How to Care for Your New Spiny Turtles
 Heosemys spinosa
by Evan White

 
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Spiny Turtle Factoids

Origin Several Indonesian islands
Food Preference Mostly vegetarian
Water Provide a low water dish
Enclosure 40 breeder tank minimum
Substrate Deep enough to dig into
Temperature Day 80 to 85. Night 70 to 75.
Humidity High
Lighting Needs UVB
Sexing Position of cloaca
Breeding Not likely

Evan White wrote this care sheet because LA knows diddly about them.  All the pictures and comments are by Evan White.  LA


 

 

 

 

 



 

 


EW
See the difference and beautiful patterning of the plastron (bottom) versus the carapace (top).

Origin: These temperate turtles hail from Indonesia. From the Peninsular Malaysia to Thailand, Sumatra, Borneo, and large surrounding Indonesian islands. They are typically encountered in high altitude rain forests near shallow, slow moving streams. The climates are cooler, and quite humid. They are very secretive in the wild, often residing buried under the topmost layers of the forest floor.

Feeding and Watering: Heosemys spinosa are not particularly active turtles, sometimes remaining motionless for days on end. This is a useful adaptation for ectotherms that inhabit montane forests where temperatures rarely breach 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It is known that they search among the forest floor for fallen fruits and other plant matter, and has been said that most will not consume animal matter. I have not found this to be the case. Mine readily accept nightcrawlers, young mice, and mealworms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EW
Here, the two long term captive animals enjoy a hearty meal of nightcrawlers.
They will eat 7-8 per turtle each time.

However, these items, which are high in animal fats and proteins, should not be fed to them more than occasionally. Occasionally being two to three times a month. The majority of their diet should be comprised of fruits and vegetables. I have had excellent luck with the following fruits: bananas (this must be considered a delicacy to them, they will eat more of it than one might think is possible), cantaloupe, honey dew, strawberries, tomatoes (another “delicacy”), red grapes, red apple, and water melon (I only recently discovered that they would eat this. I gave them a piece of rind with a little of the actual fruit still attached thinking they would completely ignore it, not so…). Fruits seem to be preferred to vegetables when offered in concert with one another, though vegetables should still be offered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EW
Here, three of my turtles attacking pieces of banana. They got more after the photo,
each will reach about 3 times the amount in the picture. They love banana.

Such vegetables often offered are: romaine, red leaf, green leaf, and butter leaf lettuce (the crunchy hearts of these leafy vegetables seem to illicit feeding more than the chopped leaves themselves), kale (this is not a favorite and is rarely consumed), and bok choy. These turtles seem to be fairly opportunistic and will at least attempt to consume most anything once, though they quickly learn what they do and do not like. There are a plethora of vegetables and fruits that can be offered, the list here is basic, experimentation is the key. Very little is known about the feeding habits of these uncommon chelonians. As with all captive reptiles, a good calcium and vitamin supplement is recommended. A large shallow bowl should be provided for bathing and drinking. This should be changed when soiled. I have found large, deep, plant saucers to work excellently for this purpose. These turtles will often spend large amounts of time just “relaxing” in their water bowls. Usually after a hearty meal of (you guessed it) banana.

Enclosure: Though the activity of these animals is usually limited to eating, bathing, and sitting. Regardless, they should be provided the space of a 40 gallon breeder tank (36"L, 18"W, 12-18"H).

EW
This is a picture of the tank I am using to house two of my turtles. It is a 40 gallon
breeder size with a sliding lid. It is half the height to save on space (and money).

The enclosure should be heavily planted with either artificial plants or nontoxic real ones. These animals will often seek shelter beneath them. I do not provide hide boxes for my turtles, a deep substrate topped with dry leaves, moss, artificial plants, and wood (both slabs of cork, and a type of mold resistant Malaysian wood) are used instead. Given these environmental features, a hide box seemed unnecessary as the turtles would often burrow beneath them (the leaves etc.).

EW
The leaves are from, I think, a tulip tree. I’m not exactly sure, I’d have to check
with my neighbor…

As mentioned, a deep substrate should be provided. I use coconut husk (Bed-a-Beast, Eco Earth etc.), mixed with play sand, and orchid bark to a depth of approximately 3 inches with excellent luck. The ratio for mixing the substrate should be something like this: 6 parts coconut husk to 2 parts sand to 3 parts bark (it doesn’t need to be exact at all). I also use patches of green moss to help hold humidity, topped off with dry leaves of a tulip tree (again, I think that’s what they were from but any large, dry leaves will work). The leaves act as a sort of insulator for the substrate, keeping the moisture beneath.

