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Related Articles:

Flowerback Box Turtle - Care (Cuora galbinifrons)  – Sharon Chancellor

Cuora galbinifrons: A humbling experience - Sharon Chancellor

Differentiating Cuora galbinifrons subspecies - Chris Tabaka DVM

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Differentiating Male and Female Cuora galbinifrons (Flowerback Box Turtle) - Chris Tabaka DVM and Sharon Chancellor, MT

Cuora galbinifrons Update - Sharon Chancellor

A lot has happened since I wrote my previous article for the last news-letter. I have continued to have ups and downs with the Flowerback box turtles in my care. Here are some things that have taken place. While I have lost three more to various ailments, I have also acquired five more. The treatment regimen has been fine-tuned and I find it a lot less stressful than I did a year-and-a-half ago!

Last year I had a very difficult time maintaining humidity in the turtle building and hydration in the turtles. Over the winter I spent some time experimenting with different substrates. I tried coco peat and leaf litter, plain leaf litter, potting soil and minibark, just plain water at around a one-inch depth with an area for hauling out, and I tried wet green moss as well. Care-fresh® had been the original substrate used, with newsprint replacing that. Well, soil and coco peat stuck to everything and was far too labor intensive to maintain. I got rid of that fast! Leaf litter is good, but doesn't hold moisture. The turtles seemed to appreciate it for cover, though. I stuffed it inside their hide boxes. Bark I still have mixed feelings about. If appropriate sized bark is used it doesn't get stuck in the turtles' shells or pose an ingestion threat. Just keeping them in tilted bins of shallow water with a haul out spot and a hide box does the trick for hydration and humidity, but frequent water changes have to be made and the ambient air temperature has to be high and I had difficulty maintaining the heat level during the coldest part of winter. The turtles would have chilled in the water. I did have very good success using wet green moss and leaving the lid on the bins; I placed a heating pad under one end set on low. This created condensation on the lid of the bin which would then rain onto the turtles. They were incredibly active with this setup. The moss had to be changed a lot! These turtles foul things rapidly. I continued to use this setup until these little black flies hatched out of the moss and my quarantine room was buzzing with them. Despite the fact that I had lids on the enclosures, the flies would go from bin to bin and my quarantine was totally broken down. As a microbiologist, I was having a fit! I had to strip out everything and start over. Out with the moss and in came the Carefresh® again. This stuff is fairly good for quarantine. It holds moisture very well and is cheaper than green moss, at least here in California anyway! Ultimately, the "rain chamber" method worked very well for the little subadults. I could buy bins that were long and low and easy for me to handle when cleaning, etc. The adult turtles wound up with hide boxes made out of small Rubbermaid® bins with one end cut out and the lid left in place. I filled the hide box with wet Carefresh® and leaf litter and it maintained a really humid area. The rest of the enclosure remained lined with thick layers of newsprint. The large turtles have quite an affinity for hide boxes and spend most of their time inside them. I also added a warm air humidifier that has a 48-hour cycle. This helped increase the humidity, but required a great deal of demineralizing as we have incredibly hard water here in Northern California. During all this changing and experimenting, the turtles didn't become unduly stressed. They continued to have a good appetite and /or developed an appetite for the first time while in my care. I had a pretty good winter!

Once the weather started warming up I had to really get on the ball and decide what to do about outdoor enclosures. I was very lucky to be able to acquire a small yet very nice greenhouse. I purchased a one-piece molded fiberglass unit that has automatic roof vents. Just two days after I had it installed I had moved a few turtles in it and what a difference! The humidity maintenance in a greenhouse can't be beat. I just mist things down every day and the turtles are very active. I am so relieved! I have put plants inside  and benches will be built to easily house different levels of bins so that I can overwinter the crew in the greenhouse. I will still need a 1500-Watt heater on the coldest winter nights, but the amount of heat lost will be little as compared to the turtle building I have been trying to maintain. I am already thinking of getting another one next year, of course I need to see how it performs this winter.

My outdoor enclosures are almost complete. I have built them taking into consideration that these turtles are incredible climbers! So good are they that I had several escapes among a new batch of four adults that I received in February. Fortunately they were in the house and not outside yet. I had one female push off the lid of the enclosure that I strapped down with bungee cords that were so taut that I barely got them hooked under the edge of the bin. She is so strong and tank-like that she just pushed her way out. I was humbled yet again! I have been slowly introducing the turtles to the great outdoors by moving them, bin and all, into an eighteen foot "cold frame" that has 2/3 opaque and 1/3 clear plastic lids. This way, the only thing changing is where their bin is and the fact that they can see sky and speckled sunlight coming through. It seems that this is enough to stress the little buggers out. Almost every turtle has broken out with diarrhea. Some completely lose their minds and tear up the substrate in addition to their bowel problems. Still others go off all food. I have one old lady here who just ate after a three-week hunger strike. I make sure every turtle remains well hydrated. Ignoring diarrhea can kill a turtle-yet jumping in with antibiotics or antiparasitics may not be a good idea, either. I simply watched things and plopped turtles into water bowls everyday. Most of the turtles have recovered and are eating me out of house and home. It will be interesting to see how things go when I move them into the outdoor enclosures with real dirt and real plants and a bigger piece of sky to look at!

A few other developments have occurred since I started keeping C. galbinifrons. One of the animals that was necropsied last year had a lesion in his esophagus. It was reported as having "herpes-like" occlusions within the cells of the tissue. This led me to the thought that herpes just might be another factor in the difficulty of keeping galbinifrons in captivity. I decided to have blood samples drawn on the deceased turtle's quarantine mates and sent off the the University of Florida for Herpes screening. The test is called and ELISA (Enzymed Linked Immuno-Sorbant Assay) and can detect the presence of antibodies produced by a turtle to certain strains of the herpes virus (one European strain and one US strain). The results were interesting! One turtle tested negative, her roommate tested positive to one of two strains used in the test wells, and the third turtle tested positive to both strains. What does this mean? Nothing at this point! The assay has only been validated for the genus Testudo and can not be interpreted for Cuora. Further examination of the tissue sample from the deceased turtle via electron microscopy revealed that the inclusions in the tissue cells were not viral at all, but rather bacterial in nature. Again, what does this mean? No one knows- yet! More questions! I am patient, though, and hope that answers will be pursued and that this will in turn help improve our ability to acclimate, maintain, and get reproduction out of turtles that are so threatened in the wild, and have such a notorious reputation for being difficult to keep in captivity. Plans for the future are to continue and acquire animals until I get all the turtles at minimum paired up, and, with luck, set up in groups of one male to three females. I am not going to hold my breath on reproduction, but this is a hopeful goal at the end of what will be a long road.
I intend to continue developing my yard into "galbinifronsville"! Just please don't tell my husband! I have a lot to learn about these turtles and I am sure things will stay interesting, to say the least.

World Chelonian Trust

PO Box 1445

Vacaville, CA


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