Heosemys grandis : Giant Leaf Turtle
PHOTO BY DAVID LEE
Giant Leaf Turtles
by Russ Gurley
Comments: These turtles are another species represented in the ponds of Buddhist temples. It is large and active and requires large enclosures. Unfortunately, this species is reaching the Asian food markets in record numbers.
Distribution: In nature, H. grandis is found in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, southern Vietnam, and Malaysia.
Adult Size: This species can reach 18” (44 cm) and weights of up to 20 pounds as adults.
Captive Care: Heosemys grandis is a large aquatic turtle from Southeast Asia. In captivity, it spends a lot of its time on land hiding or buried in damp mulch. H. grandis is not tolerant of cold weather and will contract respiratory problems if allowed to get cold and damp for an extended period of time. This species must be moved inside during cooler months when kept in temperate areas.
H. grandis require large enclosures with plenty of clean, warm water, and a significant land area. Adults are best established in large enclosures. They are very active on land and will spend many hours each day in bushes, under piles of leaves, and exploring the environment close to water. Adults spend a portion of their day soaking in shallow water, especially on warmer days, and they will feed on commercial pellets and greens thrown into the water with them. Provide them with some decorations in the form of branches and driftwood in the water and piles of leaves and bales of hay on land. Creative décor that provides visual barriers in their enclosure will help dissuade most aggression. They can be quite aggressive with each other once they establish themselves in a captive enclosure and males will attack each other and smaller animals housed with them, especially during feeding times.
Once established, these turtles become quite tame, even taking food from a keeper's fingers. Larger, more aggressive specimens will even lumber over and bite at the feet and ankles of a distracted keeper.
Feeding: In nature, H. grandis is mostly herbivorous. In captivity it is more omnivorous and feeds on a variety of food items. They relish meals of MAZURI Tortoise Diet® mixed with fruit and vegetables. Their favorite additions seem to be cantaloupe, banana, mango, sweet potato, squash, and carrots. They will eat large salads made from grated vegetables and pieces of fruit and will eagerly eat earthworms, pink and fuzzy mice, strips of lean beef, and a variety of high-quality canned cat food.
Common Health Problems: H. grandis have proven to be quite hardy and receptive to a variety of captive conditions. They do not, however, tolerate cold, damp weather. This was the cause for health issues in several recent importations of H. grandis rescued from the Asian food markets. Many of these specimens arrived dehydrated and with moderate to severe respiratory problems. Those that were feeding were successfully turned around with treatments of Baytril® or Floxin® administered on pieces of banana (once every 48 hours for 4 treatments). More desperate specimens required intensive, hands-on veterinary care, but also recovered quickly.
Breeding: Courtship and mating in H. grandis is aggressive. The larger males mount females after a chasing and biting spree that can last for several hours. Once he mounts the female and grips tightly onto her shell, the male leans forward and bites at the female's face to keep her head tucked into her shell, somewhat immobilizing her during the mating process. Females often show scars on the neck and parts of the shell after the “mating season” which appears to be most of the spring, especially during warm days with rain showers.
The female will typically lay 4 to 6 eggs about a month after mating. These eggs hatch in 100 days at 80° to 82° F (27° to 28° C). The babies are typically strong and alert and grow rapidly. Young turtles are somewhat omnivorous and will feed on pelleted food, worms, and slow crickets in addition to a variety of fruits such as bananas, mangos, melon, and strawberries. This fruit is a good vehicle for seeing that they get plenty of added calcium and vitamin supplementation, especially because they grow so quickly. They should be set up in a 20-gallon long aquarium with shallow (1”) water and damp sphagnum moss and mulch or potting soil at one end. Though baby H. grandis have proven to be very tame and almost inquisitive by nature, we suggest adding potted plants or piles of leaves to provide some secure hiding places.
* Excerpt from Gurley, R. 2003. KEEPING and BREEDING FRESHWATER TURTLES . Living Art publishing. 305 pp.
Copyright 2004 © The Asian Turtle Consortium