Cuora amboinensis
Breeding: Why and How

First--it's soapbox time:

In their native lands, Cuoras are being pressured by human encroachment, loss of habitat, use as a source of food and in traditional medicines. Noting this, some folks have rather disingenuously suggested that the solution is to gather up as many turtles as possible and ship them to foreign lands to live out their lives as pets.

When the critters are kidnapped, they are tossed into a sack with many other victims, all panicked and clawing over each other. No attention is paid to their care during shipping, and many die. Others become ill. All are highly stressed. The survivors arrive in pet stores, in poor condition, encountering, all to often, a second round of ignorance and lack of compassion. After purchase, these "pets" often require immediate veterinary care. Many die in their new homes.

This is the reality of the wild captured pet trade.

And yet, Malayan box turtles do make good pets. They are hardy, responsive, active and interesting little creatures. They don't become as large as many of our North American aquatic turtles, i.e. sliders, painteds and cooters, and can be maintained in a good-sized aquarium. And that charming smile is hard to resist!

Many turtle lovers believe the best compromise is in "captive breeding." If enough babies could be produced to supply people with the pets they want, their wild relatives could be spared trauma. Captive breeding is not an easy task. Ideal conditions must be provided the breeding pair, the eggs, and (with a little luck!) the hatchlings. Then, the breeder must care for the babies for several years, because their shells must be 4" long before they can legally be sold as pets. People who provide captive bred animals to the pet trade have invested a great deal of time, resources, and love into this activity. It is certainly worth the effort, however. Captive bred turtles tend to be better pets and have far fewer health problems.

When purchasing, always look for captive bred turtles. If you are looking for a Malayan box turtle, however, you will find them hard to find. Those of us who have Malayans... Let's start breeding!

The breeding pair: First, the obvious--make sure you have a mature male and female. A fully mature male will have a broader, longer tail, and is likely to have a slightly concave plastron. A flat plastron and narrow tail would indicate a female, if the individual is sexually mature. Your boxies should be well established in your home (at least one year) and in perfect health--active and feeding eagerly. The male will signal interest in mating by nipping at the shell or upper neck of the female.
The set-up: A 20 gallon long aquarium is not sufficient for a pair. Provide the largest accomodations you can, and create the tropical rainforest environment described on the Care Sheet. See an example of a 6'X4' breeding vivarium here, and another view here. In addition to the usual swimming area and land area of basking rocks, your female will require a soil area in which to deposit her eggs. This can be made out of a plastic tub which will be filled with 4-6" sterilized potting soil. Some breeders mix the soil with clean sand. A large outdoor enclosure is best for a breeding pair. Of course, the temperature requirements must be maintained.
Pre-breeding conditioning: Simulating a tropical winter is recommended by some breeders. Along the equator, temperatures and sunlight hours do not change much during the winter. The tropical rainforest experiences a dry season, however. As ponds, marshes, and rice paddies dry up, wild C. amboinensis would burrow and estivate during this period of low rainfall. They would not feed regularly. Simulating these conditions in a very large vivarium for a period of 6 weeks or so may encourage mating. Then refill the pond and thoroughly moisten any substrate with the return of "spring." Breeding should take place 2 - 4 weeks after conditions return to normal. Separating the male after the first mating is suggested by some breeders. When the male is reintroduced a few days later, he may be inspired to mate again, improving the chances of fertilization. NOTE: Highly aggressive behavior is sometimes a problem. Aggessive males have been known to injure and even kill the female. Take precautions to protect the female if your male is overly aggressive. Keeping two or more females with a male may be helpful. Providing a very large habitat with hiding places is essential for the safety of the female. Providing the pre-breeding conditioning described above may help the female to be more receptive, thereby protecting her from aggression of a spurned male.
Egg laying: Malayans typically lay one or two eggs per clutch, beginning in April. They may continue to deposit clutches at approximately 2 - 3 week intervals through May and June. They do not generally lay more than four clutches. The 1 1/2" eggs are white, brittle shelled, and elongated in shape.
Incubation: Incubators designed for reptile eggs are available from herpetological supply catalogs (and on the net.) Some are very expensive, designed for professional breeders. However, there are some smaller models for under $50. Successful incubation is also possible with a well tended plastic container.
  The incubator: Reliable incubators can be purchased from herp supply stores. Of you may wish to make one yourself. Prepare a plastic container with a lid. Punch numerous holes in the lid for an air exchange. You will need to find a way to insure reliable heat--perhaps heat tape with a thermostat, available from herp supply stores. Some breeders place the plastic container in a larger box, with towelling under and around the container for added insulation, to insure steady heat. There are instructions for an inexpensive, homemade incubator here.
And some general advice on eggs and incubation.
  Substrate: Vermiculite is a favorite incubation substrate. A layer of spaghum moss is sometimes added. Both of these retain moisture very well. Place approximately 3" of vermiculite with perhaps an inch of moss on top. Spray water to moisten well. High humidity is essential. Substrate must be quite damp, but not in standing water.  
  Temperature: Keep the box heated to 82 to 86 degrees F. (28-30 degrees C.) Incubation temperature seems to determine the sex of the hatchlings in many reptile species. (This has not been verified in Malayans.) Approx. 82 or lower may be expected to produce mostly males. 86 to 90 degrees would possibly result in mostly females. 83 to 85 degrees should result in an even mix of boys and girls.  
The eggs: Remove the eggs from the breeding pair's enclosure. Handle them very carefully and maintain their physical positioning. Gently bury them under a thin layer of vermiculite in the incubator box. (A layer of moss on top is optional.) Check the incubator frequently for temperture. Keep moist but not drenched. Eggs should begin hatching in 70 - 85 days.
Hatchlings!: Hatchlings will be small (less that 2") and somewhat fragile. They will require a shallow water area (no deeper than the length of the carapace) and a small, easily accessable land area. Driftwood or a cork covering on rocks may help protect tiny plastrons. Provide a good reptile light for optimum health. The babies may be subject to growth deformities and soft shell unless excellent nutrition is provided. Offer a wide variety of greens, vegetables and fruits, well chopped. If these are presented in a patè made with low fat, low protein canned cat food (available at veterinary clinics) the little ones may find it palatable. Some breeders depend on commercially prepared foods, such as Reptomin, for their hatchlings (a variety of species.) These "turtle sticks" float on the water and may be quite enticing for an aquatic species. Feed newborns daily. When they are about 4 months old, reduce feedings to three times per week. Once a week, add a calcium/vitamin suppliment if you are using the veggie patè. (More on feeding.)
Turtle tykes: The growing juveniles can be expected to be highly aquatic. The depth of the water will be determined by the approximate length of the carapace. Provide a small land area for basking, and a large water area for diving and playing. Otherwise, care of juveniles will be like that described on the general care sheet.
Good Luck! And please let me know of your successes or failures so that we can all learn from them.

Back to "One Turtle's Tale: The Malayan Box Turtle's Story"

Check these sources for more information.

General Care Sheet

Baby Pix!

A brand-new Cuora amboinensis enters the world.

The Turtle Puddle

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