Named for its distinctively flattened upper shell (the carapace), the Malayan flat-shelled turtle is one of few turtle species in the world to have more than five vertebral scutes, typically having six or seven instead (3). The carapace of adult males is typically yellowish-brown with dark brown mottling, whereas female and immature turtles often have a more uniformly olive- or reddish-brown shell (3). The underside of the shell (the plastron) is yellow to orange in colour with black patches (5), and the angular head and the neck are dark brown, although the chin and throat turn a paler yellow with age (5). This turtle has webbed toes, which bear long and strong claws (6).
As well as having differently coloured shells, male and female Malayan flat-shelled turtles can also be distinguished by the male’s longer, thicker tail and slightly concave plastron (3). The male also often has a much darker head and neck than the female, and the nose may become tinged with red during the breeding season (3). The hatchlings are brightly coloured compared to the adults, with a bright yellow or green shell, and have been described as some of the most beautiful young turtles in the world (7).
- Adult shell length: 32 – 36 cm (2) (3)