Big-headed turtle

They have heads so large that they cannot even be withdrawn into the shells

Zolw_wielkoglowy

This turtle is a testament to evolutionary resilience, being one of the most distinct and ancient turtle species. It is indigenous to Southeast Asia, specifically inhabiting the lowland streams, marshes, and waterways of China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Its adaptation to these varied aquatic environments reflects the species’ remarkable capacity for survival across millennia.

Characterized by an unusually large, flattened, and triangular head, the big-headed turtle is easily distinguishable from other species. The head, which cannot be retracted into the shell due to its size, is a striking yellow to brown color and houses powerful jaws and a pronounced beak. These formidable tools are not just for show; they enable the turtle to feed on a diet that includes a mix of vegetation and protein sources such as mollusks and crustaceans. It can also opportunistically scavenge, consuming carrion when available.

Despite their robust appearance and strong jaws, big-headed turtles are suffering from the impact of human activities. Over the last decade, surveys have pointed to a dramatic decline in populations across their native range, with Hong Kong emerging as one of the few places where significant numbers can still be found in the wild. This decline is attributed to a combination of factors, including habitat destruction, pollution, and, particularly, overexploitation for the pet trade and traditional medicine.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Cambodia
2018
China
2018
Laos
2018
Myanmar
2018
Thailand
2018
Vietnam
2018

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No