Cuora trifasciata

(Bell, 1825)
Chinese three-striped box turtle

The carapace (to 20.3 cm) is elongated, low arched, widest behind the middle, and smooth edged posteriorly (although a shallow medial notch is present). There may be a slight concavity at the seam between the first two pleurals. Adults have a low, blunt vertebral keel and indications of lateral keels. Vertebral 1 is wider anteriorly than posteriorly. The carapace is brown with well-marked black stripes along each keel and, in some individuals, dark seams. The dark vertebral stripe is longer than those on the lateral keels, which only extend along the first three pleurals. Schmidt (1927b) has reported that the dorsolateral black stripes are absent in juveniles and first appear in turtles of about 10 cm. The flat plastron is well-developed, but the hindlobe is not extensive enough to completely hide the hindlimbs. Also, the anal scutes have a wide posterior notch at the midline. The hinge first appears in specimens between 9 and 10 cm in length. The plastral formula is: pect >< abd > an > gul > fem > hum. The plastron is dark brown to black with a yellow lateral border extending from the pectoral to the anals. Some light radiations usually occur along the seams, and Schmidt (1927b) reported that the central part of the plastron may become yellow with rays of black pigment in adults. Undersides of the marginals are bright orange to pinkish yellow to bright yellow with large black spots on at least the anteriormost marginals. The head is narrow and pointed with a slightly projected snout and the upper jaw only slightly hooked. Ground color of the head is olive dorsally, but black laterally. An olive-colored, black-bordered stripe runs backward from the nostril through the orbit; behind this is a wide, black-bordered spot. The upper jaw is yellow, and a yellow stripe extends from the corner of the mouth through the tympanum to the side of the neck. Lower jaw and chin are yellow. Top and sides of the neck are olive and covered with small scales; ventrally there is a wide orange or pinkish yellow medial stripe. Limb sockets and undersides of the limbs are bright orange or pinkish yellow. Exposed limb surfaces are olive or brown. The front of each foreleg is covered with large horizontal scales, that of the hindlimb has small scales. There are enlarged scales along the heel. The top of the tail is olive with two black stripes; orange pigment occurs on the sides and bottom of the tail. The contrasting bright color pattern of Cuora trifasciata makes it one of the more attractive of all turtles.
C. trifasciata has 52 chromosomes; 28 macrochromosomes (18 metacentric or submetacentric; 10 telocentric or subtelocentric) and 24 microchromosomes (Carr and Bickham, 1986).
The male plastron is not very concave, but the tail is longer, thicker at the base, and has the vent beyond the posterior margin of the carapace.

Cuora trifasciata is known from northern Vietnam and southern China: Aomen, Fujian, Guangxi, Kwantung, Hainan Island, and Hong Kong; possibly also in northern Myanmar.

Mell (1922) collected Cuora trifasciata in clear mountain streams at elevations of 50 to 400 m in southern Guangdong, but it probably occurs in other aquatic situations. Captives frequently bask and are often quite terrestrial, so this species probably spends much time on land.

Natural History
In captivity, courtship takes place throughout the year, with a peak in spring; it has been described as violent and aggressive (Harding, 1989; Carl H. Ernst, pers. obs.). Harding (1989) observed that courtship activity normally was initiated by the male extending and lowering his head and swaying it back and forth in a horizontal arc, with the female sometimes responding by similar swaying or, more often, by leaving the water to escape. The male also simply pursued the female, biting her shell and neck. He mounted her by clasping the rear of her carapace with his hindclaws, and with his neck extended downward, he firmly pressed his chin on the female's withdrawn head. After several minutes, during which the female had tried to struggle free, he bit her neck and held her skin while attempting to drop backward into copulatory position. However, the female finally managed to struggle free and the male was removed from the tank by the observer. The bites of the male appeared to have caused a significant wound on the neck skin of the female.
Nesting occurs in May, and two brittle, white, elongated (48-50 x 26-27 mm) to tapered eggs are laid at one time. Hatchlings have carapace lengths of about 40 mm.
Cuora trifasciata is carnivorous, feeding on a diverse assortment of animals ranging from earthworms and crabs to fishes. Captives do well on a fish diet.

IUCN Red List Status (1996)
Endangered (A2d).