Wednesday 15 May
Spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa)
Spiny turtle fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Spiny turtle description
The origin of its common and specific name is immediately apparent from the sharp, pointed, spiky-edged carapace, and spiny keel, of this unique turtle, also known as the ‘cog-wheel turtle’. There are also smaller spines on the pleural scutes, creating the effect of a walking pin cushion (4). It is thought that this spiny ‘armour’ acts as a deterrent to predators, such as snakes (5). However, this unmistakable, strongly-serrated carapace edge and spiny keel become worn down and are lost with age, so that larger individuals are much smoother than juveniles (6) (7). The carapace is brown with a pale streak down the central keel, and the head and limbs are greyish-brown, usually with a yellow to red spot behind the eye and similar-coloured speckling on the legs (4) (5). This cryptic colouration helps camouflage the turtle amongst the leaf litter of its forest floor habitat (6). The plastron is buff coloured with an intricate pattern of dark radiating lines on each scute (4) (7).
- Also known as
- cog-wheel turtle, Spiny hill turtle, spiny terrapin, sunburst turtle.
- Emys spinosa, Geoemyda spinosa. Top
Turtles of the World (CD-ROM), by Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. & Barbour, R.W.:
Durell Wildlife (June 2006):
- In reptiles, the top shell of a turtle or tortoise.
- Diet comprises only vegetable matter.
- A projecting ridge along a flat or curved surface, particularly down the middle.
- In reptiles, the lower shell of a turtle or tortoise.
- Pleural scute
- Four lateral-most scutes (see scute) covering both sides of the upper shell of a turtle or tortoise, between the vertebral (central) and marginal scutes. These scutes are also called "laterals".
- One of the large keratinous scales on the carapace (the top shell of a turtle or tortoise).
- Land dwelling; living on the ground.
IUCN Red List (May, 2006)
The Tortoise Reserve (June, 2006)
CITES (May, 2006)
The Turtle Puddle (June, 2006)
Asean Review of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation (ARBEC): Crocodiles and Turtles of Borneo (June, 2006)
Ecology Asia (June, 2006)
Turtles of the World (CD-ROM), by Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (June, 2006)
The Asian Turtle Consortium (June, 2006)
Tryan, B.W. (2004) The Spiny Hill Turtle…redefining cute and cuddly. Wild Wonders (A Publication for Knoxville Zoo Members and Supporters), 0: 9 - . Available at:
EAZA Shellshock Campaign (June, 2006)
Durell Wildlife (June, 2006)
BBC News: Baby turtle gives species hope (June, 2006)
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Spiny turtle biology
The spiny turtle has not thrived in captivity and relatively little is known of its breeding habits (8). Mating behaviour is apparently stimulated by rains, with males becoming excited when sprayed with water in captivity, chasing females in an attempt to mount. Nesting behaviour is unknown in the wild, but generally one or two eggs are laid per clutch (clutches containing three eggs have been recorded) in captivity, usually at night or in the early morning (7). Up to three clutches have been produced a year (7), and to enable the passage of these relatively large eggs, a hinge develops in the female’s plastron to allow greater flexibility during egg-laying (5). There have only ever been a handful of successful captive breeding efforts of the spiny turtle, and those that have been successful have had incubation periods of 106 days (2), 110 days (9) and 145 days (10).Top
Spiny turtle range
The spiny turtle ranges throughout Southeast Asia, from Thailand and possibly southern Myanmar southward through Malaysia to Sumatra, Borneo and Natuna, numerous small Indonesian Islands and the Philippines (1) (7).Top
Spiny turtle habitat
This semi-aquatic species is found in shallow, wooded mountain streams, but spends considerably time on land foraging or burrowing amongst the leaf litter of the forest floor (4). At least in captivity, juveniles appear to be more terrestrial than adults (7).Top
Spiny turtle statusTop
Spiny turtle threats
Like most Asian turtle species, the spiny turtle is in grave danger of extinction due to over-collection from the wild for the Asian food market and international pet trade, as well as being threatened by the destruction of its habitat (11). Wild populations are thought to be plummeting, particularly in Indonesia, where they are considered Critically Endangered and known trade volumes have recently declined by about 50 %. Elsewhere, the species is restricted to small and isolated populations over much of its range (1). When they reach the West and enter the pet market, imported Asian turtles are often parasite ridden and mortality is relatively high (4) (8). Many have also had to endure poor and incredibly stressful conditions in food markets, and are dehydrated and malnourished from their long journeys from the Asian food markets to the Western pet trade (8). Unfortunately, the extreme difficulty in breeding this species in captivity means that all specimens found in pet stores today are still caught from the wild and freshly imported from Asia.Top
Spiny turtle conservation
Like many other species, the spiny turtle would benefit from captive breeding programmes or ‘turtle farms’ to supply the food and pet market, and thereby mitigate the demand to remove large numbers from the wild (4). Unfortunately, this species is notoriously difficult to breed in captivity and only a handful of institutions have ever successfully bred the species, including Zoo Atlanta and Knoxville Zoo in the US., and Durell Wildlife in Jersey, Europe (9) (11). Nevertheless, these few successes provide fresh hope that a captive breeding programme might one day be able to haul the species back from the brink of extinction (12). It is also hoped that these successful reproductive attempts will help provide more information about the biology and ecology of this beautiful yet complex species, information that can prove invaluable for conservation action in the wild (11) (12).Top
Find out more
For more information on the spiny turtle see:
For more information on the captive breeding and conservation of the spiny turtle see:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.