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Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata)

Ornate Box Turtle
Terrapene ornata
(Order Testudines; Family Emydidae)

Adult Ornate Box Turtle.

Adult Diagnosis:  The ornate box turtle is a relatively small turtle.  The males and females look similar, however there is some variation in color between the two sexes.  Males will often have red on their tales and legs. Males are often times smaller than females and can be further distinguished by a cloacal opening that is further back, the back feet will have curved inner claws, and finally males will have a thicker tail than females.

One further distinction between the genders is that males will often have red eyes, as evidenced by the image below. 

Female (on bottom) and male (on top) Ornate Box Turtles in copula. Note the red eyes of the male.  Image courtesy of

Adult Natural History: The ornate box turtle can live up to thirty-fifty years.  This species of turtle has annual growth rings on the carapace, and if you count them you can get an idea of just how old it is.  

The male often has a concavity posterior to the hinge on the ventral carapace.  This helps the male climb on top when it is time to mate.  Box turtles will lay their eggs in the early part of the summer.  The female digs the hole in order to keep the eggs not just safe from potential predators but also to keep the eggs warm, incubating them and increasing their chances of hatching.  

During the autumn, the ornate box turtle seeks out a safe place for hibernation.

Distribution: The ornate box turtle is found in central and western Kansas.  It is one of only two terrestrial turtle species found in Kansas.  The range of the box turtle extends from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico and from Lousiana to Colorado.

Distribution of the Ornate Box Turtle (purple). Map courtesy of:

Habitat: The ornate box turtles are terrestrial and are often found in open habitats such as pastures, open woodlands such as savanna, as well as prairies.  

Conservation Status:  Near threatened.

Diet: The ornate box turtle is an omnivore and will will eat whatever is available.  This includes fruits, vegetables, insects, and carrion which sometimes does include other turtles.

Video: Ornate box turtle being introduced into a reptile sanctuary in Colorado:



General information  


Photo gallery  


Doroff, A. M. (1990). Demography and ecology of an ornate box turtle (terrapene ornata) population in south-central wisconsin. (Doctoral dissertation).

Kuo, C and FJ Janzen, 2004. Genetic effects of a persistent bottleneck on a natural population of ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata). Conserv. Genetics 5:425-437.

Wilson, DS, CR Tracy and CR Tracy, 2003. Estimating age of turtles from growth rings: A critical evaluation of the technique. Herpetologica 59(2):178-194.

Submitted by: Michael O'Connell, August 2013


Ornate Box Turtle: A Kansas Icon.  Photo by:

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