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The Big Headed Turtle's scientific name, Platysternon
megacephalum, means "Big-headed, Flat-chested Turtle", and
it fits its name. It most resembles the snapping turtles
physically, and the old world pond turtles Batagurine
genetically, but it is different enough from all other
living turtles that it has its own family. It is the sole
member of its family Platysternidae. There are a number of
subspecies of Platysternon megacephalum turtles, but
scientists are still deciding which turtles belong in this
species, so we won't go into them here.

All the Platysternon megacephalum family are found only in
Southeast Asia, but they are found in nearly all parts of
Southeast Asia, in China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and
Vietnam. All the subspecies live at altitudes up to nearly
seven thousand feet (two thousand meters) in fast-watered
mountain streams filled with large rock. Even though many of
the countries in which these turtles are found have tropical
and semi-tropical climates, the mountain streams that make
up the Big Headed Turtle's environment are cool, with
temperatures as low as fifty-four degrees Fahrenheit (twelve

Big Headed Turtles spend their days in the water, burrowing
into the gravel on the stream bottom or hiding under the
boulders. They come out in the evening to feed, walking
about on the stream bottom or climbing along the water
edges. They aren't great swimmers; because they live in such
powerful, fast-moving water, their strong legs and claws and
their amazing climbing skill are more useful to them than
swimming skill would be. They have been seen to use their
claws and beaks to climb trees and bushes!

Big Headed turtles are quite distinctive-looking. Some say
that they look like they were made up of the leftover parts
of other turtles.

When you first see a Big Headed Turtle, the enormous head is
the first thing you notice. The head is triangular, with a
wide neck, and the head can be up to half the width of the
turtle's entire shell. Because its head is so big, the
turtle can't pull its head back into its shell for
protection, but to make up for that, the top and sides of
its head are covered with a strong, thick scute similar to
the scutes on its shell. Its head is also solid bone, unlike
many other turtles which have openings in the top of their
skulls. The beak is wide and strong, and of course the jaws
and beak are also protected by a thick covering. Because of
the big head, many people have thought that the Big Headed
turtle was a member of the snapping turtle family.

The carapace of the Big Headed turtle is squarish, with the
back edge sometimes serrated or notched. The yellowish-brown
to all brown carapace is broad and not very domed; in fact
it looks almost flat in some turtles. The yellow plastron
has no hinge to facilitate pulling in the extremities when
threatened, but is fairly large.

The eyes have golden irises with black pupils, and the iris
sometimes have a brown bar running through them
horizontally. The feet have toes with slight webbing, and
large, strong claws. The legs and the very long, whip like
tail are covered with large scales. The tail is another
distinctive feature of the Big Headed Turtle, as the turtle
has been seen to use its long tail for balance when standing
on the back two legs in the water and on land. They also
sometimes hold their tail up over their bodies when
swimming, making them look something like a large, fat,

Hatchlings are brighter in color and have longer tails in
proportion to their size than their parents have. They also
often have more pronounced serration on the rear of the

These turtles are interesting and unique in both appearance
and habits, fairly hardy and easy to care for in captivity,
and have a good intelligence and a normally docile
temperament. Bear in mind, however, that when threatened
they have been known to bite, and they are very good at it.
They make excellent pets for experienced turtle keepers. To
keep your Big Headed Turtle happy and healthy in captivity,
provide it with a large enclosure (as wide and tall as
possible) with both land and water areas. They don't swim
well, so don't make the water so deep that they can't reach
their nostrils out while standing on the bottom.

Make the land area substrate deep enough for egg laying if
you intend to breed them, and provide edible plants for
shade, shelter and esthetics, and provide secure fencing and
a cover for the pen, keeping in mind that these turtles are
great climbers.

Although they are fairly nocturnal, your Big Headed Turtles
need sunlight or a full-spectrum UVB light source for twelve
or more hours per day. The water temperature for these
turtles should range between fifty-five and seventy-two
degrees Fahrenheit (twelve to twenty-three degrees Celsius).

In the wild, Platysternon megacephalum are almost completely
carnivorous, with their strong beak and jaws allowing them
to easily eat their primary prey of crustaceans and
mollusks. In captivity, Big Headed Turtles will eat nearly
any fish, insect or meat you provide, as well as commercial
turtle food. In the wild, they hunt on both land and water,
but since they take their food to the water to eat it you
should probably feed them in the water in the first place.

Turtles in general and Asian turtles in particular, are
seriously endangered. There isn't much known about breeding
this species yet, and they are popular as food and folk
medicine in their native lands, so if you do breed yours
please contribute your experience to the Internet knowledge-
base. They are hard to find the gender, but you may be able to do it by
looking for the more-indented plastron of the male, as well
as the cloaca being located further out onto the tail. We
also know little about their breeding habits, other than
that the female lays only one or two oval white eggs that
look like bird eggs. The incubation period is also unknown;
maybe you can become a contributor to the science on these

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