The Flowerback Box Turtle Saga
by Julie Fear
My experience with Asian box turtles began approximately 6 months ago when I wandered into a local pet shop looking for bedding for my other various reptilian pets. In a large display case, I saw the most unusual looking turtle that I had ever seen. It was rather large for a box turtle with a cream and black plastron measuring 7" in length. It had a highly domed carapace approximately 5" high. the marginal scutes were dark brown with black mottling. The pleural or costal scutes were cream and the vertebral scutes were also brown. The oddest feature of the turtle was that it had a cream line that ran lengthwise down its carapace. A box turtle, it had the ability to completely enclose itself within its shell. The skin of the animal was a dull yellow color with pinkish undertones. This particular specimen had a mangled back foot that appeared to be an old injury. The animal was being sold as a "Vietnamese flowerpot" for $29.95. I traded the owner of the store three veiled chameleons that I had just hatched for the turtle and a Bells Hingeback tortoise. I took Flowerpot, her new name, home and gave her a long soak, during which she did not defecate.
I did a little research and found that the animal in question was actually a flowerbacked box turtle from S.E. Asia, Cuora galbinifrons. It is the least aquatic of the Asian box turtles. I set Flowerpot up in a large Rubbermaid packing box with Carefresh bedding, a basking lamp, uv lamp, and an under the tank heater. I offered her fresh veggies, which she did not eat. Next I offered her worms which she also did not eat. Over the following months I offered flowerpot every food item conceivable: earthworms, wax worms, pinkie mice, goldfish, reptomin sticks, peanut butter, eggs, veggies, and really smelly canned moist cat food. The smorgasbourd was to no avail, she would not eat.
My husband, a veterinarian, decided that it would be best to keep Flowerpot outside while it was still warm. It was early summer, so we set her up in a 4x4 pen in our shady yard. She might have eaten some cat food, or the food might have been eaten by the local feral cat population. She did, however, seem to be rather active outside, but we were still worried. My husband inserted a pharyngostomy tube and we tube fed Flowerpot babyfood and Gatorade. After about 2 weeks, she ripped out the tube. We hoped that she would eat on her own, but no such luck so we put in a second pharyngostomy tube which she also ripped out. Meanwhile I purchased a pair of C. galbinifrons form a man in Az. I could not discern any sexual dimorphism between the specimens, so I took his word for it. All the turtles were being housed separately on coconut husk bedding that was being kept moist. The ambient room temperature was 75 degrees and I had a humidifier running full blast. The smallest, darkest turtle that the seller had said was the male, was eating and defecating. None of the turtles had internal or external parasites.
A couple weeks later, I was in a small town pet shop and saw a C galbinifrons in a cage marked "tortoise" for $24.95. I bought the animal and received a 10 day live guarrantee! The owner assured me that it was eating, but it was not. I began soaking all the turtles together in a tub of lukewarm water for a couple of hours every other day. They seemed to like this as were quite active in the soak.
I am now housing all the turtles together, working with the hypothesis that the one turtle who is eating will be a good influence on the others. The turtle that I bought in the small town pet shop recently began eating ravenously. This made me very happy. These are very shy turtles that do not come out of their shells often. They are starting to relax a little around me, and now I often find them sitting with their heads and feet out, which is something that would not have happened a couple months ago. Yesterday I actually witnessed one of them eat a big plate full of Whiska canned beef- flavored cat food!!!! These are my experiences with C. galbinifrons, some good, some bad. To anyone keeping this species I would reccomend long soaks, humid environment, earthworms and really smelly moist cat food, preferrably a lowfat variety if the turtle is feeding readily. To anyone who is doing well with these beautiful turtles, please email this site and share your experiences.
Julie's four flowerback box turtles enjoy soaking together in warm water.
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