Cuora flavomarginata / Chinese boxturtle - Care

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Specification Description
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Family: Geoemydidae
Subfamily: Geoemydinae
Scientific name: Cuora flavomarginata
Dutch name: Geelranddoosschildpad
English name: Yellow marginated box turtle
Dieet: Omnivorous
Distribution: Asia
Lifestyle: Semi-aquatic
Reproduction: oviparous / egglaying
Status: Threatened
Cites: B / II

Cuora flavomarginata, (Gray, 1863)

Currently the Cuora flavomarginata (Cistoclemmys flavomarginata), also known as the Chinese boxturtle, is probably the most commonly bred of all the terrestrial Cuora’s and closely related genus Pyxidea in captivity. Of the aquatic representatives the Cuora amboinensis (& ssp) are most commonly bred and kept. The common name of the Chinese boxturtle is as with many common names not the best as there are more boxturtles that inhabit China and this species does not only occur in China. So in this article we will as always use the accepted scientific name. There are 2 currently recognized subspecies. The C. f. flavomarginata and the C. f. evelynae (Carl Henry Ernst & Jeffrey E. Lovich, 1990) wish is found exclusively on the Ryukyu islands of Japan.


Status:  Unfortunately when writing these articles we need to constantly repeat ourselves as this is also one of the species that is heavily exploited for the Asian, specifically Chinese food, medicine and pet market. Resulting in a rapid decline of this species in their natural range even though they are protected. They are listed as endangered by the IUCN and have a Cites appendix B. So it is a great thing this species does well in captivity and more hobbyist make an effort to breed this species and set up more insurance colonies.


General appearance:  Adult Cuora flavomarginata have a domed, round and generally smooth carapax. Hatchlings and juveniles have a bit lower carapax which is more suited for the more aquatic lifestyle they live. The carapax has a general dark grey or brown till almost black coloration. The vertebral keel is slightly raised and has a creamy yellow colour. Wish is most significant with hatchlings and juveniles. Adults can be seen with a dark brown or dark yellow blotch centred in each of the scutes on the carapax. The plastron is almost black with some lighter coloration along the edges coming from the marginal scutes. Their plastron has a ligament that enables the box turtle to raise the front and back side of the plastron against the carapax. Making limbs inaccessible to any predator. The body colour is a darkgrey. The neck has a lighter coloration. The head is normally a creamy yellow with a very distinct yellow stripe from the eye to the back of the head and a yellow blotch on their cheeks. They have 5 toes on the froth paws and 4 on the back. Males have a slightly longer tail and they cloaca is set behind the edge of the carapax. Where the cloaca is closer to the plastron with females and their tales taper more distinctively. The plastron of adult males has (almost) no concavity. Adults measure between 15cm till 17cm with a maximum of 20cm.


General behaviour:  The Cuora flavomarginata is diurnal. Juveniles are a lot more aquatic then the adults. Adults will lead a mostly terrestrial life similar to the American Terrapene species. Where young will be mostly aquatic for the first year or two. Spending most of their time in shallow puddles and streams hunting for crustaceans and other small invertebrates and small fish. They are like most Cuora sp. a very curious and observant species and active hunters. In captivity hatchlings can be shy but this will soon change and acclimated animals can be very curious and responsive to their caretaker.


Hybrids:  The Cuora flavomarginata shares its natural range with a lot of other close relatives and there is documentation of many natural and manmade hybrids. Documented hybrids include the in Okinawa (Japan) invasive C. flavomarginata evelynae X the native Geoemyda japonica, C. f. flavomarginata X Mauremys reevesii and C. f. flavomarginata X Cuora amboinensis. The oddest thing is often these hybrids are in fact fertile.


Natural range and habitat:  The subspecies C. f. evelynae has a very small natural range and is only found on the Ryukyu islands in the Southwest of Japan. Which lay very close to Taiwan. The nominate has a very wide range in central China and Taiwan.  They have a wide range and habitats but are mostly found in and in close proximity to pools and streams in humid forests. It Is not uncommon that they are found in and close to small ponds and rice paddies.


Captive requirements:  Let us starts with the basics, adults need an enclosure that has a minimal ground surface of 120*70cm. That is for a single adult or adult pair. They can be kept in groups when the enclosure is bigger. In this case always take note of individual behaviour. Even when no fighting can be seen an individual still can be stressed and oppressed. Often these animals will constantly hide and have a lower to no food response. Males can not only be very territorial towards other males but also very determined and dominant in their efforts to breed. So make sure that females also get rest and place if needed the males separate outside the breeding season. Whilst adults are often kept in a more terrestrial forest setup. Hatchlings and juveniles can best be kept in a (semi)aquatic setup.

Hatchlings can be setup in a relatively sparse enclosure, for instance a glass aquarium. With a layer of water that is no deeper than the length of the shell in the deepest parts. Place lots of sphagnum moss and plants in the water for the animals to sit on, hide under and use to climb on and easily reach the surface of the water. Make a dry basking area with flat rocks and use some cork tubes or for instance the Exo-terra reptile cave so they can hide and climb out of the water. Replace the water frequently. It is advisable to use a small aeration pump to keep a part of the water moving. But prevent any strong current.

Use a fluorescent tube or compact lamp with daylight and UVB for lighting and the UVB requirements. Also provide a basking heat lamp above the dry rocks so they can bask and dry.

