There are a variety of Asian Box Turtles which are sometimes sold as pets. Most turtles that are called "Asian box turtles" are of the genus Cuora. (Two are listed under the genus Cistoclemmys by some writers.) It's important to know which one you have as they require different care. Unfortunately, most care sheets on the web lump them all together as if it didn't matter which species you have.
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(One additional species of box turtle, from a different genus-- Pyxidea mouhotii-- can also be called an "Asian box turtle." Wild caught and captive bred Pyxidea are occasionally sold in the pet trade, so general care will be covered in this overview.)

Taxonomy: class Reptilia, order chelonia, family emydidae, subfamily batagurinae, genera: Cuora, Cistoclemmys, Pyxidea

General Care of Asian Box Turtles:
1. Look for "captive bred" animals when purchasing a pet. Wild caught turtles frequently have parasites or other health problems which require immediate veterinary attention. Also, animals taken from the wild are always highly stressed and may be difficult to establish in captivity. There's more on WC vrs. CB on the Malayan box turtle breeding page.
2. All require high humidity. Humidity can be maintained by frequent misting and use of plants and sphagnum moss in terrestrial environments (i.e. for C. galbinifrons.) Keeping the aquarium mostly covered will work well for aquatic species (i.e. C. amboinensis.)
3. All are somewhat omnivorous. C. amboinensis (Malayan box turtles) need more greens (aquatic plants, romaine lettuce, dandelions, fruits, etc.) and other plants with a smaller amount of animal protein. C. trifasciata (Chinese three-striped) is almost exclusively carnivorous. The other three listed here are more omnivorous. But all will benefit from a varied diet, and calcium provided in a separate form (such as cuttlebone). See the individual species' pages.

Quick reference:

Cuora amboinensis--
Malayan box turtle:
The most aquatic and tropical of the box turtles. It has a dark, unmarked shell which may have keels (raised ridges.) The head has three bright yellow stripes on each side. When viewed from above the top stripes form a "V" at the nose. This animal should be kept in a heated aquarium with a landing area and water at least as deep as the width of the turtle's shell. Malayans need to be kept warm and wet. If their basic requirements are met, they are very hardy, active, interesting and responsive pets. Extensive info & pix at this website: One Turtle's Tale: The Malayan Box Turtle's Story.

Cuora (Cistoclemmys) flavomarginata --
Yellow-margined box turtle:
Has a dark carapace with one light stripe (sometimes 3 stripes.) It has a center keel and may have two lateral keels. The stripes would be on the keels and may fade somewhat with age. Yellow stripes runs down the neck from the eye. This Asian box turtle is primarily terrestrial, but readily enters shallow water. This animal ranges further north than amboinensis and into alpine areas (not strictly tropical) and may be maintained in outdoor enclosures in temperate regions.
Photos, info and caresheet on the Chinese (yellow-margined) box turtle.

Cuora (Cistoclemmys) galbinifrous--
Flowerback Box Turtle:
The most terrestrial of the Asian box turtles. It has a shell that resembles inlaid wood, with shades of tan to mohogany to dark brown. A wide variety of patterns is possible but most include a darker area on the vertebral scutes with a cream colored line down the center. It comes from high altitude woodlands of Southeast Asia. It is very shy and difficult to establish in captivity. This turtle requires a large terrarium (or outdoor enclosure) with plants and moss, a small pool for drinking and soaking, a basking light, and lots of peace and quiet.
Photos, info and caresheet on the Indochinese (flowerback) box turtle.

Cuora trifasciata
--Three-striped box turtle:
Brown shell with three black or dark brown stripes. Adults have a blunt vertebral keel and small lateral keels. There is a black-bordered olive-colored stripe which runs from the nose down the side of the head and neck, and a yellow stripe runs down the neck from the mouth. It lives in clear mountain streams and other temperate or alpine semi-aquatic situations. More aquatic than the two species above, the three-striped boxie will appreciate a pool area large enough for wading and maybe some swimming. They often prefer to eat earthworms, feeder fish, etc. in the water. A basking light should be provided and enough land area to walk around. This species is quite rare in the wild, but is being captive bred in the US and elsewhere. Other names: Three-banded box turtle, Three-lined box turtle, Chinese three-striped box turtle.
Photo, info and caresheet on the Three-striped box turtle.

Keeled box turtle (Pyxidea mouhotii): This Asian box turtle has a brown shell with 1 large keel in the center and 2 smaller keels laterally. The carapace has pointed serrations on the rear and sometimes on the front, giving this box turtle its other common name, "jagged shell box turtle."
Click forPyxidea mouhotii caresheet.

Other Asian box turtles: A website on chelonian taxonomy and distribution, Turtles of the World, by John Iverson and others, currently lists four additional Cuora species: aurocapitata, mccordi, pani, and yunnanensis. These are rare and coveted specimens for collections and breeding. C. yunnanensis is now exceedingly rare, or possibly extinct. Several expeditions to Yunnan and Guangxi provinces have turned up no additional specimens. It should be noted that there are errors in identification of Cuora species in Ernst & Barbour (referenced below.) The plate 9 photo labeled Cuora pani is actually C. aurocapitata; the photo labeled C. chriskarannarum is C. pani. (Information and photos provided by Mighty J.)

Cuora pani, 3 views, above and below.

Cuora aurocapitata

(Note: 2 figures of C. aurocapitata from 2 different specimens)

Cuora McCordi


Bartlett, R. D. & Bartlett, Patricia P. 1996. Turtles and Tortoises: a complete pet owner's manual. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY.

Das, Indraneil.1991. Colour guide to the Turtles and Tortoises of the Indian Subcontinent. R & A Publishing Co., Avon, England.

deVosjoli, Philippe & Klingenberg, Roger. 1995. The Box Turtle Manual. Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc., Lakeside, CA.

Ernst, Carl H. & Barbour, Roger W. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Hall, Georgiana. 1995. Asian Box Turtles . Reptile & Amphibian Magazine, May/June: 110-116.

Iverson, John. 1992. A revised checklist with distribution maps of the turtles of the world. Privately published, Richmond, Indiana. (A wealth of information, available from Natural History Books, P. O. Box 1004, Cottonwood, AZ 86326. 373 pp.)

A special note about Asian turtles: Many Asian species are in jeopardy because of loss of habitat and very heavy use as food and in medicines, e.g. aphrodisiacs. Learn more about this and find out what you can do here:
Turtles in Crisis: The Asian Food Markets, by James E. Barzyk.

The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society has assembled an extensive collection of articles and information on the topic at their website: The Asian Turtle Crisis

Malayan Box Turtle Website

Flowerback Box Turtle page

Yellow-margined Box Turtle page

Three-striped Box Turtle page

Keeled Box Turtle caresheet

Some Other Turtles from Asia: Asian Leaf Turtles

The Turtle Puddle