Spiny Turtle, Heosemys spinosa

Also known as the "cog-wheel turtle," the Heosemys spinosa is a very distinctive turtle. It has a sharp point on each marginal scute of the carapace and several more along the keel. There are smaller spines on the pleural scutes, creating the effect of a walking pin cushion. Adults may lose of the spines along the keel and pleural scutes. The carapace is brown with a lighter stripe down the center. The underside of the marginals and the plastron are buff colored with dark radiating stripes on each scute. The head may be brown or gray with a yellow spot on each side. The legs are gray with yellow speckling. The feet are slightly webbed. A medium sized turtle, the spiny turtle is about 9 inches long in adulthood.

The spiny turtle lives in wooded mountain streams, but does spend considerable time on land foraging, or burrowed under plants and leaves. They range through southern Burma, southern Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra and several Indonesian islands.

To create a comfortable vivarium for juvenile H. spinosa , start with a 20 gallon long aquarium (or larger.) Add 2 - 6 inches of water, and build a good sized land area with flat rocks and leaf litter in at least half of the area. Many keepers find that they prefer to spend most of the time on land, buried in leaf litter. They are most comfortable at 70 - 80 degrees F. so a heater may not be required. They require high humidity. Plants and sphagnum moss in the land area will help maintain the humidity. These turtles walk about on land and may occasionally bask, so a reptile light and possibly a low wattage basking light should be provided. They do seem to avoid warm lights though. If no filtration system is used, the water must be syphoned and replaced two or three times each week. A variety of filtration options is available in aquarium stores.

Spiny turtles are primarily herbivorous. A healthy salad for this species might consist of red lettuce, dandelion, tomato, blueberry, and cantaloupe chopped up together and lightly sprinkled with a suppliment such as Rep-Cal. Some specimens remain entirely herbivorous while other accept the occasional earthworm or slug. Aquatic plants, available at an aquarium store, may be appreciated.

Turtles from Asia are often parasite ridden when they arrive in the U.S. and require immediate veterinary care. Like many other species, Heosemys spinosa would benefit from captive breeding programs which might prevent the removal of large numbers of spiny turtles from the wilds.


Ernst, C. H. and Barbour, R. W. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

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.

Lim Boo Liat & Das, Indraneil. 1999. Turtles of Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. Natural History Publications (Borneo)

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

Wirot Nutaphand. 1979. The Turtles of Thailand. Siamfarm Zoological Garden, Bankok, Thailand.

More information on the net:

Caresheet with photos:
Photo and additional information.
Two more photos here.

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

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