Chinese Four-Eyed Turtles, genus Sacalia


 The three species currently recognized in this genus (S. bealei, S. quadriocellata, and S. pseudocellata ) were originally considered subspecies of S. bealei.. All have striking looking circular shapes on the top of the head that look like large eyes. There may be two or four of these ocelli. S. bealei , sometimes called "Beale's turtle," usually has two ocelli. S. quadriocellata is the "four-eyed turtle," and S. pseudocellata is called the "false-eyed turtle." Collectively, they are sometimes refered to as Chinese or Asian eyed turtles or four-eyed turtles (regardless of the number of visible ocelli.)

The eyed turtles are small, rarely exceeding 5 inches. The carapace (upper shell) is some shade of brown (yellowish tan to deep chocolate brown) and may have some subtle patterning lines. Though basically brown, the head can be quite colorful, with the yellow or green "eyes," yellow stripes, and pink or red throat. They have webbed feet.

Four-eyed turtles live in ponds and streams, in woodland habitats of southern China. (S. quadriocellata extends into northern Vietnam.) They are found at altitudes varying from approximately 300 to 1200 ft. Because they inhabit mountain streams in rugged areas, they are skilled climbers.

3 views of an adult male Sacalia bealei, photos by Mary Hopson

Males usually have green ocelli while females have yellow.

To create a comfortable vivarium for one turtle, start with a 20 gal. long aquarium (or larger.) Create a land area in 1/4 to 1/3 of the length, with at least 4 - 6" of water in the remaining area. 70 -78 degrees F. should be a comfortable temperature range. Providing a "natural" look with plants, sphagnum moss, wood, etc. may give a newly arrived, stressed turtle a psychological boost. Aquatic plants in the water would also be appreciated as a natural source of food. The tank needs to be rather high and covered to prevent escapes by this talented climber.

Some keepers have noted an inclination toward shell lesions. The organisms which can cause the pitting of "shell rot" are omnipresent, so attention to water quality is very important. If no filtration is used, the water will need to be drained and replaced with fresh tap water every day. An undergravel filter can be used with a small pump such a "powerhead." However, waste and bacteria will collect under the filter even when the water appears clear. With this type of inexpensive set-up, the tank will still need to be syphoned and refilled completely once or twice a week. There are larger canister filters, such as Magnum 350, which will maintain better cleanliness for longer periods. The high quality canister filters can be attached to an undergravel filter for biological filtration. In order to maintain good shell condition, a dry basking area ,with a warming light, is also required. Although highly aquatic, they do bask every day. Click for a habitat example.

As is true for any turtle, Sacalia species would benefit from an outdoor enclosure with a pond. In regions where severe winter weather is unlikely, these turtles could remain outdoors all year. Captive breeding is more likely to be successful under those conditions. These species would certainly benefit from captive breeding, which might prevent the removal of large numbers of eyed turtles from their natural habitat in Asia. There seems to be some evidence that experiencing a cool season and shorter days encourages mating in the spring that follows. Successful breeding indoors may require a close duplication of those seasonal conditions.

Diet in the wild has not been studied. Captive four-eyed turtles do well on an ominvorous diet that includes turtle pellets (Reptomin etc.), crickets, worms, snails, trout chow, aquatic plants, greens and lettuces, and a variety of fruits. It's a good idea to keep cuttlebone available so that the turtle may self-regulate calcium intake. A supplement such as Herptivite may be helpful in maintaining good health, used once a week. However, a highly varied diet with calcium in a separate form (e.g. cuttlebone) should provide all the needed nutrients.

Turtles from Asia are often heavily parasite ridden and ill with shell rot when they arrive in the U.S. and require immediate veterinary care. Following treatment, Asian eyed turtles can thrive in captivity. Some keepers find them shy, but mine is quite responsive to me and takes food from my hands.


A female Sacalia bealei xcan be seen at the British Chelonia Group website.


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.

Iverson, John. 1992. A revised checklist with distribution maps of the turtles of the world. Privately published, Richmond, Indiana.

Iverson, Kiester, Hughes, Kimerling & Sahr. 1998. Turtles of the World website.

Nicol, Ellen. 1998. Four-Eyed Turtles: Sacalia bealei and Sacalia quadriocellata. Reptiles 6 (3) :40-43.

Pritchard, P. C. H. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. TFH Publications, Neptune, New Jersey.

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


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