Yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata)

Also known as: Asian snail-eating box turtle, black-bellied box turtle, Chinese box turtle, snail-eating box turtle, yellow-rimmed box turtle
Synonyms: Cistoclemmys flavomarginata
GenusCuora (1)
SizeAdult carapace length: 19.5 cm (2)
Hatchling carapace length: 40 mm (2)
Average weight: 647 - 977 g (3)

The yellow-margined box turtle is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

Subspecies Cuora flavomarginata flavomarginata and C. f. evelynae are classified as Vulnerable (VU) and C. f. sinensis is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) (1).

The yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata) is semi-aquatic, and gets its name from the distinct, vibrant yellow markings on the carapace or shell (2). All species in the genus Cuora are relatively small turtles with hard, high arched shells (2) (5). The shell is made up of bony plates, known as scutes, which become permanently marked with annular rings as the turtle ages (5).

The yellow colouration that earns this species its name is present in a vibrant yellow stripe along the carapace, which is otherwise predominantly dark brown. Other colours that may appear on the scutes include deep reddish brown blotches. The underside of the shell, or plastron, is dark brown to black with a yellow border. The head is a grey colour with pink or yellow colouration seen on the chin, and a yellow stripe running from the tip of the head to the neck (2).

The upper jaw of the yellow-margined box turtle is hooked to aid feeding. The limbs are grey with yellow colouration on the heels, and there are large scales on the forelimbs. The tail is predominantly grey, with a yellow stripe and is thicker at the base in the male yellow-margined box turtle (2).

The yellow-margined box turtle was originally found and identified by Gray in 1863 in northern Taiwan. These turtles are now known to exist in a wide range of locations in Asia, including southern and mainland China, Taiwan and the Ryukyus Islands of Ishigaki Shima and Iriomote (7) (2).

The yellow-margined box turtle is known to be semi-aquatic, inhabiting ponds and rice paddies, but is mainly a terrestrial animal, living in forests and grasslands. Both the male and female will retreat into fallen logs or abandoned burrows with leaf litter for protection (7).

These petite, colourful turtles have a life span of 10 to 20 years. The maximum size reached is determined by factors such as ambient temperature, climate and food resources (5) (8). The yellow-margined box turtle consumes a variety of insects, worms, plants and fruit (5) (8).

Gravid female yellow-margined box turtles are seen between April and July and, during the breeding season, the male will compete to mate with the females, displaying aggressive behaviour (7) (8). During courtship, the male will approach the female with a head bobbing display (2).

During the nesting season, a clutch of one to three oval, elongated eggs will be produced by the female yellow-margined box turtle (2). The size and number of eggs produced depends entirely on the size of the female turtle (2) (5). After the eggs are produced, the female covers the clutch in dirt and leaves for protection and incubation, which can take around 68 to 72 days at 30 degrees Celsius. When the hatchlings emerge, the distinctive bright yellow stripe is already visible. The hatchlings will instinctively migrate to the interior of their grassland habitat (2).

International trade in the yellow-margined box turtle as food or as a pet, along with destruction of its habitat, have caused a great decrease in this turtle’s population. Populations in the Ryukyus Islands and Taiwan have been shown to be decreasing due to deforestation (4) (7).

The yellow-margined box turtle’s ecological needs for conservation are not largely known, but laws are now in place in Taiwan and in the Ryukyus Islands to protect the remaining populations (7). It is protected in China by the Wildlife Protection Law of 1988, and has some protection in Japan under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. This species also occurs in national parks and nature reserves in China and Japan (4).

Captive breeding programmes have produced hatchlings in Germany and Switzerland, though this species has no international legal protection (4).

Learn more about the yellow-margined turtle:

More information on the conservation of Asian turtles:

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:

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2010)
  2. Turtles of the World - yellow-margined box turtle (December, 2010)
  3. Chen, T., Lee, Y. and Chi, C. (2010) Observation of reproductive cycle of female yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora Flavomarginata) using radiography and ultrasonography. Zoo Biology, 29: 1-10.
  4. CITES (December, 2010)
  5. Chen, T. and Lue, K. (2002) Growth Patterns of the yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora Flavomarginata) in Northern Taiwan. Journal of Herpetology, 36: 201-208.
  6. Cogger, H.G. and Zweifel, R.G. (1988) Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Weldon Owen Pty ltd, Sydney.
  7. Lue, K. and Chen, T. (1999) Activity, movement patterns, and home range of the yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora Flavomarginata) in Northern Taiwan. Journal of Herpetology, 33: 590-600.
  8. Bartlett, P., Griswold, B. and Bartlett, R. (2010) Reptiles, Amphibians and Invertebrates: An Identification and Care Guide. Barron's Educational Series, New York.