Black-breasted leaf turtle (Geoemyda spengleri)

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Black-breasted leaf turtle, side view
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Black-breasted leaf turtle fact file

Black-breasted leaf turtle description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderTestudines
FamilyBataguridae
GenusGeoemyda (1)

This small turtle is easily recognised by its flattened carapace that is distinctively serrated at the front and back, and by the yellow-edged, dark-brown to black plastron for which it earns its common name (4). There are also three prominent keels protruding down the length of the carapace (5), which varies considerably in colour from orange-yellow or tan to a rich chestnut or mahogany brown, to a rather drab olive (4) (6) (7). The olive to dark brown head is characterised by faint yellow markings near the eye and along the neck, and additional pale-coloured speckling may appear on the sides of the head and jaws (4) (5). The rest of the skin is greyish brown, often dappled with tan, olive or orange colouring (6). Perhaps one of the most striking and conspicuous features of this unusual turtle, however, are the large and protuberant eyes with white irises, that give an alert expression (6) (7).

Also known as
black-breasted hill turtle, Chinese leaf turtle, Indo-Chinese serrated turtle, scalloped leaf turtle, Spengler's turtle, Vietnamese leaf turtle, Vietnamese wood turtle.
Size
Carapace length: up to 11.5 cm (2)
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Black-breasted leaf turtle biology

Despite being first described as long ago as 1789, surprisingly little has been documented on this turtle’s natural history in the wild (7). In captivity, three single-egg clutches have been reported, laid with 38-day intervals. Incubation took 66 to 73 days at 25 to 30°C (5).

The diet is thought to include snails, slugs, earthworms and other forest floor invertebrates (8), although some captive individuals apparently also feed on fruit and vegetables (5).

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Black-breasted leaf turtle range

The black-breasted leaf turtle is native to the mountainous regions of northern Vietnam and southern China (8).

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Black-breasted leaf turtle habitat

This terrestrial species is typically found in leaf litter on the forest floor, although it will occasionally delve into pools of water or freshwater streams (5) (8).

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Black-breasted leaf turtle status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix III of CITES in China (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Black-breasted leaf turtle threats

Like most Asian turtle species, the black-breasted leaf turtle is in grave danger of extinction due to over-collection from the wild for the food, medicine and pet trade. Turtles are highly prized for food and traditional ‘medicinal’ purposes, and are ubiquitous in Asian food markets (9). Importation to the U.S. for the pet trade began in the 1980s, and most specimens found in pet stores today are still freshly imported from Asia (6), although there is now substantial breeding of the species in China, and some of the young exported into the global pet trade may come from farms (2). Nevertheless, before reaching their destination, many of these turtles have had to endure poor conditions in food markets, and are malnourished or develop pneumonia, mouth sores or other illnesses, and almost all will have parasites, from which many die (6). Another important factor in this species’ decline is forest loss and degradation from clearance for agriculture and uncontrolled wildfires (2). Thus, the high mortality rate amongst wild-caught leaf turtles, combined with unsustainable rates of harvesting from the wild, limited use of captive breeding and farming, and ongoing habitat loss has led to a serious decline in population numbers and left this enigmatic turtle clinging to a precarious existence (9).

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Black-breasted leaf turtle conservation

Substantial advances are being made in management and captive breeding of this turtle, particularly in central Europe and the U.S., and captive breeding meets most of the serious hobbyist demand. However, it remains cheaper to import animals for a few dollars/euros than to obtain captive-bred animals, so the cheap pet imports continue, and continue to be bought by impulse buyers (2). This pet market, combined with habitat loss and the ongoing demand for turtles in the Asian food markets, mean the outlook for the black-breasted leaf turtle, and most Asian turtle species, remains grim (9).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the black-breasted leaf turtle see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (23/11/2006) by Peter Paul van Dijk, Director of Conservation International’s Centre for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program, and Deputy Chair and Program Officer of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group.
http://www.turtlesurvival.org

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Glossary

Carapace
In reptiles, the top shell of a turtle or tortoise.
Plastron
In reptiles, the lower shell of a turtle or tortoise.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. van Dijk, P.P. (2006) Pers. comm.
  3. CITES (June, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. The Asian Turtle Consortium (June, 2006)
    http://www.asianturtle.org/htm/species_Geoemyda_spengleri.html
  5. Turtles of the World (CD-ROM), by Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (June, 2006)
    http://nlbif.eti.uva.nl/bis/turtles.php?selected=beschrijving&menuentry=soorten&id=281
  6. The Turtle Puddle (June, 2006)
    http://www.turtlepuddle.org/exotics/spengleri.html
  7. Buskirk, J. (1993) Captive Propagation and Husbandry of the Vietnamese Leaf Turtle. The Vivarium, 5(5): 28 - 33. Available at:
    http://www.anapsid.org/spengleri.html
  8. Asian Turtle Conservation Network (June, 2006)
    http://www.asianturtlenetwork.org/field_guide/Geoemyda_spengleri.htm
  9. Muridae.org (June, 2006)
    http://www.muridae.org/turtles/spengleri.html
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Image credit

Black-breasted leaf turtle, side view  
Black-breasted leaf turtle, side view

© James H. Harding

James H. Harding
Instructor/ Herpetology Specialist
Dept. of Zoology/MSU Museum
205A Museum
West Circle Drive
Michigan State University
East Lansing
MI 48824
United States of America
hardingj@msu.edu

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