This species is one of the largest South American river turtles. It is characterized by its dark upper shell and yellow spots on the head, which fade with age. It is diurnal and most active in mid-morning and afternoon.
This very aquatic species only comes out of the water to bask. Groups of turtles can be seen basking in the sun on logs or stones in the middle of rivers and on the shore. They are considered side-necked turtles because they cannot pull their heads into their shells.
Females lay their eggs in the peak of the dry season and the nests are sometimes destroyed by rising flood waters.