Geoemyda spengleri, also known as Vietnamese Leaf Turtle,
Black-breasted Leaf Turtle, Chinese Leaf Turtle, Vietnamese wood turtle
or Spengler's turtle, is one of the smallest turtles, seldom exceeding 4.5
inches in straight carapace length. The carapace (upper shell) has marginal
serrations front and rear, and three keels. It is brown, tan, chestnut or
mahogany in color. The plastron (lower shell) is dark brown or black ringed
with cream or yellow. The head is olive or brown with some mottling. Females
sport a yellow/cream stripe on each side of the head. There is sometimes
additional light colored speckling. The skin is brown, dappled with other
colors, such as orange, olive, or tan. The feet are partially webbed. G.
spengleri has unusual eyes that are large and protruding, with white
Spengleri are often found at higher elevations. According to some sources with contacts in Asia, spengleri have been seen in northern Vietnam, living on a limestone mountainside that has spring water trickling over it. The Pritchard expedition several years ago saw some in the highlands of central Hainan Island, China. They were found in the undergrowth along forest trails by local tribal villagers.
The species seems to prefer relatively cool temperatures and low light
levels. They are primarily terrestrial in nature, but will enter water to
drink, soak and defecate. These turtles enjoy burrowing and should be provided
with a substrate that will accomodate that preference. A comfortable vivarium
for this little turtle will be as large as possible and kept at room temperature.
It will include a removable, easily cleaned pool, and a larger land area
with some combination of sterile potting soil, sphagnum moss, leaves and/or
bark litter (but never cedar chips because they can be toxic.) This species
seems to prefer to have plants to hide and burrow under. A hide box of some
type may also be appreciated. A full-spectrum reptile light should be provided.
A separate basking light is unneeded as this species does not appear seek
out the warmth of a basking light, but is more inclined to sun itself in
cool conditions. It is important to maintain high humidity as dry air conditions
can lead to eye and respiratory infections. This can be accomplished by
misting the sphagnum moss and watering the plants in the vivarium daily.
Once they are healthy and acclimated to captivity, these little leaf
turtles can be excellent pets. They become tame and responsive to their
keepers. A large habitat is always preferred, and is absolutely necessary
for a breeding pair. However, one individual could live comfortably in a
20 gallon long terrarium setup something like this:
Bartlett, R. D. & Bartlett, Patricia P. 1996. Turtles and Tortoises: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY.
Buskirk, James. 1993. Captive Propagation and Husbandry of the Vietnamese
Leaf Turtle (Geoemyda spengleri.) The Vivarium, Vol. 5 No. 3.
DeVosjoli, Philippe. 1999. Notes on Establishing and Breeding the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle (Geomyda spengleri.) The Vivarium, Vol. 10 No. 1.
Ernst, C. H. and Barbour, R. W. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
Gurley, Russ. 1998. Captive Care of Geoemyda spengleri, the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle. Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group, Article of the Month.
Highfield, A. C. 1996. Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Carapace Press, London, England.
Iverson, John. 1992. A revised checklist with distribution maps of the turtles of the world. Privately published, Richmond, Indiana.
© 1997 Mary Hopson, Anchorage, AK