3 keeled box turtle xl
This is the Remarkable Keeled Box Turtle main picture
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The keeled box turtle is native to Asia, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see them in the United States! This is all about the remarkable keeled box turtle!

About the Keeled Box Turtle

Also known as the keel-backed terrapin and jagged-shelled turtle, the keeled box turtle is native to parts of tropical Asia, most notably;

  • China
  • India
  • Laos
  • Burma
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Bhutan

This turtle’s name derives from the three ridges or keels that are raised alongside its upper shell.

What makes the keeled box turtle largely different from its other cousins is that it is a mostly nocturnal animal that will burrow into the dirt during the day and come out to forage at night.

Common Name: Keeled Box Turtle

Type of Eater: Mostly herbivore

Size and Weight: Up to 18 cm

Distribution: China, India, Laos, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand

Unique Features: Raised ridges alongside upper shell

In captivity, however, they will often gradually become diurnal. This means that they will sleep at night and be active during the day.

Unfortunately, not much is known about this species of turtle, and that which is known comes from research done to captive keeled box turtles.

Something that is quite interesting however is the intense aggressiveness that is displayed by males during courtship and mating.

Whereas many times male turtles can be quite aggressive, biting and chasing females around, the keeled box turtle oftentimes takes it too far, sometimes seriously injuring females until they relent and give in to the male’s advances.

Physical Characteristics

The jagged shell turtle is mostly brownish in overall color and is distinguishable by its box-like shell that has several serrated keels, or raised ridges, alongside its upper and lower portions.

The lower shell is usually a lighter brown or yellow, with streaks and smudges of darker browns and blacks.

Their heads are often times grey or brown with various-colored streaks shooting down alongside their heads and necks.

The noses of these cute turtles are stout and resemble slits. And their legs? They are often club-shaped and look a little awkward, with their front-legs often covered in large scales.

Unlike many other freshwater turtles, their legs are only partially webbed. This is probably because the keeled box turtle is much more terrestrial than aquatic.

An easy way to distinguish the males and females is to look at their eyes; males will have brown or black irises and the females, orange or red. Male jagged shell turtles will also have a longer, thicker tail.

Distribution And Habitat

Keeled box turtles are native to the hotter, wetter parts of Asia, in particular; China, India, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Bhutan and Vietnam.

Preferring solid earth to water, these turtles can often be found in hot, densely wooded forests under mounds of leaves, or hidden in between rocky crevices around mountains.

Due to increased urban development and animal trade, the keeled box turtle has come under intense pressure.


Mostly herbivorous, the keeled box turtle prefers to munch on various plants and fruits in the wild, especially if they can get their claws on things like fallen apples.

Although they prefer plants and fruits, they also enjoy eating things such as crickets, carrion, insects, smaller fish, snails, earthworms and pink mice.

Proper Housing And Care

As the keeled box turtle is a tropical species of turtle, these animals always need to be kept in a warm environment.

They are unable to survive in colder climates and colder winters outdoors, and will quickly develop respiratory infections if they are not properly heated.

Although they are more terrestrial than aquatic, a decent amount of water in any tank is a necessity, generally at least 10 gallons per inch of shell.

These turtles do not enjoy basking, as much as say, the common red-eared slider, so be careful of putting different species together in the same tank.

Also be careful to note whether you have a male or female (look at the eyes and tail) if you have two or more, as it is not uncommon for males to fatally maim females during courtship.

Although in the wild the keeled box turtle is nocturnal, they naturally become diurnal during captivity.

If you wish to ensure that they remain nocturnal, try installing night viewing bulbs in the tank, as well as ensure that they have enough dirt, leaves and other foraging material to bury themselves during the day.

As long as you keep this turtle in a proper, heated (+75 F) environment that is large enough and has access to water, and a light source (natural or UV), they can prove to be good pets.

If you are unsure of what particular UV light-bulb is needed, I would recommend checking out this really simple article I wrote on the subject. I have wasted probably hundreds of dollars on poor quality lights, and would rather you avoid the same mistakes I have made.


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