Thai National Parks

Turtles and tortoises of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Big-headed turtle

In Thai: เต่าปูลู, dtao pulu

Binomial name: Platysternon megacephalum, John Edward Gray, 1831

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


Previously considered a distinct family placed on occasion in "Kinosternoidea", it was later moved to the Emydidae. With the Geoemydidae being split off from these, it seems wisest to reinstate, at least for the time being, the Platysternidae. This, as well as the subfamily and the genus Platysternon, are monotypic.


It is found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.


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. It has been reported to climb trees and bushes. It is not a strong swimmer, and when swimming, this species occasionally arches its tail in the manner of a scorpion. 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. It is a fish and snail eater.


The big-headed turtle 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.


  • P. m. megacephalum, China, 1831
  • P. m. peguense, Myanmar and Thailand, 1870
  • P. m. shiui, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, 1987

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

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Scientific classification

Platysternon megacephalum

Common names

  • German: Grosskopfschildkröte
  • English:
    • Big-headed turtle
    • Burmese big-headed turtle
    • Vietnamese big-headed turtle
  • Thai: เต่าปูลู, dtao pulu


  • Platysternon megacephalum megacephalum, John Edward Gray, 1831

    Range: China

  • Platysternon megacephalum peguense, John Edward Gray, 1870

    Range: Myanmar and Thailand

  • Platysternon megacephalum shiui, Carl Henry Ernst & William Patrick McCord, 1987

    Range: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam


  • Platysternon megacephalum, Turtle Taxonomy Working Group (TTWG) (2014)
  • Platysternon megacephalum shiui, Anders Gunnar Johannes Rhodin et al. (2010)
  • Platysternon megacephalum peguense, Anders Gunnar Johannes Rhodin et al. (2010)
  • Platysternon megacephalum megacephalum, Anders Gunnar Johannes Rhodin et al. (2010)
  • Platysternon megacephalum, Thomas Ziegler (2002)
  • Platysternon megacephalum peguense, Tanya Chan-Ard et al. (1999)
  • Platysternon megacephalum, Merel J. Cox et al. (1998)
  • Platysternon megacephalum peguensis, R. C. Sharma (1998)
  • Platysternon megacephalum tristornalis, David Alderton (1988)
  • Platysternon megacephalum shiui, Peter Charles Howard Pritchard & William Patrick McCord (1987)
  • Platysternon megacephalum tristernalis, Hans-Hermann Schleich & Ulrich Gruber (1984)
  • Platysternon megacephalum penuense, Wirot Nutaphand (1979)
  • Platysternon megacephalum penguense, Wirot Nutaphand (1979)
  • Platysternon magacephalum megacephalum, Peter Charles Howard Pritchard (1979)
  • Platysternon megacephalum vogeli, Heinz Wermuth (1969)
  • Platysternon macrocephalus, Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1960)
  • Platysternon megacephalum peguense, Heinz Wermuth (1960)
  • Platysternon megacephalum megacephalum, Heinz Wermuth (1960)
  • Platysternum megalocephalum, Stanek (ex errore) (1959)
  • Platysternon platycephalum, Robert Mertens (1959)
  • Platysternum megacephalum, George Albert Boulenger (1889)
  • Platysternon megacephalum peguense, John Edward Gray (1870)
  • Platysternon peguense, John Edward Gray (1870)
  • Platysternon magacephalum, Leopold Fitzinger (1843)
  • Emys megacephala, Hermann Schlegel (1838)
  • Platysternon megacephalum, André Marie Constant Duméril & Gabriel Bibron (1835)
  • Platysternon megacephalus, John Edward Gray (1835)
  • Platisternon megacephalus, John Edward Gray (1834)
  • Platysternon megacephalum, John Edward Gray (1831)

Conservation status

Endangered (IUCN2.3)

Endangered (IUCN2.3)

Range Map

Distribution map of Big-headed turtle, Platysternon megacephalum in Thailand
Range map of Platysternon megacephalum in Thailand