The spiny turtle gets its name from its spiky-edged carapace (dorsal part of the shell), and it has been described as a ‘walking pin cushion’. The spines probably deter predators such as snakes from attacking juvenile turtles, but as the turtles grow older, the carapace is worn down and becomes much smoother.
Spiny turtles live around shallow streams in the mountainous rainforests of south-east Asia, where their camouflage colours help them to hide in the leaf litter. Unfortunately this has not prevented huge numbers of turtles being caught for the food and pet trades, and in Indonesia the species is considered Critically Endangered, while populations elsewhere are also under threat. Over much of its range it seems to occur only in small, isolated populations.
The turtles have complex requirements that are still poorly understood. Successful reproduction seems to need a stress-free environment, and very high quality nutrition. Females lay 1-2 eggs in a clutch, and as they are relatively large, a hinge in the plastron (the underside of the shell) is present to make laying easier.
Spiny turtles have a low reproductive rate and although regularly kept in captivity, have only rarely reproduced under captive conditions. Durrell received some confiscated wild-caught animals in the early 1990s, and after breeding them for the first time in Europe in 2004, we have now bred this species for several consecutive years.
We will be sending some of our offspring to other institutions and husbandry guidelines have been written to support the European Studbook for spiny turtles.