The turtle pellets and bloodworms can be fed in water but best is to feed the defrosted fish, cut up worms and beefheart on a dry area so you can add calcium or mineral powder and your water doesn’t get dirty to fast. They can be setup like this until they reach an age of 12 months. After this they can go to a more terrestrial setup.

Semi-adults and adults can be setup in an almost complete terrestrial enclosure with just a big waterbowl or you can choose a more semiaquatic setup. That has for instance 70% ground and 30% a water. Use lots of corkbark so the animals can hide and to create some visual barriers. As these animals are mostly carnivorous you are also able to use live plants for further decoration and to help with a higher humidity. Use a 10cm thick layer of substrate consisting of bark, cocopeat, moss and leaves. It is advisable to have a drainage layer under your substrate to prevent any excessive water from the pond or misting causing the substrate to get to wet. Note that when you want to breed these animals a thicker layer of substrate at least in some parts of the enclosure is needed.

You can add small springtails and wood lice to your substrate that will eat a part of the waste your turtles produce. Do regular check-ups and remove any waste like faeces that are found.

Offer their food items on a shallow dish. If you use only a big waterbowl, change the water daily as they will make a big mess of it about 1 minute after you changed the water. They love to puddle.

When you choose to offer a bigger water section so they can puddle and swim. Make sure it is easily accessible and they also easily can get out. So we normally make sure the water is no deeper than the length of their shell and that the bottom of the water area or pond is tapered so the turtles can easily walk out the pond into more shallow areas. Change the water of the water section every week and make use of a aeration pump to prevent stagnant water which can be a haven for bacteria. Also when u provide the C. flavomarginata with a bathing area it is best to provide a shallow waterbowl that has constant clean water to drink from. Mist the entire enclosure ones a day about five times per week.

This species can tolerate cooler temperatures and especially hatchlings and juveniles are rarely seen basking. Still we always provide the animals with a basking spot that reaches 30 degrees Celsius. So when needed the animals can bask. Especially females tend to like higher temperatures and seek out the hotspot most in the months May, June and July. Which is in their natural breeding season when they are developing eggs. We advise to provide the animals with an average air temperature of 24/26C. If you provide the animals with a pond this must also be heated to the same temperature. Lighting is done with a fluorescent tube that also emits UVB. It is known that these lightings don’t emit such high UVB. But as this is an animal that spends most of its days under the forest canopy it perfectly recreates the indirect sunlight they will be exposed to as in their natural habitat. Make sure you replace these fluorescent tubes every 6 months as their output declines rapidly. It is not uncommon for Cuora flavomarginata to eat whatever they encounter in their enclosure. Including eggs laid by a cage mate. So observe your animals well during the breeding and egg laying season.

As this species is known to hybridise with other relatives we would, although sometimes possible, advise not to combine this animal with other turtles.


Diet:  The Cuora flavomarginata is not a specialist and mainly carnivorous. They feed mainly on small invertebrates, small fish and amphibians. Their diet can include all kinds of worms, grasshoppers and other insects they will actively hunt. Most invertebrates and for instance shrimp or small crayfish will also be eaten and all types of small amphibians and when possible fish. They complement their diet with seasonal fruits.

In captivity the base diet consist of worms, mealworms, small dead pinky mouse and fish. Completed with beefheart and Zoomed aquatic turtle food, Zoophoba’s, crickets, grasshoppers, waxworms, snails, shrimps and small crayfish. We feed hatchlings and juveniles  almost daily with a mix of worms and Zoomed aquatic turtle pellets completed with mealworms, defrosted freshwater fish that is chopped up and also live bloodworms, tubifex and small shrimps. It is a great joy to see them actively hunt in the water.

Adults get fed four times a week. These also feed on chopped beefheart and sometimes a small pinky mouse. While young animals seem to have no interest in fruits adults will take on occasion fruits like banana, figs and watermelon. As with most turtles try to vary and make sure your turtle does not get obese. Add a Calcium supplement with added Vitamin D3 almost every feeding.


Hibernation:  Although not needed and some animals will even breed without, it is advisable to give these animals a hibernation. Most hobbyist decided to exclude an extensive hibernation in the first 3 years to make sure the babies are big and healthy enough for a longer period of lower temperatures.

Studies have showed that in the wild Cuora flavomarginata will enter hibernation when the environmental temperatures drop below 15 to 12 degrees Celsius, which is normally in November. So it is advisable to start lowering your temperatures from mid-September till and including October and have them at 15-12C in November. This is also the period in wish they will stop feeding. Best is not to feed at all about 2 weeks before you cool down the animals even more. Give the animals a bath in lukewarm water to make sure the bowels and intestine are empty when the Cuora enter hibernation. If this is not the case, leftover unprocessed food in the intestines can start to ‘rot’ and cause major health issues.

After that you can place the animals in hibernation at about 6-8C. The best is to use a well ventilated box filled with damp sphagnum and leaves for the animals to hibernate in. A Exo-Terra Faunabox setup in a controlled cooler is ideal for this. Always make sure there is clean water available. Make sure to prevent that the animals are able to tip the waterbowl as a wet substrate during hibernation can cause respiratory infections. The hibernation lasts about 3 months. At the end of February the animals can be placed back in their enclosure again at a temperature around 15C. During this time they will become more active and temperatures can be raised in March till they are in their normal parameters at the end of May.

Never place an animal in hibernation when there is doubt on their health. When they have wounds or are underweight. 

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