Analysis of prey capture and food transport kinematics in two Asian box turtles, Cuora amboinensis and Cuora flavomarginata (Chelonia, Geoemydidae), with emphasis on terrestrial feeding patterns

Zoology (Jena). 2009;112(2):113-27. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2008.05.002. Epub 2008 Nov 17.


This study examines the kinematics and morphology of the feeding apparatus of two geoemydid chelonians, the Malayan (Amboina) box turtle (Cuora amboinensis) and the yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata). Both species are able to feed on land as well as in water. Feeding patterns were analysed by high-speed cinematography. The main focus of the present study is on the terrestrial feeding strategies in both Asian box turtles, because feeding on land has probably evolved de novo within the ancestrally aquatic genus Cuora. During terrestrial feeding (analysed for both species), the initial food prehension is always done by the jaws, whereas intraoral food transport and pharyngeal packing actions are tongue-based. The food uptake modes in Cuoras differ considerably from those described for purely terrestrial turtles. Lingual food prehension is typical of all tortoises (Testudinidae), but is absent in C. amboinensis and C. flavomarginata. A previous study on Terrapene carolina shows that this emydid turtle protrudes the tongue during ingestion on land, but that the first contact with the food item occurs by the jaws. Both Asian box turtles investigated here have highly movable, fleshy tongues; nonetheless, the hyolingual complex remains permanently retracted during initial prey capture. In aquatic feeding (analysed for C. amboinensis only), the prey is captured by a fast forward strike of the head (ram feeding). As opposed to ingestion on land, in the underwater grasp the hyoid protracts prior to jaw opening. The head morphology of the investigated species differs. In contrast to the Malayan box turtle, C. flavomarginata exhibits a more complexly structured dorsal lingual epithelium, a considerable palatal vault, weaker jaw adductor muscles and a simplified trochlear complex. The differences in the hyolingual morphology reflect the kinematic patterns of the terrestrial feeding transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology*
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Food
  • Skull / anatomy & histology
  • Skull / physiology
  • Tongue / physiology
  • Turtles / physiology*