Chinese three-striped box turtle (Cuora trifasciata)

Dorsal view of a Chinese three-striped box turtle
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Chinese three-striped box turtle fact file

Chinese three-striped box turtle description

GenusCuora (1)

The contrasting bright colour pattern of the Chinese three-striped box turtle makes it one of the most attractive of all turtles (4). The long, flat carapace is brown and characterised by having three distinct black longitudinal stripes, for which the species earns its common name (5). The plastron is almost entirely black, but has a partially yellow border, and the underside of the marginals is bright pinkish-orange, with some small dark blotches (2) (5). The head is narrow and pointed, and exhibits an array of colours, being yellow to olive-green on top, with a yellow-orange patch behind the eye and a thick black line extending from the nose across the side of the face (2) (5). The upper and lower jaws are yellow, but the underside of the neck is pink or orange (5). Likewise, the limb sockets and underside of the limbs and tail are a brilliant pinkish-orange, while the sides of the limbs are brown, grey or olive-green (4). The male’s plastron is slightly indented, and the male generally has a longer, thicker tail than the female (2) (5). The plastron is hinged, which allows the turtle to conceal its tail, head and limbs by closing up the shell when disturbed (6) (7).

Also known as
Asian three-striped box turtle, golden coin turtle.
Cyclemys trifasciata, Sternotherus trifasciatus.
Carapace length: up to 20 cm (2)

Chinese three-striped box turtle biology

Courtship has been observed throughout the year in captivity, with a peak in spring, and mating has been described as violent and aggressive (4). Nesting usually occurs in May (4), during which two to six white, elongated eggs are laid, which are then incubated for 80 to 85 days (2) (9).

The Chinese three-striped box turtle is omnivorous, feeding on a range of animals from earthworms and crabs to fishes and frogs, as well as fruit (2) (4).


Chinese three-striped box turtle range

Native to southern China, including the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Fujian and Hong Kong, as well as northern Vietnam, almost certainly Laos and perhaps Myanmar (6) (8).


Chinese three-striped box turtle habitat

Aquatic and terrestrial. Found in streams or stream banks, amongst hill and montane evergreen forest (2). Recorded in clear mountain streams at elevations of between 50 and 400 m above sea level in southern Guangdong, but the species probably also occurs in other aquatic environments. Captive individuals are frequently observed basking and appear quite terrestrial, so this species probably spends a significant amount of time on land in the wild (4).


Chinese three-striped box turtle status

The Chinese three-striped box turtle is c​lassified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3)

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Chinese three-striped box turtle threats

Turtles and tortoises across Southeast Asia have undergone massive declines in recent years due to overexploitation for the Southern Asian, particularly Chinese, food markets (9). Although having been hunted by local people for subsistence for centuries, recent changes in Asian economics have opened up direct access to foreign markets, in which turtles and tortoises are favoured for their meat and perceived medicinal value (10). The Chinese three-striped box turtle has suffered particularly badly because of recent claims that its plastron contains medicinal properties that can cure cancer, which has driven up the demand and therefore price, bringing this species to the edge of extinction (2). Additionally, this rare turtle is highly sought after by the pet trade, with adults fetching up to US$3,000 each (6) (9). Such a high market value inevitably leads to over-collection from the wild. Indeed, some Chinese can attain enough money to build a house from the sale of a single adult Chinese three-striped box turtle, an extremely powerful incentive (6).


Chinese three-striped box turtle conservation

In 2001, a programme on the conservation of wild fauna and flora and the establishment of nature reserves was begun in China. Many new nature reserves have been created, some of which offer habitat for tortoises and freshwater turtles (11). This species is protected by law in Hong Kong under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance Cap. 170., under which collection of any wild turtles is prohibited unless under a special permit obtained from the Agricultural, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (7). Individuals employed by the Agricultural, Fisheries, and Conservation Department of Hong Kong also patrol protected territories to curb illegal hunting of native tortoises and freshwater turtles (11). Various captive breeding programmes for this species exist around the world (12), but this Department is also implementing a captive breeding project with a local conservation organisation that includes plans for subsequent reintroductions into the wild (11).

It has been advocated that the claimed medicinal properties of these turtles should be properly examined. Should results prove positive then industrial synthesis of the active compounds, alternative herbal medicine and turtle farming should be explored to reduce harvesting of the animal from the wild. If such claims are shown to be unfounded, the species could surely benefit from a publicity campaign to disseminate accurate information to the general public (13). In the meantime, the establishment of secure, protected populations in nature reserves and properly managed captive breeding programmes will probably be the only solution to prevent this colourful turtle from imminent extinction (8).

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

Find out more

For more information on the Chinese three-striped box turtle see:



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:



In reptiles, the top shell of a turtle or tortoise.
Carapacial scutes (horny shields covering the shell) of the peripheral bones of tortoises and turtles.
A species that feeds on both plants and animals.
In reptiles, the lower shell of a turtle or tortoise.


  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2017)
  2. Asian Turtle Conservation Network (March, 2006)
  3. CITES (January, 2006)
  4. Turtles of the World (CD-ROM), by Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. & Barbour, R.W. (March, 2006)
  5. The Turtle Puddle (March, 2006)
  6. Asian Turtle Conservation Network: Lau, M. 2004. Conservation of the endangered Golden Coin Turtle Cuora trifasciata in Hong Kong –Problems and Solutions (March, 2006)
  7. Cheung, S.M. (2003) Chinese three-striped box turtle Cuora trifasciata in Hong Kong: possibly the last viable wild population in the world. Porcupine!, 28: 9 - . Available at:
  8. The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species - Photo Gallery (March, 2006)
  9. Pro Wildlife – Asian box turtles (Cuora spp.) (March, 2006)
  10. Pro Wildlife - Asian Turtles Are Threatened by Extinction (March, 2006)
  11. CITES: Thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties Bangkok (Thailand), 2-14 October 2004 - Conservation of and Trade in Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles (March, 2006)
  12. Tortoise Trust - Turtles in Crisis: The Asian Food Markets (March, 2006)
  13. TRAFFIC – Conclusions from the Workshop in Trade in Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Asia, Dec 1 – 4, 1999, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (March, 2006)

Image credit

Dorsal view of a Chinese three-striped box turtle  
Dorsal view of a Chinese three-striped box turtle

© Michael Wai Neng Lau / Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden

Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden
Lam Kam Road
Tai Po
New Territories
Hong Kong SAR
People's Republic of China
Fax: (852) 2483 1877


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