Pyxidea mouhotii : Keeled Box Turtle
Photo by Bill Love
The Jagged Shell Turtle, Pyxidea mouhotii
by Debbie Zajchowski
Distribution and Natural Range
Pyxidea mouhotii is a medium size (up to 7-8 inches) terrestrial turtle that inhabits terrain and forests ranging from south and central China, Vietnam, northern Thailand, and India. In India, the "keeled box turtle" is found in Assam, Pradesh, Meghalava and Arunachal. In Myanmar, this species is found on rocky slopes, and it inhabits the forested regions in northern and central Vietnam.
Status in the Wild
It is common to find Pyxidea mouhotii in the live food markets of SE Asia. This has had harsh consequences for this species in its natural range, and in November of 2002 it was proposed that P. mouhotii be included in CITES Appendix II.
Photo by Debbie Zajchowski
P. mouhotii are also known as the "jagged-shell box turtle," "Vietnamese box turtle," "sawback box turtle", "thorn turtle" and keeled-backed box turtle." One sub-species has been described: P. m. obsti .
The "keeled box turtle" is brownish in color, ranging from tan to mahogany to dark brown. The carapace of this box turtle is serrated at the rear and occasionally serrated near the front as well. There are three well-developed keels. The plastron is also brown or tan, and there may be blotches of dark brown to black on some or all of the scutes. This turtle has a singular hinge on its plastron, enabling the turtle to encase itself inside the shell.
Sexing, Breeding, and Behavior
Quite frequently the female “keeled box turtle” has red or orange irises, while the males tend to have brown or black. The tail of the male P. mouhotii is longer and thicker than the female, and the plastron may be slightly concave.
Male P. mouhotii are very aggressive towards the females during mating activity, and this aggression can result in serious injury to the female. The author suggests keeping more than one female with an individual male and providing a large enclosure so that the female can seek refuge. Male to male aggression is also common and can have deathly consequences. Keepers should avoid housing more than one male in an enclosure. During courtship the male will actively chase the female, frequently biting at her carapace, head and legs. This can go on for some time with the female finally relenting to the male's advances. Clutch sizes are 4-6 eggs and typically two clutches are laid annually.
P. mouhotii walk with an unusually high gait for a terrestrial turtle, lifting their plastron several inches off the ground. What they lack in color they make up for in personality. These turtles are very outgoing and responsive to their keepers, learning easily to take food from the hand that feeds them. The jaws of the “keeled box turtle” are very strong, enabling them to crush mollusks in the wild. There is no hesitation on the part of these turtles to nab a finger from their keeper and relentlessly hold on to it.
P mouhotii are agile and active turtles that need to be housed in an enclosure that is large enough for exercise and will prevent escape. Indoors, the author suggests housing P. mouhotii in Agway water troughs. These allow for small groups to be housed together, provide space for exercise, and are tall enough to prevent escape. The “keeled box turtle” enjoys climbing, and logs or dry driftwood pieces should be provided. The addition of these pieces also has the benefit of providing retreats for the turtle. An area of the enclosure should include plants. Pyxidea mouhotii do well with a substrate of sphagnum moss and Cyprus bark mulch. Most references indicate that the "keeled box turtle" rarely enters water, but in my experience I have found that this turtle frequently enters the water, and a shallow pool should be provided for drinking and bathing. Maintaining water in the enclosure will also aid in increasing the humidity, which is vital to keep the "keeled box turtle" healthy. Temperatures should range from 70-80 degrees F, and ideally the humidity should range between 75-95%. Humidity is easily maintained by frequent misting of the substrate. Although this turtle seldom basks, it should be provided with a low-wattage basking light. Indoors, UVB lighting should be provided to enable synthesis of Vitamin D3. When possible, this turtle should be maintained outdoors in an escape proof and predator proof enclosure. The enclosure should be well planted and should enable the turtle to burrow. A shallow pool should also be maintained with fresh water daily. Housing the "keeled box turtle" outside during the warmer months enables the turtle to be exposed to natural sunlight (vital for D3 synthesis) and allows for natural behavior. A rain shower will initiate sexual activity, and males will actively seek out females for breeding.
The "keeled box turtle" is an omnivore. In the wild this turtle will eat a variety of vegetation and has a preference for fallen fruits. It also consumes worms, mollusks, snails, and other meats. A varied diet should be provided for this species in captivity and can include a variety of vegetables, fruits, worms, crickets and pinkies. A calcium supplement should be given such as Repcal with D3 if the turtle is maintained indoors. If kept outdoors during the summer months, supplementation should be provided without D3.
Pxyidea mouhotii are susceptible to a variety of health issues. Most are imported from the live food markets of SE Asia and have been exposed to a variety of pathogens including bacteria, fungi and parasites. This, coupled by the fact that the turtle has been deprived of food, water, and kept in unsuitable conditions for perhaps months prior to the actual import to the US, results in the declining health of the turtle. Many times the turtle will refuse to eat initially or may take food enthusiastically and suddenly cease eating. In the latter instance, this may be due to a proliferation of parasites, bacteria or fungi or may be a metabolic issue when food intake places stress on improperly functioning kidneys or liver of a debilitated turtle. In the author's experience, this turtle is highly susceptible to Entamoeba and, at the levels seen with recent imports; treatment is essential for the survivability of the turtle. If left untreated, Entamoeba can lead to liver abscesses and death. Unfortunately at the present time there is no treatment available to fully eradicate this parasite. It is essential to perform regular fecal examinations and to know that false negatives can occur. P. mouhotii are also prone to respiratory infections, and in the author's experience this is bacterial in nature most times, but fungi has been identified as the culprit as well. There are a variety of medical treatments available to treat common problems seen in the "keeled box turtle", but they should be sought in an urgent manner, even if the turtle appears fine and is eating. A highly qualified and skilled chelonian veterinarian that understands the Asian turtle species is necessary if long-term survivability is to occur.
© 2002 Debbie Zajchowski Massachusetts Turtle Rescue Inc
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Photo by Debbie Zajchowski