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Asian box turtle

Scientific name: Cuora amboinensis (South Asian box turtle)

Bristol Zoo also keeps the following Asian box turtle species:

  • C. bourreti (central Vietnamese flowerback box turtle)
  • C. flavomarginata (yellow-margined box turtle)
  • C. mouhotii (jagged-shelled box turtle)
  • Coming soon…. C. trifasciata (Chinese three-striped box turtle)

Country: Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand,  Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia

Continent: Asia

Diet: Aquatic plants make up the bulk of the diet however molluscs, crustaceans, worms, fungi and fallen fruits are also consumed.

Food & feeding: Omnivore

Habitats: Shallow swamps, streams, ponds, flooded rice paddies that are dense with vegetation

Conservation status:
C. amboinensis - Vulnerable
C. flavomarginata, C. mouhotii - Endangered
C. bourreti, C. trifasciata (coming soon) - Critically endangered

Relatives: Geoffroy's side-necked turtle, giant tortoise

Description: The name box turtle comes from the animal’s ability to box up completely within its shell. The hinged lower shell allows the turtle to seal itself in, providing protection from predators.

The south Asian box turtle grows to over 20 cm in length making it the largest species of Asian box turtle. Its highly domed carapace (upper shell) is dark olive or black, whilst the plastron (lower shell) is yellow to light brown. Each scute (the large plates covering the shell) is framed with large dark-brown or black patches. Three distinctive black stripes run along the side of the head, from the nostrils to the neck. It has a protruding snout and slightly hooked upper jaw. The limbs are olive to black and large scales cover the front of the forelimbs. Males have longer, thicker tails and are slightly smaller.

Lifestyle: Primarily nocturnal, box turtles usually spend most of the day hiding under piles of leaf litter along banks of streams.

Family & friends: Interesting courtship behaviours have been observed.The male and female face each other, and with outstretched necks they bob their heads from side to side. Males can be very aggressive, chasing the female and biting her on the neck. Males have been observed attempting to mate with other males, leading to violent fights.

Growing up: Box turtles reach sexual maturity at around four to five years. The turtles nest between January and April laying two or three brittle white eggs. The hatchlings appear after 67-77 days, measuring just 5 cms long. Although adults spend much of their time on land, juveniles are entirely aquatic. Due to high predation of eggs and hatchlings, box turtles have a low reproductive rate. Those that do survive their first few years can expect to live between 25 and 30 years.

Conservation news: The main threat to Asian box turtle species is over-collection for the food, medicine and pet trade. This huge international trade has left some species on the verge of extinction. Habitat loss and an increasing human population in South East Asia have also contributed to the decline in box turtle numbers.