Painted terrapin (Batagur borneoensis)

Painted terrapin, side view
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Painted terrapin fact file

Painted terrapin description

GenusCallagur (1)

The painted terrapin is an aquatic estuarine turtle and one of the most endangered river turtles in South East Asia (2). Adults show marked sexual dimorphism, with females being larger than males, and both sexes have webbed feet (4). Juveniles are grey all over whilst adults have a more grey/brown carapace (4). During the breeding season the head of the male turns white and a red stripe appears between his eyes (4), these colours have a 'painted' appearance, which explains the common name.

Also known as
Painted batagur, Saw-jawed terrapin, Three-striped batagur.
Callagur borneoensis, Emys borneoensis.
Length: 50 - 70 cm (2)
1.7 kg (2)

Painted terrapin biology

During the breeding season, females migrate down-river and lay eggs on sandy beaches a few kilometres from the mouth of their home river (2). In mangrove swamps, where no beaches occur, the sand banks of the river are used for nest sites (2). Nesting occurs at night at low tide with an average clutch size of 10 to 12 eggs (4) (5).

Painted terrapins are generally herbivorous, feeding on the leaves and fruits of riverside plants (4). Terrapins may crawl onto logs or vegetation mats to bask in the sun (2).


Painted terrapin range

Found in South East Asia in Malaysia, Thailand, Sumatra and Borneo. Painted terrapins are widely distributed in Malaysia, although few large populations remain, and are almost extinct in Thailand (2).


Painted terrapin habitat

Painted terrapins inhabit mangrove swamps and the estuaries of large rivers (5).


Painted terrapin status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Painted terrapin threats

This species is now rare throughout much of its former range, with only one or two rivers home to more than 100 nesting females (2). Painted terrapins are massively exploited for their eggs, which are sold for human consumption in many parts of Asia (5). Terrapin eggs are worth five times as much as chicken eggs, and this species is particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation due to its low egg productivity (2). Habitat destruction is another major source of species decline; sand mining, beach protection and beachfront development all disrupt the breeding habits of the terrapins (2).


Painted terrapin conservation

International trade in painted terrapins is banned by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (1), and protective legislation is also in place in most of Peninsular Malaysia (2). Egg harvesting may only be carried out by licensed collectors who then sell 70 percent of their haul to the Malaysian Fisheries Department to be incubated, thus ensuring the sustainable management of this species (2). Prices offered by the Fisheries Department are however, not competitive with those obtained on the black market and in the majority of cases only a very small percentage of turtle eggs are recovered (2). The enforcement of these schemes is a priority for future conservation action plans, along with the protection of areas where significant populations are known to exist. A decline in the demand for terrapin eggs is the key to saving this species from extinction, but would require a cultural change amongst local communities.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



The top shell of a turtle. In arthropods (insects, crabs etc), the fused head and thorax (the part of the body located near the head) also known as ‘cephalothorax’.
Sexual dimorphism
When males and females of the same species differ in appearance.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2008)
  2. WCMC Species Sheets (March, 2008)
  3. CITES (October, 2002)
  4. Turtles of the World (CD-ROM), by Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (March, 2008)
  5. CITES AC22 doc10.2 (March, 2008)

Image credit

Painted terrapin, side view  
Painted terrapin, side view

© Michel Gunther / Biosphoto

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