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Reeves Turtle (Cropped)
Reeves Turtle walking up the canal in Tsuji, Ritto City, Japan.
Photo by Greg Peterson (CC BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
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Jan. 15, 2021
Reeves' Turtle Care Resources Reeves' Turtle Care Resources Reeves' Turtle Care Resources


The REEVES' TURTLE is also sometimes known as the CHINESE POND TURTLE or the CHINESE THREE-KEELED POND TURTLE. Although considered a single species, different variants can be found in "central and eastern China, as well [as] North and South Korea, Taiwan and Japan."3 Some of these variants hibernate. Some do not. Making matters still more confusing is the fact that this species has been farmed for generations. Some claim this practice dates back to antiquity and traditionally, farmers have not been careful about keeping the variants separate when breeding. Farming is for their meat as well as their plastrons (undershells) which are used for Shang divination rites. In modern times, farming has also extended to the pet trade.

The Reeves' turtle in its native ranges is one of the many species suffering as a result of the Asian Turtle Crisis. The species has been classified as ENDANGERED by the IUCN. As a result, it is illegal to remove these turtles from the wild. Still, because they are farmed in China and captive bred in many other countries, the Reeves turtle can often be legally purchased as a pet. They also sometimes show up at turtle and reptile rescues (USA Rescues) (International Rescues) and can be adopted.

Depending on the care sheet you are consulting, Reeves' turtles are described as either "semi-aquatic" or "semi-terrestrial." Many keepers attempt to keep them as fully aquatic and this can lead to problems because the Reeves' turtle is not a particularly good swimmer. Numerous care sheets warn of drowning. The World Chelonian Trust in their Reeves' Turtle Care Sheet describes this species' wild habitat as encompassing "shallow wetlands and the land that immediately surrounds them." Paul Vander Schouw in his December 4, 2014 Reptiles Magazine Reeves' Turtle Care Sheet further describes this turtle as showing "a preference for slow-moving or still water with soft bottoms, abundant aquatic vegetation and ample basking sites." For best results, many experts recommend simulating this same sort of shallow, slow moving water and nearby dry land when creating the captive habitat.

Regarding the water section, Schouw gives the following advice. The maximum water depth for this species should be "about 3 times the turtle’s shell length" and the minimum "should never be less than about 1½ times the length of the turtle’s shell" because "water that is too shallow presents a potential drowning hazard [since] the turtle may not be able to right itself if it gets turned upside-down." Here's a video by imaginäre Kunstfigu showing shallow but nevertheless varied water depths in the underwater portion of a Reeves' turtle enclosure. Notice, too, the way the turtle is given rocks and other items to climb to the surface to breathe rather than forcing it to swim all the way to the surface.

Keep in mind, though, that in order to truly thrive, this species needs a land section in its enclosure as well. Hatchlings spend most of their time in the water. Older turtles spend some of their time on land. But all need to be able to swim and also to get out of the water and completely dry off from time to time in order to maintain healthy eyes and avoid ear abscesses and skin parasites. This video by Shelled Reptiles shows how to build a proper indoor Reeves' Turtle habitat that has both a water area and a land area. In many parts of the world, Reeves' turtles will need an indoor habitat during the cold time of year. The turtle should have free run of this indoor habitat so that it can choose its own humidity and temperature level as required. Again according to Schouw, the indoor habitat should have water heated between 70° F to 80° F (21° C to 26° C) and ambient air between 75°F to 85° F (24° C to 29° C). The World Chelonian Trust adds that there should be a basking area on the land portion of the enclosure with a UVB source plus a basking lamp that should heat that spot to around 90° F (32° C). There should also be shady areas where the turtle can escape from the light both in and out of the water. The day "cycle" should be at least 12 hours long but the turtles will need a night-time too. To simulate "night," the basking lamp and other lights should be turned off altogether. In winter — and depending on the night-time temperature of the room — an infrared (no visible light) ceramic heat emitter might be needed to keep the air temperature from dropping too low (although a 5° (F) drop in air temperature at night is acceptable according to Schouw).

During the warm season, however, most turtle species do best in a predator-proof outdoor habitat where they can get natural UV from the sun. If you're lucky enough to live in a part of the world with a similar climate to that enjoyed by Reeves' turtles in the wild, the outdoor habitat might be used year-round. In general, the more a captive habitat immitates the species' wild habitat, the more healthy and long-lived the turtle will be. Here's a Kamp Kenan Video showing the perfect land and water, flowing-stream-type outdoor captive habitat for Reeves' turtles. Note; Although Kamp Kenan seems to have no problem mixing species within the same pond and same enclosure, many keepers warn against this because of the possibility of disease transmission from one species to another.

A note regarding hibernation. Both the IUCN/SSC as well as the World Chelonian Trust acknowledge that there is evidence that certain Reeves' turtle variants hibernate in nature. Nevertheless, the World Chelonian Trust warns not to attempt this with a pet without first "knowing precisely the point of origin for the ancestors of your turtle." The reason for this warning is because certain variants certainly don't hibernate and attempting to force them to do it may not end happily. At the time of this writing there was precious little information online on how one ought to hibernate in captivity those Reeves' turtle variants that do in fact, hibernate in nature. Nevertheless, Mae Smith in her California Turtle & Tortoise Club (CTTC) Reeves' Turtle Article states that she hibernates her Reeves' turtles every winter. Here's what she has to say on the subject:

Our Reeves' turtles hibernate in the box-turtle house along with the box, wood and even some of the water turtles. They burrow down into the dirt and wood chips we work into the floor. If they venture out in winter it is usually in the early hours before sunrise.

Below are a few links to videos and care sheets to help you with proper indoor and outdoor enclosures, UV and heating suggestions for indoor setups and of course proper diet, health care and more.

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