The Chinese box turtle is a species of Asian box turtle. Its scientific name is Cuora flavomarginata, but its Chinese name actually translates to “snake-eating turtle”. In English, the species is also known as the yellow-margined box turtle or golden-headed turtle.
Male vs Female
Male and female Chinese box turtles don’t differ too much. The main difference between the two is that males have larger, broader tails and are generally smaller than the females.
When it comes to identifying box turtles, the easiest way to figure out whether they’re male or female is to check the underside of the shell. Males have a concave dip within their plastron, while females generally have a flat plastron. Be aware that some female box turtles can have a shallow concavity, so this isn’t always a reliable way of identifying gender.
As with other box turtles, the Chinese box turtle is highly domed. However, its distinctly golden brown head sets it apart from other Asian box turtles.
The carapace and plastron of the Chinese box turtle is dark brown, though the carapace has yellow and red stripes which tend to fade with age. The limbs are a dark brown color, and the head is brown with a pale green coloration to it.
On average, the Chinese box turtle has a carapace length of 5.5 to 6.5 inches (140 to 165 mm), and they usually weigh 14.1 to 26.4 ounces (400 to 750 grams), though they have been known to reach weights of 35.3 ounces (1000 grams) and lengths of 7.48 inches (190 mm).
As a Pet
Many of these turtles sold in the pet industry hail from Taiwan where they are used for food and folk medicine. Domestically bred box turtles are always a better option, as in 1975, the U.S. government banned the sale of any chelonian with a carapace less than four inches long in hope of preventing the spread of Salmonella and protecting native species in the wild.
While Chinese box turtles are relatively easy to care for, they are endangered. As such, they are not easy to find. It’s also essential that they’re properly cared for and provided with an enclosure that is 50% aquatic and 50% terrestrial, as this turtle spends as much time in the water as it does out of water.
Some sources state that the Chinese box turtle has a life span of roughly 25-40 years, meaning that these intelligent turtles often become cherished generational pets. Other sources state that the lifespan of the Chinese box turtle is unknown or that it is similar to the Asian box turtle – so 100+ years!
Box turtles have evolved and adapted to their wild habitats in a myriad of ways. They’re crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and at dusk.
During the day, they burrow into the ground to avoid the heat, while during the night they dig shallow pits and cover themselves with leaves and other plant debris. They also burrow into the ground for overwintering, hibernating just a few inches beneath the surface.
The bottom shell of a box turtle, known as the plastron, is hinged, which allows it to close against the inside edge of the upper shell, the carapace. When under threat, the turtle retreats into its shell, drawing its head, tail, and limbs inside. It also emits a hissing sound while doing this, due to air being released as the shell contracts.
Nesting season for the Chinese box turtle is between March and August. The time between mating and hatching of eggs is usually about 68 to 101 days.
Females usually lay 3 or 4 clutches a year, and each clutch consists of 1 to 4 eggs. It’s important for eggs to be properly aerated. The recommended incubation temperature for this species is 83 degrees (28 °C), but for a successful breeding season, incubation humidity levels need to be high – at around 90 to 100 percent.
The hard-shelled eggs of the Chinese box turtle are cylindrical in shape and relatively large, ranging between 38 to 52 mm (1.5 to 2 inches) long by 13 to 25 mm (0.5 to 1.0 inches) wide, and weighing 11 to 18.5 g.
Most species of box turtles will grow around 1 inch during their first years, but as they reach adulthood growth rate slows, and they will only grow around 0.5 inches per year until they reach their full size.
Before nesting, it is characteristic of Chinese box turtle females to spend much of their time in open, sunny areas to keep body temperatures up and accelerate egg development. Nesting occurs during the summer months, May through September, and the clutch is laid in shaded, soft, damp sand or soil.
The activity patterns of Chinese box turtles are influenced by seasonal climatic changes. They tend to be at their most active from early April to late October and are less active during the winter months. Females also tend to be more active than males, and reproductive females are more active than non-reproductive females.
Unfortunately, due to this species of turtle being harvested for human consumption, the pet trade, and for use in traditional Chinese medicine, the Chinese box turtle populations have declined in various areas. This is also a result of habitat destruction for land development and agriculture purposes. Populations are now protected in Taiwan and Japan.
The Chinese Box Turtle is omnivorous, and in the wild, this species will feast upon vegetation, berries, worms, slugs, and snails.
In captivity, an equally varied diet of vegetables, fruits, and animal protein is important for these creatures. Ideally, they should be fed 50% animal protein or high protein foods, 40% vegetables and leafy greens, and 10% fruit.
While Chinese box turtles do not relish large portions of leafy greens, they will readily eat other shredded vegetables.
Earthworms are an excellent source of animal protein and should be offered at every feeding, and other sources of nutrients include roaches, crickets, slugs, snails, and mealworms. These natural carrion eaters will also indulge in small amounts of cooked chicken as well as beef heart once a week.
In the wild, the adult Chinese box turtle has no known predators. However, its eggs are preyed upon by Taiwan kukri snakes, Iriomote cats, and large, predatory birds.
As a way of protecting the eggs, females dig nests in protected areas and cover eggs with dirt.
In the wild, box turtles can roam about 50 yards (46 m) or more in one day. However, they don’t venture far from home and generally spend their whole lives within approximately 250 yards (229 m) of the nests in which they were born.
Issues with the Chinese Box Turtle are usually to do with their enclosure or diet. It’s important that their tank is kept clean at all times.
Common health problems include loss of appetite, vitamin deficiency, metabolic bone disease, eye lesions, shell pyramiding, dehydration, lethargy, bladder stones, constipation, and breathing difficulties, but these can, for the most part, be avoided through a proper diet, feeding schedule, and a suitable, clean enclosure.
Male box turtles usually have red eyes while females have brown eyes.
In the wild, the Chinese box turtle will enter hibernation when the environmental temperatures drop to around 15 to 12 degrees Celsius, which is normally in November.
If keeping a Chinese box turtle as a pet, it’s advised that you start lowering your temperatures from mid-September through October and have them at 15-12 C in November. The box turtle may also stop eating around this time.
You should never place an animal in hibernation when there is doubt about their health, if they have wounds, or are underweight.
Can they swim?
Yes, the Chinese box turtle can swim, as it’s a semi-aquatic creature.
Seen as the species are semi-aquatic, 25-50% of the cage should be a shallow water area. At the very least, their enclosure should contain a large container for swimming that they can easily enter and exit.
The enclosure should also contain multiple hide boxes, rocks, driftwood, and plants (potted or fake), and cage accessories should be changed around every week during cleaning to stimulate their minds and provide a new set-up to explore.
Chinese box turtles tend to cost around $360-$400, but they are hard to find as they’re an endangered and protected species.
- Females like higher temperatures more than males and will seek out basking spots in May, June, and July – their natural breeding season.
- While young animals show little interest in fruits, adult Chinese box turtles will sometimes enjoy fruits such as banana, figs, and watermelon
- Small springtails and woodlice can be added to the substrate in the turtle enclosure – these will eat part of the waste your turtles produce!
- Chinese box turtles can eat cat food, although this can be high in fat so shouldn’t be fed to them regularly.
- The Chinese box turtle is similar to the Malayan box turtle, and both are vulnerable to extinction.