME leaflet).
  6. Daudin, François Marie; Sonnini, Charles S. (1801), Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière des reptiles: ouvrage faisant suite à l'histoire naturelle générale et particulieère, composée par Leclerc de Buffon, et rédigée par C. S. Sonnini, membre de plusieurs sociétés savantes, 2, Dufart, pp. 305–308
  7. "Rafetus euphraticus" in: UWE FRITZ and PETER HAVAŠ, Checklist of Chelonians of the World, pp. 181-182. "Tyrse rafeht Gray (ex errore pro Testudo rafcht Olivier, 1807", etc.)
  8. The Rafetus section (pp. 81-82) in: Gray, J. E., Revision of the species of Trionychidae found in Asia and Africa, with descriptions of some new species. Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1864, pp. 76-98

Further reading

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