Platysternidae – Big-headed turtle

Heads so large that cannot even be withdrawn into the shells

A unique lineage of reptiles that have roamed the Earth for millions of years, remaining relatively unchanged in form. These turtles are native to Southeast Asia and found in the lowland marshes and waterways of China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The big-headed turtle is aptly named for its disproportionately large head, which cannot be retracted into its shell. The head is flattened and triangular with a strong jaw and a large, hawk-like beak, a distinctive feature setting them apart from other turtle species. Their shell coloration ranges from yellow to brown, providing camouflage within their natural forest stream habitats.

Adult big-headed turtles are omnivorous. Their diet consists of vegetation, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, and, on occasion, carrion. The powerful jaws and sharp beaks are well-suited for crushing the shells of mollusks or tearing apart their food, demonstrating their adaptability as opportunistic feeders.

Unfortunately, the big-headed turtle is increasingly becoming rare, and it is locally extinct in some areas. This decline is mainly due to habitat destruction, over-collection for the pet trade, and hunting for food. The turtles’ slow reproductive rate further complicates their recovery from these threats. Surveys over the last decade have suggested that Hong Kong may harbor the only significant remaining wild population, highlighting the critical conservation status of this species.