Sacalia sp. / Eyed turtle - Care
|Dutch name:||Pauwoog waterschildpad|
|English name:||Four eyed pond turtle|
|Reproduction:||oviparous / egglaying|
|Cites:||B / II|
The Sacalia genus is part of the subfamily Geoemidynea and contains only two recognized species. The Scalia bealei, as first described by Grey in 1831 and the four-eyed turtle which was first described by Siebenrock in 1903 and was placed as a subspecies of the Sacalia bealei before being elevated to a seperate species in 1979 by Pritchard. There are some external characteristics that match as is a part of their distribution. Of both species little is known about their natural behaviour, nutrition and reproduction, most knowledge is obtained with animals in captivity. Their care is broadly similar. Therefor both species will be described in this article.
Status: Both species are classified by IUCN as 'threatened' and both types are classified by CITES as Appendix 2. So make sure you when you buy these turtles you will receive a transfer statement containing information from the seller and (origin of) the parents. The main threat to these turtles and unfortunately for many other species of Asian turtles is the Asian and especially Chinese demand for the shell of these turtles. These have been a part of traditional Chinese medicines of which the effects are based on misbelief. As China becomes increasingly richer and the population grows, demand for such materials are increasing rapidly.
General appearance: Sacalia sp are relatively small turtles. Males of both Sacalia bealei and Sacalia quadriocellata will measure on average a carapace length of only 12cm while the females with 15cm carapace length are slightly larger. The shell is oval shaped and relatively low, a typical water turtle. The legs are strong and they have webbed toes for swimming. although this species mainly walks over the bottom of the flowing waters in which they occur. Both species are as sub-adult and adult specimens fairly easy to distinguish but young animals are very similar. In both species the young have a rounder shaped shell that is light brown in colour. The 5 ventral and 8 costal shields in young animals have fine dark lines on the brooder or each shield and sometimes a lighter line which runs along the keel of the ventral shields is visible.
The best way to differentiate the two species is through the spots where they derive their common name from. The striking oculi on top of the back of their head which are divided into two pairs. Where those of the S. quadriocellata (quad- four occelata- eyes) are clearly visible and divided. The first pair of oculi in the S. bealei are often poorly visible or reduced and sometimes fused to the rear pair. These spots always have a black core. With the young animals and females the spots are a clear yellow colour. While those of the males are a light blue/greenish colour.
The carapace of female Sacalia bealei in general is dark brown in colour with a pattern of spots and fine lines. In the neck they have 3 to clearly visible light yellow lines, one in the middle of the neck and the other two on each side. The sides of the neck have a less evident pattern of longitudinal stripes. However this pattern is considerably more evident as with the S. quadriocellata females where these additional lines are often completely absent and they only show the three lines on top of the neck. The plastron has a light cream colour with black blotches on top. The plastron of S. quadriocellata often has considerably more black as the S. bealei females. The general body colour and the legs is similar to their shield and may be a dark grey, dark brown or sometimes lighter brown. The rest of the body is often lighter in colour. Think of the skin around the legs and between the neck and front legs. Where S. bealei females have a pattern of fine lines and spots on the face and top of the head, the head of female S. quadriocellata is often completely uniform.
Male Sacalia quadriocellata have a slightly more elongated shell as that of the females. This shell is in general dark brown in colour. Sometimes with a pattern of dark spots that are mostly visible on the marginal shields. The plastron of males is the same colour as the carapace and is not as light cream as with the females. They also have no clear black blotches on the plastron but a pattern of small round connected spots and lines. The head is often darker in colour and the jaws almost black. Around the eyes they can have a red colouring. The lines in the neck are (partially) pink coloured which may intensify in the mating season. Males do not have 3, but 5 distinct lines in the neck, 1 central on top and two on each side (1 upper part neck and 1 near the throat). The underside of the neck and chin show clear lines. A number of scales on the front legs show the same coloration as the lines in the neck and the skin between the neck and front legs can get a pink colouring. Again, the intensity of which is dependent on the season.
Male Sacalia bealei have a light brown to dark grey carapace and comparable plastron. This species has a clear pattern of dark spots and lines all over the shield. The head is very dark. In addition, these have more lines along the length of their neck. The eyes are surrounded by a deep red colour and often the pink / red coloration on the body is more intense as with S. quadriocellata.
The four-eyed turtle population found in Hainan (Island associated with China) mainly differs in size. Males are on average 15cm and females 18cm. In addition, the plastron of males have larger dark black blotches and the pattern of the females plastron is similar. Young of this type have in contrast to that of the mainland often a dark green colour . This population was divided by Artner in 2003 as a subspecies named Sacalia quadrocellata insularis (insulensis), but this name is not accepted.
Hybrids: In 1992, the island of Hainan by mccord & Iverson described a third species named the Sacalia pseudocellata. But this species was described from animals that were found at markets and in the pet trade. It has been found in 2006 (by Stuart & Parham) that this is a hybrid between Cuora trifasciata and the four-eyed turtle. There are several hybrids known. Including a hybrid with Mauremys reevesii.
Behaviour: As mentioned there is unfortunately little known about the natural behaviour of these turtles. This is partly due to the inaccessible areas where they occur. Often this turtle is described as diurnal but most activity is during sunrise and sunset. During the day they rest a lot and relatively often outside the water. Hiding among vegetation or sunning on a rock but always very close to the water. Females seem to be more active as the males.
