Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle

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Species group:

Other common names: Vietnamese Leaf Turtle

Scientific name: Geoemyda spengleri

The basics:
The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle is found in southern China, Laos and Vietnam. It inhabits moist forests, where the uniquely-shaped carapace offers excellent camouflage among the leaf litter. Although largely terrestrial, shallow forest pools and streams are used for soaking and foraging. Collection for the food and medicinal trades has devastated wild populations, so please make sure to purchase only captive-bred individuals.

Appearance / health:
This charming turtle’s propensity to raise the long neck and “stare” with its large, protruding eyes endears it to all. The carapace is elongated and strongly serrated at the rear, and each marginal scute (“scale”) is pointed and flared upwards. The carapace ranges from dark to rich orange-brown in coloration, and the plastron is black with a yellow border. Despite barely reaching 4-5 inches in length, this little turtle has all the spunk and personality of its much larger relatives.

Behavior / temperament:
Although initially shy, Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles adjust to captivity quickly, and soon learn to feed from the hand. 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. Females also establish a dominance hierarchy, and must be watched closely if kept in groups.

The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle will not thrive in a bare enclosure. Cover in the form of potted live or plastic plants, caves and a substrate into which they can burrow is essential to their well-being. Humidity should be kept high, and both moist and dry areas of substrate, and a pool of shallow water, should be available. A mix of topsoil, peat and sphagnum moss may be used as a substrate. Although native to tropical regions, this turtle prefers cooler temperatures than most. Ambient temperature: 68- 74 F; Basking temperature: 80 F. UVB exposure is essential.

Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles have a reputation as delicate captives, and losses were high when they first showed up in the US pet trade in the 1980’s. This was mainly due, however, to high parasite loads, the stress of shipping and the failure to provide them with an appropriate environment (including secure hiding spots). With proper care, they make hardy, long-lived pets, and soon give up their retiring ways.

The wild diet consists primarily of insects, worms, snails, carrion, and small amounts of fruit. Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as earthworms, snails, crickets and other insects, prawn, minnows, an occasional pre-killed pink mouse and a variety of fruits (many refuse fruit, and seem to do fine without). 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. Commercial turtle chows are not accepted unless moistened, and then not always. The calcium requirements of Black-Breasted 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.

A single, unusually-large egg (rarely 2) is produced 1-3 times yearly. 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). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that captives may produce several clutches each year.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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