Flight attendant in turtle smuggle bungle

Spotted and box turtles have a huge market in Asia

A flight attendant for a Chinese airline has pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle nearly two-dozen spotted and box turtles in a carry-on bag from Los Angeles to China.

The US Attorney's Office says Huaqian Qu, a Chinese national, entered his plea on Thursday to a charge of conspiracy. He faces up to five years in prison when he's sentenced July 23.

Officials say Qu and a fellow flight crew member with China Eastern Airlines tried to unlawfully export a total of 45 turtles that are protected under international trade law. The turtles could have been worth more than $US40,000 ($A54,000) in Asia.

City News Service says the co-defendant is expected to plead guilty on Friday.