Malaysian Box Turtle: Ultimate Guide

The Malaysian box turtle is a subspecies of the Amboina box turtle and is also known as the South East Asian box turtle or the domed Malayan turtle. In fact, the name Malayan box turtle is commonly used to refer to the entire Amboina box turtle species.

They are found in the low-lying areas of Southeast Asia where they live in warm bodies of water. However, they can also be found as pets in the U.S. Below, we’ll go into more detail about their care, lifespan, and diet as well as their breeding and hibernation habits. 

Male vs Female

There aren’t a lot of differences between a male and female Malaysian box turtle, and so it can be quite difficult to tell the sexes apart. The main differences between most male and female turtles may not be obvious until they reach sexual maturity. 

Usually you can tell if a turtle is male or female by looking at the bottom of their shells (the plastron). Male turtles have a concave plastron while females have a flat one. The shape of the male’s shell helps it to mount a female during mating, while the shape of the female’s shell gives them more room to hold eggs internally.


Malaysian box turtles belong to the family Geoemydidae and the genus Cuoria. This genus includes 12 species of which the Cuora Amboinensis is part (Malaysian box turtle).

This species has an olive to dark-olive colored head with three yellow stripes on either side. They also have a dark olive carapace.

As a Pet

Healthy Malaysian box turtles make great pets. They’re not shy animals, and are very active and entertaining. They are nocturnal though, so will be most lively at night. 

As with any pet, make sure to do research about its requirements before you welcome one into your home.


In captivity, Malaysian box turtles can live up to 38 years. Meanwhile, they can live up to 30 years in the wild. 


Malaysian box turtles need large aquariums/enclosures with a water capacity of 75 gallons. However, the water must not be too deep, and their enclosure will need a pump and filtration system.

While these turtles will spend most of their time in the water, they will still need to bask. The basking area not only needs to be large enough to give them space to move around, but easily accessible from the water. 

You can create a basking area for them using rocks and stones, or you can buy one from a pet shop that specializes in turtles.

Breeding Season

Malaysian box turtles breed in water. After breeding, the female will lay eggs in nests dug in moist soil that is well-drained. 

The eggs take about 75 days to incubate, and the females will lay a clutch of 1-5 eggs throughout the year. Reproduction in this species is encouraged by warm temperatures.


To care for Malaysian box turtle eggs, you will need an incubator. This must be adjusted to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and must have 80% humidity. You should fill half the incubator with moist peat moss or vermiculite. 

Carefully remove the eggs from the enclosure. As turtle eggs are very sensitive, make sure not to shake or twist them around as you place them in the incubator.

Monitor the eggs for 50 to 90 days, and don’t remove the eggs during this time as this may prevent the eggs from hatching. While it may be tempting to assist the hatchlings as they emerge from their eggs, try to avoid doing this.

Do not remove the turtles from the incubator. Baby turtles may have a yolk sac attached to them, and you should leave them in the incubator while this is attached. It should only remain for a day or two. 

Once the yolk sac disappears you can remove the turtle from the incubator. Place them in a terrarium with both water and dry land.

Growth Rate

Most box turtles do not grow to be very large. The average adult size of a box turtle is roughly 5-7 inches (13-18mcm) in diameter. The females are slightly smaller than males. 

Life Cycle

A turtle will become sexually mature at around 4 to 5 years old, and from this point they can start reproducing.

Female Malaysian box turtles will lay their eggs in a moist, well-drained area, and use their hind legs to dig a nest. 

Compared to other species of turtles, Malaysian box turtles have a relatively short lifespan of 38 years in captivity. 


Due to poaching, Malaysian Box turtles are certified as endangered. It’s difficult to determine how many there are in the wild. 

However, in 2005 there was an export ban on Malaysian box turtles introduced by the Malaysian government’s wildlife agency. Following the ban, exports of turtles from the pet trade in the U.S, Europe, and Japan ceased. But illegal exportation apparently continued, mainly to China, Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent to Singapore.

In 2009, it was found that 22,000 animals were illegally exported from Malaysia. 


Malaysian box turtles have similar feedings habits to other box turtles. In the wild, they feed on crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic insects and aquatic plants in the water, and on worms, insects, mushrooms, and terrestrial plants on land.

They also don’t need to eat everyday. But while they can survive on two feedings a week, it’s recommended to feed them every two to three days. The young however, must be fed in water daily. But to avoid the aquarium getting dirty, you can feed them in a separate container.

As pets, they enjoy a variety of meats, as well as fruits and vegetables. These include mushrooms, lettuce, spinach, strawberries, bananas, and melons. They also eat fish, prawns, snails, and wax worms, and insects like crickets. 


In the wild, Malaysian Box turtles are a food source for many animals such as crocodiles, birds, small mammals, monitor lizards, and more.

Baby turtles are more likely to be preyed on than adults, although monitor lizards are potential predators for adults as well. 

Roaming Range

Box turtles can roam about 50 yards (46 m) in one day – and sometimes even further than that! But they don’t stray too far from home, usually spending their lives within 250 yards (229m) of the nests where they were born.


The most common health conditions for pet turtles are abscesses, respiratory diseases, vitamin A deficiency, shell infections, shell fractures, and parasites.

Eye Color

Usually, male box turtles have red eyes, while the females have brown eyes.


Technically, turtles don’t hibernate. They brumate, and this is the case for box turtles.  Brumation is a form of hibernation for reptiles, and allows turtles to survive in winter when food is scarce and the temperatures drop. 

Can They Swim?

Malaysian box turtles can swim, but they are not the best swimmers. In fact, they can be quite clumsy splashing around! In the wild, they spend most of their time in water, particularly warm waters such as marshes, shallow ponds, and rice paddies.

The only time they leave the water is to bask and lay their eggs. It’s important to take their aquatic nature into consideration when building a habitat for your Malaysian box turtle. 


Malaysian box turtles that have been bred in captivity are better at being handled than imported turtles, as they are used to humans and have not experienced the stress of being imported from their homes. This is why it’s so important to purchase your turtle from a reputable breeder. 

However, too much handling for even a long-time captive turtle may end up causing distress that leads to illnesses such as respiratory infections.

One of the most challenging aspects of having a Malaysian box turtle as a pet is their semi-aquatic nature. Half of their enclosure should contain water.

Cleanliness is also important for their overall health, which is why a proper filter for their water supply is so important. It’s also recommended not to house your turtle in a glass enclosure.

This is because glass can be confusing for turtles, and they will sometimes crawl against it relentlessly in an attempt to escape. This may cause distress, thereby affecting their overall health and well-being. If you must use a glass enclosure, make sure to cover the exterior with paper. 

Lighting is also important. The installation of a heated lamp is recommended, as well as a bulb that will give the effect of sunlight. Turtles require exposure to sunlight in order to stay happy and healthy.


Like other pets, the price of pet turtles fluctuates, and all depends on the subspecies of the turtle, their age, size, and availability.

Fun Facts

Some mushrooms enjoyed by Malaysian box turtles are actually toxic for humans. While the turtles are not affected by these poisons, humans who have eaten turtles that have recently fed on poisonous mushrooms may become ill as a result of the toxins that have accumulated in the flesh of the turtles.

While Malaysian box turtles can’t hear, they have a keen sense of smell. They use this excellent sense of smell to find food and mates. They may not have ears (meaning they cannot hear like other animals do), but they do have an auditory nerve that lets them hear low frequency sounds at around 50-1500 Hz.