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 The Keeled Box Turtle

Pyxidea mouhotii


Pyxidea mouhoti keeled box turtle jagged shell turtle thorn turtle
Also known as the "Vietnamese box turtle," "jagged-shell box turtle," "sawback box turtle" or "thorn turtle," this box turtle has an upper shell (carapace) that is serrated at the rear, and occasional slightly serrated at the front as well. It has three well developed keels (raised ridges.) Overall, it is brownish in color, ranging from tan to mahogony to dark brown. The lower shell (plastron) is also tan or brown, and may have a dark brown smudge on each scute. As a box turtle, it has one plastral hinge which allows it to close up. There is a small but distrinct bridge on each side, connecting the carapace and plastron. Youngsters are quite flat, resembling the Asian leaf turtles, while adults become more domed in shape. A small turtle, it can reach a maximum of 7 inches.

Pyxidea range from Hainan Island in China, through Vietnam, northern Thailand and Burma. It inhabits mountainous terrain and forests. It is primarily terrestrial.

In captivity, Pyxidea mouhotii does well in a vivarium with a substrate of leaf litter, sphagnum moss, and bark. (Cedar or pine woodchips should never be used as a turtle vivarium substrate, as either can cause illness.) A small, shallow pool should be provided for drinking and soaking. It prefers a vivarium that includes an area with plants. These turtles seldom bask, but a low wattage basking light should be provided. Temperatures should be between 72 and 85 degrees F. High humidity should be maintained by frequent misting or other means. Ideal humidity is between 75 - 95%.

Primarily herbivorous, keeled box turtles eat a wide variety of vegetation in the natural environment, with a preference for wild fallen fruits. They also eat some worms, snails and other meats. A varied diet using a variety of plants, and a smaller amount animal matter, should keep this species happy and healthy. Keep a cuttlebone or other form of calcium available in the habitat.

What the keeled box turtle lacks in bright coloration is more than compensated in personality. With appropriate care, it quickly becomes a tame, responsive, active and agile pet.
Pyxidea mohouti keeled box turtle thorn turtle keeled box turtle Pyxidea mouhoti photo picture caresheet

Photos left and above provided by Marian Briones



Bartlett, R. D. & Bartlett, Patricia P. 1996. Turtles and Tortoises: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY.

Ernst, C. H. and Barbour, R. W. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Highfield, A. C. 1996. Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Carapace Press, London, England.

Click here for additional taxonomy and reference information.

© Mary Hopson, Anchorage, AK
This information sheet may be freely copied and distributed.