Arakan forest turtles (Heosemys depressa) are a critically endangered, semiterrestrial turtle native to a mountain range in western Myanmar.
The species was only recently discovered in 1994 after it was considered extinct, and have since been classed as critically endangered due to habitat loss and poaching. Here is the ultimate guide to the Arakan forest turtle!
Male vs Female
Due to the lack of research and conservation status of the Arakan forest turtle, it is unclear to distinguish between male and females. However, as with most turtle species, the females tend to be larger, and the males usually have a brighter colored shell.
On average, Arakan forest turtles will range between 8.7”-12” in carapace length, with females being generally larger than males.
Interestingly, Arakan forest turtles are often mistaken for tortoises due to their stocky build, making them look like a blend between a turtle and tortoise.
These turtles don’t have particular distinguishing identification features like some other turtle species, other than their flattened nose that points slightly upwards. Their shells are usually brownish gray, and sometimes with flecks of yellow.
As a Pet
Arakan forest turtles are most commonly owned as pets in China by animal trade dealers. Due to their conservation status, it is not recommended owning an Arakan forest turtle in the United States. This is mostly because their requirements are mostly unknown due to lack of research, and so owning one as a pet isn’t likely to support the species.
Their temperament is fairly unknown, but this is mostly because they are excellent hiders. This is what makes Arakan forest turtles a bad pet, because they aren’t likely to warm to humans – especially as humans are their biggest threat.
Also, they can be aggressive when foraging for and eating food, which means they shouldn’t really be kept as pets, especially alongside other turtles.
When kept as a pet, Arakan forest turtles require an aquarium-style tank that accommodates to their semiterrestrial habitat. This means that they spend some of their time swimming or in water, and some of their time in terrestrial habitats like forests and mountains, which is hard to replicate in a tank.
Even if you can’t own an Arakan forest turtle as a pet, you still have the chance to see one in America.
Across several zoos – including the St. Louis Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, Knoxville Zoo, South Carolina Zoo, the Miami Metro Zoo, and the River Banks Zoo and Garden in Columbia – there are a documented number of 14 Arakan forest turtles in captivity. This is the best way to enjoy the unique and endangered species as they contribute to long-awaited scientific research.
Due to the limited research about Arakan forest turtles, their lifespan is unknown. It doesn’t help that they are critically endangered due to poaching, which shortens their lifespan hugely.
Likewise, as a result of limited research, the adaptations of the Arakan forest turtle species are largely unknown. However, as they were once considered extinct in the early 1900s and then discovered again in the 1990s, we can assume that this species has adapted to become excellent hiders.
This is most likely due to the threat of poaching and hunting for their meat and shell, which has encouraged the species to adapt their hiding techniques.
It is unclear when the breeding season is for Arakan forest turtles, but it is assumed to be between the months of October and March. However, some hunters have found eggs while skinning female turtles in June and July.
According to research from the only breeding facility for Arakan forest turtles in the world, Zoo Atlanta, this species only mates once a year to produce one clutch of eggs. The number of eggs in a clutch is unclear for wild Arakan forest turtles, as the hatchlings are perfect prey for forest predators.
As Arakan forest turtles are masters of hiding – especially when it comes to hiding their nests and hatchlings – it’s hard to say what their growth rate is like. All that is known is that once they reach maturity, their carapaces can range from 8.5-12” in length.
Likewise, this elusive species offers little evidence of their life cycle. Research has indicated that hatchlings live in terrestrial environments until they make their way to aquatic environments like rivers and lakes. Once they mature, the species becomes more terrestrial than aquatic.
Also, their life cycle is mostly unknown due to their inactivity during the day. The Arakan forest turtle mostly hunts at night, especially in the early stages of the wet season.
The Arakan forest turtle is a critically endangered species that is native to the Arakan hills in western Myanmar. The species also borders along the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. It is unclear how many turtles are left in the wild due to their elusive hiding tactics and exposure to poaching.
Arakan forest turtles are notorious for their aggressive feeding habits. These reptiles are mostly active at night, and will scavenge for all types of food – from worms and fish to fallen fruits.
They are fed a similar diet in captivity to meet their nutritional needs, which means they are fed a variety of insects, fish, fruits, and vegetables.
As they can be aggressive hunters, there is always the risk of turtles fighting one another and becoming overly protective of their food.
Unfortunately, the biggest predator to the Arakan forest turtles are humans. Humans have hunted these turtles for decades for their shells and meat, which is mostly eaten. It is also suggested that this species is culled for medicinal purposes.
Deforestation is another predator to the turtles, especially as they are predominantly terrestrial animals that hide in logs and debris.
As hatchlings, Arakan forest turtles are exposed to similar threats as other hatchling species. This includes bears, raccoons, birds, wild dogs, other turtles, and more.
As the name suggests, Arakan forest turtles are mostly found in terrestrial environments such as forest, woodland areas, and mountains. When they are younger, this species is commonly found in or near water environments like rivers, lakes, and ponds.
As they grow older, they move to terrestrial habitats that offer better shelter for hiding from predators.
Due to the limited research about Arakan forest turtles, it is unclear whether the species is prone to specific diseases. However, it can be assumed that these turtles are exposed to diseases as with most turtle species. This includes:
- Metabolic bone disease
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Respiratory diseases
- Eye infections
- Shell rot, infections, and injuries
Arakan forest turtles are mostly exposed to scratched or injured shells due to the forest terrains they live in. While this means their nails are frequently shortened by their scavenging nature, these wounds can lead to nasty infections.
These turtles have big dark brown, almost black eyes.
The hibernation period for these turtles is unclear due to their elusive nature. It is assumed that they hibernate throughout the winter months, but whether they hibernate in their terrestrial or aquatic habitat is unknown.
All that is known is that they are mostly active at night. During the day, they hide in nests and burrows underneath logs and debris.
Can they swim?
Arakan forest turtles are semiterrestrial, which means they can live in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. Therefore, they can swim.
The guidelines and requirements for caring for an Arakan forest turtle are unclear due to the lack of research, which makes them an insufficient option for keeping as a pet.
In captivity, however, zoos commit to giving these turtles an enclosure that mimics their natural habitat to the best of their ability. This means their enclosures feature a mix of water and woodland areas.
Again, the costs of keeping an Arakan forest turtle are unclear. Due to their rarity, we can assume that they cost several hundred dollars from a trader or breeder. However, it is essential that they are only bought with good intentions for conservation purposes, and from reputable breeders.
- Arakan forest turtles were believed to be extinct in 1908 due to the lack of sightings. It wasn’t until 1994 when some turtles were found in Asian food markets when the species was rediscovered!
- Scientists didn’t officially discover this species in the wild until 2009 when the turtles were found in an elephant sanctuary in Myanmar.
- These turtles are hunted by trained dogs, and then culled for medicinal or food purposes. They are considered an Asian delicacy due to their rarity.
- Although locals still regularly hunt for Arakan forest turtles, efforts are being made to preserve the species for scientific research and to prevent extinction. This is especially the case in the elephant sanctuary where the turtles were first found in the wild in 2009, which is highly protected from poaching.
- As numbers are decreasing and their hiding habits are adapting further, there is no large-scale commercial hunting project that puts the turtles in even more danger. Hunting is a rarity, but a dangerous one.