Big-headed turtle
A big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum)
CITES Appendix I (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Superfamily: Testudinoidea
Family: Platysternidae
Gray, 1869[3]
Genus: Platysternon
Gray, 1831[3]
P. megacephalum
Binomial name
Platysternon megacephalum
Gray, 1831[3]
Platysternon megacephalum megacephalum
  • Platysternon megacephalum Gray, 1831
  • Platisternon megacephalus Gray, 1834
  • Platysternon megacephalus Gray, 1835
  • Emys megacephala Schlegel, 1838
  • Platysternon magacephalum Fitzinger, 1843 (ex errore)
  • Platysternum megacephalum Boulenger, 1889
  • Platysternon platycephalum Mertens, 1959 (ex errore)
  • Platysternum megalocephalum Stanek, 1959 (ex errore)
  • Platysternon megacephalum megacephalum Wermuth, 1960
  • Platysternon magacephalum megacephalum Pritchard, 1979
  • Platysternon megacephalum tristernalis Schleich & Gruber, 1984
  • Platysternon megacephalum tristornalis Alderton, 1988 (ex errore)
Platysternon megacephalum peguense
  • Platysternon peguense Gray, 1870
  • Platysternon megacephalum peguense Wermuth, 1960
  • Platysternon megacephalum vogeli Wermuth, 1969
  • Platysternon megacephalum penguense Nutaphand, 1979 (ex errore)
  • Platysternon megacephalum penuense Nutaphand, 1979 (ex errore)
  • Platysternon megacephalum peguensis Sharma, 1998 (ex errore)
Platysternon megacephalum shiui
  • Platysternon megacephalum shiui Ernst & McCord, 1987

The big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) is a species of turtle in the family Platysternidae from Southeast Asia and southern China.[3]


Previously considered a distinct family placed on occasion in "Kinosternoidea", it was later moved to the Emydidae. This, as well as the subfamily and the genus Platysternon, are monotypic.

The big-headed turtle is named after its unproportionally large head which leads to an inability to retreat into its shell. In order to protect itself it instead has an armored head and sharp beak.[5]


The big-headed turtle is found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.[1][3] It is commonly found in fast flowing streams and waterfalls in rocky areas. [1]


Illustration from Indian Zoology (1830-1834) by John Edward Gray

The big-headed turtle is known to readily climb over obstacles in and around rivers and fast streams, using its tail as a prop to extend the reach of its strong claws. It also uses its beak to assist in climbing.[6] It has been reported to climb trees and bushes. These turtles generally move more during the night, and are not prone to moving long distances. They have a general daily range of 0-89.6m and males tend to move further than the females in this species.[7] They are not strong swimmers, and when swimming, this species occasionally arches its tail in the manner of a scorpion.[6] The big-headed turtle cannot pull its head in its shell. That being the case, it will not hesitate to use its powerful jaws to defend itself. Its diet consists of fish, snails and worms.[8] It also tends to eat fruits like the Machilus spp., as well as insects, crabs and mollusks.[9]


The big-headed turtle is found quite frequently in illegal wildlife trade.[5] It is readily consumed in Asia and is frequently a market item. Hunters capture them on lines with baited straight pins, so this species is rapidly disappearing in the wild.[10] The species is also threatened by its use in the pet trade.[1]


In addition, two other subspecies, P. m. tristernalis (1984) and P. m. vogeli (1969), have been given, but may be invalid.[11]

Platysternon megacephalum - MHNT


  1. ^ a b c Fong, J.; Hoang, H.; Li, P.; McCormack, T.; Rao, D.-Q.; Timmins, R.J.; Wang, L.; van Dijk, P.P. (2021). "Platysternon megacephalum". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2021: e.T17585A1423706. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-2.RLTS.T17585A1423706.en. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Appendices | CITES". Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Rhodin 2010, pp. 000.107
  4. ^ Fritz, Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 264–265. ISSN 1864-5755. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-01. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  5. ^ a b "The Big-headed Turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) Project". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  6. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, David T. 1995. Platysternon megacephalum. Reptile & Amphibian Magazine, November/December 1995, pages 40 – 47. C/R. Archived May 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2012-11-25.
  7. ^ Retrieved 2023-02-10. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "Platysternon megacephalum (Big-headed Turtle)".
  9. ^ Sung, Yik-Hei; Hau, Billy; Karraker, Nancy (2016-01-01). "Diet of the endangered big-headed turtle Platysternon megacephalum". Natural Resources Science Faculty Publications. doi:10.7717/peerj.2784. PMC 5157187.
  10. ^ James E. Barzyk Turtles in Crisis: The Asian Food Markets. The article itself is not dated, but mostly refers to data in the range 1995-2000.
  11. ^ Platysternon megacephalum Archived May 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine