Asian Box Turtle Care

Asian Box Turtle (Cuora amboinenis), also known as Malayan Box Turtle and the Amboina Box Turtle

Popularity: Make good pets. They are mellow and rarely snap. Some owners say this turtle follows them around for food.

Origin: Southeast Asia

Native habitat: semi-aquatic

Size: 6-10 inches

Lifespan: 30+ years

Appearance: The dome of the shell ranges from low to high, and it usually has three keels. They are reddish, yellowish, brown grey and/or black in color. Some species have bright yellow, black, orange or white stripes down the length of the keels. Their body color is variable, but usually intense. The head is dark olive or black head with distinctive yellow facial stripes that meet at the nose.

Diet: omnivorous

Activities: Asian Box Turtles are semi-aquatic and spend much of their time on the edge of shallow swamps, streams or ponds that are dense with vegetation.

Defense Mechanisms: They retreat into their shell, not allowing even the slightest opening for a potential predator to reach them. This is possible because the lower shell is hinged in the middle. By raising the front and rear sections to meet the upper shell, the turtle shields itself from harm.

Misc characteristics: The Asian Box Turtle reaches sexual maturity at age four or five. Until then, it is hard to tell males and females apart. They are susceptible to vitamin A deficiency, which can cause “puffy eye syndrome.” You can treat it by warming the turtle and giving it a vitamin A supplement. Feeding the turtle plenty of dark, leafy greens and orange vegetables should provide adequate vitamin A.

BASIC CARE:

Housing

A minimum 40-gallon tank is needed for one adult and 60-gallons for two. It should be longer than it is tall. Asian Box Turtles need a semi-aquatic tank. At least half of the tank must be covered by water that is deep enough for the turtle to submerge itself; however, it shouldn’t be too deep because they are not good swimmers. A depth of 6-7 inches for adults and 2 inches for juveniles will allow the turtle to stop and stand with its head above water.

Furnishings

The turtle needs dry places to rest in the aquatic area, which you can create with rocks. The dry area needs a sloped surface, or there should be rocks arranged in steps leading out of the water to the dry area so the turtle can exit the water. There should be basking rocks in the dry area so the turtle can soak up heat and light rays. Provide a shelter or hide box.

Substrate

A mixture of slightly damp sterilized sand and soil, about three inches deep makes a good foundation for the dry area of the tank. You can use finely shredded bark mulch (avoid cedar and pine) with the mixture. Keep the substrate dry to protect against infections and the buildup of bacteria.

Water and Humidity

These turtles consume a lot of water for their size. They do so to flush their systems. Change their water daily or use an aquarium water filtration system so they don’t take in dirty water. The water must be relatively warm. They require a humidity level of between 70 and 90 percent. You can maintain this by securing a non-screen lid over half the tank, and through daily misting of the dry area with chlorine free water. Keep half the tank top screened, rather than closed, to allow adequate ventilation.

Temperature

Asian Box Turtles require a warm enclosure. Water temperatures must range from 75-80 degrees F. Colder temperatures will discourage the turtles from entering the water, causing stress and promoting medical problems. Ambient temperature in the dry area should be around 78 degrees. The basking area must be 88-90 degrees. Maintain temperature levels with an overhead basking lamp and under tank mats controlled by a thermostat or rheostat. Use three thermometers to regulate temperature: one placed in the water, one about two inches over the surface of the dry area, and one in the basking area.

Lighting

The turtle needs at 12 hours per day of UVB lighting to process vitamins and minerals. Provide this with UV lights designed specifically for terrariums. Place fluorescent reptile UVB emitting bulbs over the enclosure. Too much light exposure can stress the turtle. Glass blocks out UVB light, so keep overhead light sources behind a wire mesh cover — not a glass or acrylic tank top. There should be a distinct day/night cycle: The day period must be light; and night must be dark. Use a timer to set day/night periods. If a heat source is required to maintain correct nighttime temperatures, use heat mats or strips mounted below or on the side of the tank, infrared heat lamps, ceramic heat emitters, or a combination of these.

Feeding

Asian Box Turtles eat most any food you offer. A good varied diet includes commercial turtle food, shredded carrots, kale, romaine lettuce, green beans, corn, orange squash, collard greens, dandelions, strawberries, black berries and plums as well as some live feeder fish, king mealworms, gut loaded crickets, superworms, finely chopped cooked chicken. Meat shouldn’t make up more than about 10 percent of a full-grown Asian Box Turtle’s diet; young animals can eat more animal matter. Avoid spinach, parsley and rhubarb since they can lower calcium levels in the body. Feed juveniles 6-12 insects (depending on size) and a small plate of vegetables/greens once every day or two. Feed adults a small bowl of vegetables/greens with a 10% portion of insects 2-3 times a week. If a turtle cannot close its shell, it is obese, and it is time for more vegetables and less fruit. Asian Box Turtles will take food in the dry area of a tank or in the water — many prefer the latter. Remove uneaten food from the water after the turtle has finished its meal.

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