The female is considerably larger than the male with a carapace up to 28 cm long compared to the males which rarely get bigger than about 18 cm. The carapace is roughly oval and broad at the rear. They are not usually aggressive, but can bite fiercely. They can also emit a strong smell.
The shell has marginal serrations which are the reason for its common name, the "Saw-
The carapace is mainly brown to dark brown, commonly with some dark blotches. The plastron (underside) is yellowish. The head is large with a projecting snout and a horny plate on the top. The neck can fold sideways. The feet are webbed and also clawed. Hatchlings have serrated hind legs which become smooth as they mature.
Like many other aquatic turtles, saw-