Heosemys spinosa (Gray, 1831)
The Spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa) is native to Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore and can also be found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. They are listed in Appendix II of CITES and are considered Endangered by the IUCN. They are commonly called ‘Spiny turtles’ because of the shape of their marginal scutes, which are quite sharp when the turtles are young. In fact, these spines are an excellent example of an evolutionary trait developed to discourage predators from eating the turtle during the first few years of their life. As the turtles grow up, the spines disappear. The juveniles also have a very striking radiated pattern on their plastron that fades with age.
It is thought that Spiny Turtles live in wooded habitats where they like to spend time buried in the leaf litter. Amongst the leaves, the color of their shell provides excellent camouflage. This species is very cryptic and we don’t know much about their ecology. They are crepuscular, meaning that they spend their days hiding and come out at night). When foraging at night they feed on invertebrates, fruits, and vegetation.
We have a nice group of adults at the Turtle Conservancy and it seems they like the California climate despite coming from tropical forests that are warm and humid year-round. This species is commonly bred in the United States, which is a good sign for their future and conservation efforts because it allows conservationists to establish good assurance colonies in the event that populations are wiped out in the wild. In California, our assurance colony is growing as we produce hatchlings every year.
Despite conservation efforts, the Spiny turtle is still endangered. There are a number of ways you can help. Even the smallest action can make a difference! For instance, you can reduce your consumption of palm oil. Palm oil production has wiped out much of the forest habitat in Indonesia, seriously threatening the Spiny turtle as well as countless other species. Be sure to check the label on peanut butter and chocolate candies; most major brands, unfortunately, use palm oil. Another way you can help is to not support the illegal wildlife trade by buying animals taken from the wild. There are ways to adopt or purchase captive bred offspring if you feel the need to own exotic turtle species.
Anybody can make a difference!