Origin and habitat: Sacalia bealei is found in southeast China, including Hong Kong, Fujian to the eastern part of Quang Dong. The range of the S. quadriocellata borders the northwest and west of the range of Sacalia bealei in the Guangdong province in southern China. This species is found through a fragmented part of south China, Hainan and northern Vietnam continuing into the (north) east of Laos. They are found on average between 200 to 400 meters above sea level. But can range from 170 to 500 meters above sea level.
Their habitat consists of streams and brooks fed from the mountains. Often surrounded by lots of vegetation and trees of tropical and subtropical forests. There are lots of rocks, boulders and stones. The animals can swim well but mainly walk along the bottom of the streams. This turtle spends much time out of the water and is a very good climber. They easily move over rocks and logs on the forest floor.
Housing: Like other montane species this species need clean and oxygenated water. When the water is to polluted this turtle is prone to skin and shield problems including bacterial infections, shell rot and mould. Movement in the water and a good filtration is therefore of great importance. It is best to use an external filter to clean the aquarium water and regular change a portion of the water. By placing a pre-filter for the intake of the external filter you will prevent coarse waste and leftover food and faeces to come into the external contact. This way the filter stays cleaner and you will get a better biological filtration.
Young Sacalia can be raised in a fairly sparse furnishings aquarium because of a better control and hygiene. Use no substrate with this setup. Offer a water portion that is not deeper than their carapace length and make sure they can easily reach the surface. This can be done with submerged branches or roots and pieces of cork bark. With slices of cork bark you can create hiding places and opportunities to climb out of the water. Young animals spend more time in the water as adults but there must be proper space for the young turtles to walk on dry areas and hide. Offer a hot spot by means of a basking light directed at a flat stone and illuminate with a UVB fluorescent tube. By adding sphagnum moss and leaves to the water will offer the young underwater hides. In addition these lower the pH of the water and some leaves have a bacteria and fungus-inhibiting effect.
Young adult and adult Sacalia can be placed in a larger tank. A minimum size aquarium should be 100x50x30 with in addition a land area of 50x50cm. This size enclosure is suitable for a single animal or pair. For each additional animal add 75Liter space to it (50x50x30cm). The water level can be as low as their carapace length but giving deeper places is possible. As long as there are sufficient opportunities for the turtles 'climb' to the surface. Decorate with (azalea) wood and bark. As a substrate a fine filter sand and large round boulders can be used. these mimic the bottom of their natural habitat. If you house these animals per couple then one must take into account that the females have a place to lay eggs. So give them a deep substrate (at least 25cm) of sand mixed with earth on the land section and keep it slightly moist. UVB HID lamps which produce both heat, light and UVA and UVB can be used for basking. Or use a basking spotlight and add an UVB (daylight) fluorescent tube. Place a reflector behind the fluorescent tube to better reflect the UVB into the enclosure and make sure that most of the radiation is located above the hotspot. Please note that the UV radiation does barely to not penetrate the water and thus there is no added value when it comes to the provision of UVB. Also offer hiding places on the dry area. This can be done with hollow stems, bark and fake plants.
The water temperature should be 22-25C and (day) air temperatures on average 24-27C. The hotspot can measure 32-35C. Illuminate 12.5 hours a day in the summer and 10 hours in the fall. In nature these turtles will endure cooler nights. So the air temperature may drop at night.
Diet: The natural diet of these species is not very well known. In captivity they are real omnivorous and feed on both animal material, water plants and sometimes fruit. Young animals can be raised on the Tetra reptomin or Zoomed Turtle pellets. But preferably offer more variety. Young animals can feed on tubifex, blood worms, worms, small shrimp, (chunks of) fresh water fish and insects like crickets, mealworms, snails etc. As the turtles grow older they will start feeding on waterplants and sometimes pieces of fruit like banana and mango food. Some vegetables like tomato, cucumber, carrot are also eaten. As they grow older the intake of fruit and vegetables increases. Feed young animals almost daily. Adult specimens can to fed every other day with the same diet as the young in larger portions and pieces.
Hibernation / rest: Naturally these species will endure a cooler season. Often those in captivity from November until (early) February. Introduce this period one month prior by lowering the light-hours of 12-120 to 8-6 hours. In which also temperatures drop. Do not feed them in this period. S. quadriocellata can be overwintered at 10-12C. S. bealei can be overwintered between 6-12C. During this period the turtles don’t feed and are very inactive. Hobbyists who are able to keep their turtles outside in this period sometimes find their Sacalia use the sun's rays while the air temperature does not rise above 6C. If temperatures remain above 16-17C animals will remain active and feeding.
Reproduction: While in the wild most eggs are laid in January, in captivity these will be mainly laid in May and June. This probably has to do with the course of the seasons. After hibernation the males will actively search for a female to mate with. The pairing is initiated by the males. When a female is approached, males will extend head and neck towards the female while nodding and headbobbing close to the face of the female. After this they sometimes need to chase the female. Whilst the male is trying to come close to the female he will try to smell at the cloaca of the female. To scent pheromones and if she is ovulating. If the female is willing to mate she relaxes this her tail and he will assume the position. This mostly happens in the shallow parts. Unfortunately we have yet been unable to obtain further information on the egg laying, size of clutches and incubation.