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Asian Leaf Turtle

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Species group:

Scientific name: Cyclemys dentata

The basics:
The Asian Leaf Turtle’s range extends from eastern India south and east through Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia to the Philippines. It is found in and along shallow streams, ponds and marshy areas, and in nearby thickets. Youngsters spend most of their time in water, while adults forage on land as well. Collection for the food and medicinal trades has devastated wild populations, so please make sure to purchase only captive-bred individuals.

Appearance / health:
The carapace, which is almost round in outline and somewhat domed, can be olive, tan, black, brown or deep mahogany in color; thin, reddish-orange stripes mark the head and neck. Adults average 8-10 inches in length.

Behavior / temperament:
Although initially shy, Asian Leaf Turtles adjust to captivity quickly, and soon learn to feed from the hand. Most owners describe them as “amazingly-responsive”, and longevities in excess of 30 years have been recorded. Males often harass females with mating attempts, and may stress or bite them in the process; males cannot be kept together, as they will usually fight.

Housing:
Hatchlings are highly aquatic, but rather poor swimmers. The water in a hatchling’s aquarium should be of a depth that allows the turtle to reach the surface with its head without needing to swim, i.e. 1-2 inches. The aquarium should be equipped with an easily-accessed basking site, UVB bulb, water heater and floating plastic or live plants under which the shy youngsters can hide. Bare-bottomed aquariums are preferable, as gravel greatly complicates cleaning. Adults do best in custom-made enclosures that measure at least 3’ x 4’ in area; outdoor maintenance is ideal when weather permits. Plastic-based rabbit cages and cattle troughs can also be modified as turtle homes. A pool of shallow water should occupy approximately half of the cage’s area. Suitable hiding spots are important to the well-being of pet turtles; these include deep substrates into which your turtles can burrow and commercial turtle huts. Cypress bark and similar commercial products, or a mix of topsoil, peat and sphagnum moss, may be used as a substrate. Ambient temperature: 75-85 F; Basking temperature: 90 F

Turtles are messy feeders, and quickly foul even well-filtered aquariums. Removing your pets to a plastic storage container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload and help to maintain good water quality. Partial water changes (i.e. 50 % weekly) are also very useful. Filters designed specifically for turtles, if serviced regularly, are usually preferable to those marketed for use with tropical fish. Some folks find it easier to maintain their semi-aquatic turtles in plastic storage containers that can easily be emptied and rinsed.

Diet:
Asian Leaf Turtle appetites know no bounds…in the wild, fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, and fruit are all taken with equal relish. Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as earthworms, snails, crickets and other insects, crayfish, prawn, minnows, an occasional pre-killed pink mouse and a variety of fruits (figs are a special favorite). Goldfish should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other turtle species. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 50% of the diet. The calcium requirements of Asian Leaf Turtles, especially growing youngsters and gravid females, are quite high. All foods (other than whole fish and commercial pellets) should be powdered with a reptile calcium supplement. A cuttlebone may also be left in the cage. Vitamin/mineral supplements may be used 2-3 times weekly.

Breeding:
During the breeding season, the plastron becomes somewhat flexible to allow for the passage of the 2-4 unusually-large eggs. Females sometimes have difficulty passing their eggs, especially if the diet lacks sufficient calcium. Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention always leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). Two to five clutches may be produced each year.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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