T. o. ornata
The Ornate Box Turtle


The diminutive ornate box turtle with its distinctive yellow striations on each scute of its carapace and plastron is the smallest (4-5 inches) member of the Terrapene genus. The carapace is domed with a flattened top and lacks the central keel that is found in other Terrapene members. The color of the carapace is usually dark brown or black, with a narrow yellow stripe in place of the central ridge found in other members of the Terrapene genus. The plastron also has a pattern of radiating lines on each scute and lacks a bridge. As with other members of the Terrapene group, the ornate box turtle has a singular hinge on the plastron that enables it to completely close its head, tail and limbs inside its shell. The front legs are heavily scaled with thick fore claws present on both the male and female. There are usually four toes on each hind foot. The skin is dark brown with yellow spots and blotches. The fore limbs on the male ornate box turtle may have red markings. The sides of the head and neck are marked with yellow spots and the jaws are yellow, with the upper being hooked and without a notch. The tongue may be pigmented purple or gray. T. ornata are usually easily sexed. The male ornate box turtle’s first toe on its hind feet turned inward and is enlarged. The adult male’s eyes are red, while that of the female is yellow-brown. The tails of the male ornate box turtle is longer and thicker than that of female and the male has a yellow-green or blue-green head, while the female usually have a brown head marked on top with yellow spots. The female is usually spotted with yellow, while the male tends to have red spots.


There are two subspecies of the ornate box turtle and both are found in the United States. The ornate box turtle Terrapene ornata ornata, is found in Indiana and eastern Wyoming south to Louisiana and New Mexico. Reportedly and perhaps because of its large range, Terrapene ornata ornata hybridizes with the Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in areas where ranges overlap The less commonly seen desert ornate (Terrapene ornata luteola), occurs from southeastern Arizona, New Mexico and the Trans-Pecos region of Texas south into Sonora and Chihuahua Mexico. The desert ornate box turtle is larger than the ornate box turtle and has more radiating lines on its carapace and its skin. The carapace is a yellowish color. With older turtles the markings tend to dull with age and many individuals become uniformly yellow, tan, or straw in color.


Care in captivity should mimic its natural habitat as much as possible.

Ideally they should be kept in large outdoor pens. The pen should be located where it can receive some direct sunlight early in the day and dappled light the rest of the day The substrate should be leaf litter. In my pen, 1/3 is covered with at least 6" of composted hay. This provides an abundance of grubs, worms, slugs, millipedes and other food. The rest of the pen is covered with about an inch of leaf litter. Outdoor pens can be planted with shade loving plants such as ferns and Hostas.

Also, they need a water source for soaking and drinking. I use large glazed ceramic flower pot bottoms partially sunk into the substrate.

Indoor pens also should be as large as space will allow.  For the most part aquariums are unsuitable.  A minimum sized pen can be made from a 50 gallon Rubbermaid storage container.

Although very functional, a storage container isn't very attractive. With a little imagination (and some carpentry skills), very attractive pens can be made. Below is an excellent example by Ellen Friedman.

Ellen Friedman's indoor pen

When kept indoors, it is crucial that a UVB-emitting reptile bulb be used. I prefer the UVHeat type bulb. Eastern Box Turtles like to soak often and should have an adequately large water dish that they can easily get in and out of. When kept indoors I usually soak them once a week in a large dishpan with a couple inches of lukewarm water. They tend to defecate in the water dish so these need to be cleaned daily. Humidity is a major issue. Most box turtles are kept far too dry. This leads to eye problems which are often mistaken for eye infections and/or respiratory infections. To keep the humidity high I use sphagnum moss/Bed-a-Beast/sand mix. This is kept moist with daily misting. They should have hiding spots and an area for burrowing available. Eastern Box Turtles should have a basking area that is maintained at 87-90°F., and a cooler, shaded area.


60% or more of the diet is composed of animal matter. Some of the "animal" matter they eat in the wild includes: slugs, snails, worms, grubs, caterpillars, beetles, pill bugs, sow bugs, centipedes, crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, flies, crawfish and carrion. Essentially, if they can catch it, they will eat it.

The rest is plant matter. A large part of which is fungi (mushrooms etc). Moss, berries and grass are also eaten.

More information can be found at http://aboxturtle.com/box_turtle_diet.htm