Cuora amboinensisAmboina Box Turtle; Southeast Asian Box Turtle

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Geographic Range

Malayan box turtles are found only in lowland tropical rainforest areas of Southeast Asia. Four subspecies of Cuora amboinensis occupy different areas within this region. These are C. a. couro, C. a. kamarona, C. a. lineata, and C. a. amboinensis. This habit of extreme habitat-specificity is unique in Asian box turtles, as most also range into alpine regions or areas north of the Tropic of Cancer. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992; Barkzyk, 2000)

Habitat

Unlike most box turtles, Malayan box turtles are extremely aquatic and prefer a warm, wet environment. They are specific to tropical rainforest areas, with a constant temperature between 75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and are never found where temperatures dip below 70 degrees. C. amboinensis are the most aquatic of box turtles in the world, and because they prefer still, warm water, Malayan box turtles are found quite often in rice paddies, marshes, and shallow ponds in these tropical areas. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • temporary pools

Physical Description

Cuora amboinensis are most easily recognized by their dark olive or black colored head, with three yellow stripes running along each side. Adult turtles can reach a maximum size of 8". The carapace is uniform in coloring, also expressing a dark olive to black hue, with varying degrees of doming and shape among the different subspecies. C. a. kamarona has a high-domed shell, while C. a. amboinensis and C. a. couro have more elongated and shallow carapaces. C. a. lineata has a distinguishable light colored line running along the the center keel. Juveniles have a flattened carapace with three prominent keels. Adults gradually lose these keels and the carapace becomes more domed.

Sexual dimorphism between males and females is not obvious. Differences between genders are slight and not expressed until the turtle reaches maturity, at 4 or 5 years of age. Generally, males posses a slightly more concave plastron, longer, thicker tails, and larger claws when mature. Females have short, stubby tails and shorter claws. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992; Hall, 1995)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently

Reproduction

Cuora amboinensis achieves fertilization internally by means of copulation between sexes. Mating occurs in the water. After copulation, females find a moist, well-drained area and dig a nest with their hind feet to lay the eggs in, which usually number from 1 to 5 spherical eggs per nest. The constant, warm temperature is beneficial for more frequent reproduction, and these turtles are capable of laying several nests per year. The incubation time is roughly 76 days between fertilization and hatching. A turtle is able to reproduce once it reaces the age of sexual maturity, which is at 4 or 5 years old. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992)

  • Breeding interval
    Malayan box turtles breed several times each year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding may occur throughout the year.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 5
  • Average gestation period
    76 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    5 (high) years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    5 (high) years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 years

After finding a safe nesting spot and laying their eggs, these turtles do not provide any further parental care. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

The longevity of Cuora amboinensis is usually from 25 to 30 years. One specimen was reported to have lived for 38 years. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992)

Behavior

Due to their tropical habitat, these turtles never hibernate and are active all year long. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992; Hall, 1995)

Food Habits

Malayan box turtles are very similar in diet to other box turtles, preferring an omnivorous meal. A wide variety of greens are eaten, including vegetables, some fruits, mushrooms, and various aquatic plants. They also feed on waxworms, crickets, fish, and many types of insects. Feeding occurs in the water and accomodates their highly aquatic lifestyle. They do not require food on a daily basis, Malayan box turtles eat twice a week without detrimental effects. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • Other Foods
  • fungus

Predation

Malayan box turtles use the typical anti-predatory behavior characteristic of box turtles - tucking their entire body inside their protective shell. This is possible because of their hinged plastron, which allows the bottom to close very tightly against the top, preventing a predator from harming the vulnerable areas of their arms, legs, and head. They can also swim very well, so the first line of defense used is to flee from perceived danger and hide along the pond or lake bottom. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992; Hall, 1995)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Cuora amboinensis are a very popular species of turtle for the pet trade because of their hardiness and current availability; however, this species and many other asian box turtles are being over-exploited at an alarming rate. Malayan box turtles are also harvested to be made into souvenirs in Asian countries. Another benefit to humans is that Malayan box turtles, as with most Asian box turtles, are used extensively as a gourmet food in the Oriental. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a high demand to harvest many wild turtles for human consumption. (Barkzyk, 2000)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Conservation Status

Malayan box turtle populations are declining due to the current over-exploitation of turtles for national and international trade in Asian countries. Conservation plans are underway to devise a strategy to stablize this decline. Currently, the American Zoological Association is finalizing plans for a master studbook for the genus Cuora and is considering including private breeders and collectors as suppliers of male turtles. Captive reproduction has been very inconsistent; however, a few husbandry and breeding techniques have been developed for many Asian turtle species, including Cuora amboinensis. Currently, all subspecies of C. amboinensis have been bred successfully in captivity in zoos or private collections. Unfortunately, many of these are isolated instances and the future is uncertain. (Barkzyk, 2000)

Other Comments

Other common names include Malaysian box turtle, Celebes box turtle, Indonesian box turtle, water box turtle, Siamese box turtle, Vietnamese box turtle, Java box turtle, and Southeast Asian box turtle. (Barbour and Ernst, 1992)

Contributors

Lisa Slepetski (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

freshwater

mainly lives in water that is not salty.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Barbour, R., C. Ernst. 1992. Turtles of the World. 280 pp.: Smithsonian Institute Press.

Barkzyk, J. 2000. "Turtles in Crisis: The Asian Food Markets" (On-line). Accessed March 5, 2000 at http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/asia.html.

Hall, G. 1995. Asian Box Turtles. Reptile & Amphibian Magazine, May/June: 110-116.