The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle is known scientifically as Geoemyda spengleri. You may also hear it referred to as the Black-Breasted Hill Turtle or the Vietnamese Leaf Turtle.
This particular turtle has a very unique appearance, which is often what makes people curious to learn more about the species. However, the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle is also very interesting from a behavioral point of view.
Today, we will be walking you through all the most important information regarding the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle. If you’ve ever wanted to find out what these turtles eat, how and when they breed, or where in the world they can be found, this is the guide for you.
Male vs. Female
Female Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles are bigger and heavier than males (females can reach an adult weight of up to 190 grams, while males usually don’t get any heavier than 125 grams). This is in keeping with the size and weight differences between male and female turtles across the majority of species.
However, in the case of the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle, there is another way to determine whether the specimen you are looking at is male or female.
For males, the cloacal opening (the opening to the turtle’s combined digestive and urinary tracts and genitals) is located near the tip of the tail. In females, the same opening is positioned towards the base of the tail.
Moreover, males tend to have more elongated shells as well as longer and thicker tails. Their irises are also paler than those observed in females, appearing a brilliant white at times.
The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle is easy to identify, mainly because its primary identifying features are reflected in the species’ common name.
These turtles have shells that strongly resemble brown leaves, with jagged edges that are more pronounced at the rear of the shell.
An orange ridge runs down the middle of the shell, vertically, from front to back. Two thinner and less pronounced ridges can also be seen on either side of the central ridge, although these side ridges don’t go all the way down the shell.
If you turn the turtle over, you’ll also notice a large black patch covering its breast and abdomen, hence the other identifier indicated in its name.
Another feature that will help you to identify the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle is its size. This turtle is one of the smallest species in the world. Neither males nor females of the species usually surpass 11 cm in length.
So, if you see a turtle that meets the above descriptors and also happens to be very small, you can safely assume that you’re dealing with a Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle.
As a Pet
Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles are not a species that we would recommend keeping as pets. There are a few reasons for this.
For one thing, the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle is quite high-maintenance and it’s hard to replicate its natural habitat and lifestyle to a standard that will keep the turtle happy and healthy. Most of the time, only seasoned turtle-keeping experts will be able to care for this turtle adequately.
Additionally, the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle population is rapidly declining in the wild, partly because of the impact of the pet trade. Therefore, keeping more of these turtles in captivity is the last thing that the population needs.
For more detail on the population status of the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle, see our ‘Population’ section below.
The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle normally lives for more than 20 years. However, this lifespan is likely to be drastically shortened by an unsuitable living environment.
The most important adaptation undergone by the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle is its coloring and shell shape. As we explained earlier, the reason why the turtle is referred to as a leaf turtle is that its shell makes it look remarkably like a brown leaf.
This isn’t a coincidence. The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle’s shell helps it to camouflage itself in its natural forest habitat. Because its small size makes it quite vulnerable to predators, camouflage is important because it prevents it from being too easily spotted.
Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles have a relatively short breeding season that lasts for roughly 2-3 months, between June and August.
Because of their very small size, female Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles are only able to lay between 1 and 2 eggs at a time. Those who are particularly small will typically only lay 1 egg per clutch, while females who are on the larger side will generally not have a problem producing 2 eggs.
The eggs have an elongated shape and typically take up to 65 days to hatch.
Unfortunately, we don’t have good news regarding the population status of the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle.
The species has been classified as Endangered by the IUCN, and the numbers of Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles in the wild are likely to continue to decline if certain patterns of exploitation continue.
One of the biggest contributing factors to the decline of this turtle population is the pet market, which sees many of these turtles taken from the wild and sold as pets. They are also frequently used in Chinese traditional medicine.
Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles are omnivorous, but because they are so small, the animals that make up their diet are equally tiny.
These turtles primarily feed on insects, snails, slugs, and worms, alongside fruit such as berries, tomatoes, watermelon, grapes, and bananas. Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles prefer to eat fruit that is very ripe.
Adult Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles are not usually preyed upon by other animals because of their protective shells and camouflage.
However, eggs and hatchlings can be threatened by larger wildlife. The sad reality is that humans are the biggest threat to this turtle species, and are the main reason why the species is declining.
The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle is native to Southeast Asia. Specifically, it is found
Laos, Vietnam, and China.
Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles may be susceptible to necrotizing stomatitis, commonly known as mouth rot. This is a disease that commonly affects reptiles and is caused by a buildup of bacteria in the animal’s mouth, usually due to a weakened immune system.
However, this disease can usually be treated effectively with prompt medical care, which normally involves antibiotics and administration of an oral antiseptic. If the infection has progressed to a severe level, surgical removal of the infected tissue may be necessary.
These turtles’ shells are very sensitive to temperature and can get damaged at high temperatures, which may lead to infection and disease.
Female Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles have brown eyes, while males have much lighter eyes that often look white.
The color of these turtles’ eyes isn’t the only thing that makes them stand out, though. The eyes are also very protuberant, giving them quite a comical, surprised expression.
Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles have adapted to live at high altitudes and spend most of their lives burrowed under leaves on the forest floor. Therefore, they don’t need to hibernate.
Can They Swim?
Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles are primarily terrestrial, which means that they mostly live on land. However, they can swim just enough to allow them to hunt for food in shallow bodies of water.
If you find yourself in the position of caring for a Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle, you will need to find a suitably sized terrarium and provide all the necessary features and decorations.
We recommend at least an 18-gallon terrarium for a single turtle, but it will need to be larger if you’re keeping multiple turtles.
Black-Breasted leaf turtles can live happily at normal room temperature. 68 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal. If the temperature drops too low, your turtle may stop moving. Too high, and shell damage may occur.
You’ll need to keep an eye on the humidity inside the tank because these turtles need a moist environment. Therefore, experts recommend misting the inside of the enclosure with water every day.
Proper drainage is, however, essential to prevent any substrate at the bottom of the tank from getting waterlogged. We recommend using peat moss as a substrate because it can hold a lot of moisture without getting moldy.
An enclosure with walls that can’t be seen through is the best choice because these little turtles can get very stressed if they’re surrounded by a lot of movement. For the same reason, you should avoid handling the turtle(s) as much as possible.
Feed juvenile Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles every day. As they reach adulthood, you can safely reduce your feeding schedule to once every 2 days.
Under no circumstance should anyone purchase a Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle for the purpose of keeping it as a pet. We would discourage any of our readers from purchasing one of these turtles from a breeder.
However, many costs will be incurred in the process of keeping a Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle in captivity as part of a conservation or research effort. These will include costs for the enclosure, substrate, food, and humidity and temperature monitors.
- The latter part of the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle’s scientific name (spengleri) was chosen in honor of Lorenz Spengler. Spengler was a naturalist from Denmark who lived between 1720 and 1807.