Malayan Snail-eating Turtle
English name: Malayan Snail-eating Turtle (also known as “Rice Field Terrapin”)
Scientific name: Malayemys subtrijuga is the traditional scientific name. Malayan Snail-eating Turtles from central and Western Thailand, including the Bangkok area, have recently been described as a separate species, Malayemys macrocephala, which can be differentiated by the number of stripes on the head. The two species likely both occur in Bangkok due to individuals imported for food markets, and since they are otherwise similar they will be treated as the same for the purposes of this account.
Description: Up to 21cm long. Has a brown shell with three distinct ridges along the top (see picture). Edge and bottom of shell is yellowish. Head is black with white or yellow lines that curve around the eye on top and bottom.
Similar Species: The Southeast Asian Box Turtle has a domed shell, lacks the triple shell ridges, and has yellow head stripes that go straight across the head both above and into the eye rather than curving around it.
Habitat: This turtle is found in slow-moving bodies of water with muddy bottoms and lots of vegetation, such as marshes, swamps, rice paddies, and irrigation canals. In Bangkok it is most often found in the slow-moving canals of city parks, but I have also found it in the ponds of undeveloped areas.
Contribution to the ecosystem: The Malayan Snail-eating Turtle helps to control snail populations, which form almost its entire diet. It is preyed upon by monitors, and the young can be preyed on by large fish, snakes, and some birds.
Danger to humans: There is a small risk of salmonella contamination if the feces of the turtle reach the mouth of a young child (most often occurs from handling pet turtles). To be safe it is recommended that you wash your hands after handling any turtle. Otherwise these turtles are completely harmless.
Conservation status and threats: The Malayan Snail-eating Turtle is subject to habitat destruction in its native river valleys and is under pressure from collection for food markets and Chinese medicine. While it is still common in Thailand, it is becoming rare in neighboring counties and outside of Thailand it has been assessed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is also listed in CITES Appendix II.
Interesting facts: The Malayan Snail-eating Turtle has a large head and strong jaws, which enables it to crush the shells of snails. Due to its unusual diet, among other factors, the Malayan Snail-eating Turtle tends to do poorly in captivity and does not make a good pet.
Turtles of the World by C.H. Ernst, R.G.M. Altenburg & R.W. Barbour
Nam Kading Research and Training Center: Malayan Snail Eating Turtle
Wikipedia: Malayemys subtrijuga
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Malayemys subtrijuga
The Reptile Database: Malayemys subtrijuga