EW
Here is their water dish. It’s 12” long by 6” wide, and about 3” deep. It doesn’t have
to be that fancy, as mentioned, a plant tray is both cheaper and just as effective.

Temperatures and Humidity: This is the area of husbandry where the most mistakes are made in keeping these turtles. They require low ambient temperatures, with a high overall humidity. Daytime temperatures of 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit should not be exceeded (though I have found them to be far more tolerant of warmer temperatures than much of the existing literature has suggested). Nighttime temperatures of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit are acceptable, though lower is not a problem. The humidity should be a constant 60-70 percent. The substrate will aid this, though daily misting should be employed to supplement this. I have noticed that these turtles become active when sprayed, they will often come out with their heads fully extended when sprayed. They seem to enjoy drinking this way, much like a chameleon would. When sprayed (gently) on the face they will almost assuredly open their mouths and attempt to drink. To aid further in hydration, an ultrasonic fogging device can be placed in the water dish. This creates a very impressive display, and raises humidity considerably. (Don’t let it run dry, expensive mistake.)

GW
I also like to take the turtles out once a week or so and soak them for an hour in
a tub. Doing this outside is also a good idea as it can help the turtles catch some
sun “rays” which is very beneficial to their overall health. I also like to take them
outside during nice, warm days. I have several “pens” usually used for small animals
set up around the lawn which I put them in. They seem to enjoy being outside given
that they can reach the shade when they want to.

Lighting: Though these turtles shun bright lights and remain mostly concealed beneath the substrate, ultraviolet lighting is recommended. This can be provided by any one of a number of UVB producing florescent lights that are readily available. As far as heating goes, a 40 watt red heat bulb can be suspended over one end of the enclosure to create a gradient. I use a heating pad placed beneath the heat bulb to create a general worm spot of approximately 83 degrees Fahrenheit (give or take). Though the heating pad has caused a thermal burn on the hind foot of one of the turtles, (who apparently was unfazed by the scorching of his foot and didn’t move.) The heating pad was removed, and the burn healed promptly. The other individual in the same enclosure has never encountered a problem like this.

Sexing and Breeding:

Though a general rule of thumb for turtles concerning sexing ids that males have a longer thicker tail, as well as (usually) a concave plastron, this appears to not apply to these turtles as strictly. I believe that it is difficult to truly sex them until they are more mature, with a shell length of at least 5”. It seems that males are also slightly less colorful, though I wouldn’t say that is 100% accurate in all cases.

GW
Notice
the difference in coloration between the lighter female (left) and the darker
male (right).

For these turtles, the male’s cloaca is located further down his tail than the females and is only barely noticeably thicker. The plastron is also only just concave on the male shown. It seems that females have a sort of colorful “tip” to their tails, while the males do not.

GW
Though it may be difficult to see, the tail is all black and rather stubby and thick.
This is the male.

EW
This is the female. Notice the colored tip, and the much shorter size.

As for breeding, though it is rare, and usually by accident without any real idea as to why it happens (concerning environmental conditions), it is possible and has been done though only a handful of times. It seems that breeding may be triggered by changes in humidity and temperature though no one person or group has isolated the exact factors that determine it. Usually a clutch of 1-2 eggs is laid as many as three times a year. Usually between the months of November and February. Incubation, in captivity, has usually lasted about 100 days. It seems that their eggs undergo diapause, and thus must be incubated for the first half of incubation at temperatures of about 82F to about 86F and for the remainder at about 78F-80F. This is an adaptation to allow the eggs to hatch during appropriate seasonal conditions, (usually those best for the survival of the baby turtle). Babies are extremely serrated.

Closing Note: These fascinating and beautiful chelonians are steadily slipping off of the world's stage. With so little about their natural habits known, and with captive breeding so rare at present, they will likely be gone within half a century if not less. With the combined pressure on wild populations of the Asian food markets, and the demand of the world's pet trade, in conjunction with the small clutch size of these animals, their extinction is sadly becoming increasingly imminent. Their only chance for survival is the strengthening of conservation efforts. We must do all we can
to support chelonian aid groups working in Asia to help these beautiful and enigmatic turtles survive.  EW

© 2007  Evan White
aqualandpetsplus.com

                                                  

3600 Sixth Avenue

Corner of Sixth & Euclid Avenues

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