Scientific Name: Platysternon megacephalum
The most striking characteristic of this moderately sized turtle is its head, which is very large and triangular. Because the head is so large, it cannot be drawn into the turtle's shell. This results in more vulnerability, which the Big-Headed Turtle has made up for in other ways. A horny scute, which resembles that on the carapace and plastron, covers the top and sides of the Big-Headed Turtle's head. They also have a very hard skull, made of solid bone. The jaws are also protected by a horny shell, and the beak is wide and sharp. The only unprotected area on the Big-Headed Turtle's head is a narrow strip on the cheeks that stretches from the eyes to the mouth. While the eyes appear recessed because of the horny protection around them, this is only an illusion. The eyes are golden and sometimes have a horizontal brown bar through the iris. The Big-Headed Turtle has a rectangular carapace that is square in front, rounded and almost serrated in back. It is fairly flat, and the yellow plastron is hingeless. The carapace comes in a variety of shades between dark brown and yellow and often has a dark pattern. The Big-Headed Turtle's toes have strong, sharp claws and slightly webbed toes.
It is necessary to handle the Big-Headed Turtle with care and respect. While usually nonaggressive, if threatened they will bite and scratch.
A semi-aquatic turtle, the captive Big-Headed Turtle will be most content if kept in an enclosure with both land and water. Because they are not good swimmers, the water section should not be overly deep. Because they are such able climbers, the top of the enclosure should be screened and the enclosure should be both as tall and as wide as possible. The land area must have sufficient substrate for egg deposition, if breeding is desired.
While primarily nocturnal, the Big-Headed Turtle should be provided with a full spectrum light source for about 12 hours a day. The water temperature should range between 53 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, or 12 to 23 degrees Celsius.
In captivity, the Big-Headed Turtle will eat almost any meat, fish, and insects as well as commercial turtle-food. While capable of hunting and capturing food on land, they should be fed in the water, as they will usually take their food to the water to eat it, anyway.
It is very difficult to sex Big-Headed Turtles. The male's plastron is often more concave with the vent under the edge of the carapace. The breeding habits are almost entirely unknown. They lay 1 or 2 white oval eggs that resemble bird eggs. The eggs are usually about 37mm by 22mm. It is unknown what the incubation time is. The juvenile turtles are brighter than their parents. The tail is longer as well.
Southeastern Asia, ranging from Burma in the southwestern part of the region to southern China in the northeast.
The Big-Headed Turtle is an interesting, unique turtle native to Southeastern Asia. They are relatively easy to care for in captivity and, with their docile temperament and unique appearance, can make excellent pets.
The uniqueness of the Big-Headed Turtle has resulted in its being a monotypic turtle, meaning that it has its own family. It was once thought, to be closely related to the Snapping Turtle, but further research has resulted in it being placed in its own group, the Platysternidae. While capable of hunting in both land and water, the Big-Headed Turtle prefers living in mountain streams where the water flows fast and there are plenty of rocks and boulders. While the ambient temperature of the air in the regions of Africa in which the Big-Headed Turtle lives, are fairly warm, being tropical or semi-tropical, the water temperature of the streams can be as cold as 12 degrees Celsius, or 53 degrees Fahrenheit. The Big-Headed Turtle has a fairly long lifespan in captivity. While the exact age is unknown, as few Big-Headed Turtles have been bred in captivity, some specimens have lived as long as 27 years in captivity, in addition to however long they lived in the wild. In captivity, Big-Headed Turtles are capable of adapting quickly to new routines, such as feeding. This demonstrates an innate intelligence. They are moderately curious and will explore their surroundings. Also, unlike many turtles, the Big-Headed Turtle notices glass walls and usually recognizes them as walls. In the wild, Big-Headed Turtles spend much of their time in the water or hiding in burrows or crevices. They venture out in the evening to hunt along the sides of the stream. Although the Big-Headed Turtle spends much of its time in water, it is not very adept at swimming. Instead, it is very good at walking and climbing, characteristics that make it capable of clinging to rocks in the fast moving water. They are exceptionally good at climbing, in part because they have a reduced bridge between the carapace and plastron that results in their being able to move their feet and legs more than other turtles. Their center of gravity is situated more forward because of the size of their head, and they are thought to use their tails and beaks as climbing aids.
The Big-Headed Turtle, while not particularly rare in the wild is uncommon in captivity. Most Big-Headed Turtles available for purchase are wild-caught from their native habitat. Big-Headed Turtles are native to southeastern Asia, ranging from Burma in the southwestern part of the region to southern China in the northeast.