Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Cousin: The Keeled Box Turtle


 This terrestrial Asian Box turtle, or Keeled Box Turtle gets its name from the three large keels, or raised ridges, on its upper shell. Overall it is brownish in colour, ranging from tan to mahogany to dark brown. As well as noticeable keels, the upper shell, or carapace, is serrated at the rear, and occasionally also at the front. The lower shell, or plastron, is yellow to light brown with a dark-brown smudge on each scute.

Like other box turtles, the front of the lower shell is hinged, allowing them to fold it up when their head is withdrawn, and shut themselves in their protective ‘box.’ The head is brown with dark fine lines, and it has a short snout and a hooked, strong upper jaw. Its limbs are grey to dark brown or black, and the hindlegs are slightly club-shaped, whilst the fronts of the forelegs are covered with large scales. The toes of the keeled box turtle are only partially webbed, which hints at its terrestrial, rather than aquatic, lifestyle. Males have longer and thicker tails than females, and often the sexes can also be distinguished by the colour of their irises; females tend to have orange or red eyes, whilst the irises of males are brown or black. Juveniles are quite flat, and become more domed in shape as they develop.

There is little known about the biology of this species in the wild, and so most of the information available comes from those in captivity. During courtship, males can be very aggressive towards females, and will often chase the female, biting at her shell, legs and neck, sometimes even causing an injury. The male will persist for some time before the female finally relents to his advances.


In the wild, keeled box turtles show a preference for plant foods, particularly fallen fruits, but also occasionally feed on worms and snails.

The keeled box turtle occurs in China, in the Guangdong, Guangxi and Hunan provinces and on Hainan Island, and in Vietnam and India. Unlike other turtles, the keeled box turtle is not aquatic, but is instead found in forests, often in deep layers of leaf litter, and in rocky, mountainous regions.


The keeled box turtle is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List. As part of the World Conservation Society’s Asian Turtle Conservation Program, efforts are underway to protect the keeled box turtle within Vietnam’s Cuc Phuong National Park.

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