Lee Richardson Zoo

Ornate Box Turtle

Order: Testudines - turtles and tortoises

Family:  Emydidae - pond and river turtles

Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata ornata (The Ornate box turtle is actually considered a subspecies of the Western box turtle)


Description Highly domed carapace (top shell), no keel, with a distinctive pattern of radiating yellowish lines on a black or brown background.  Plastron (lower shell) has movable hinges.  Shell length is normally 4-5 inches, with the largest Kansas specimen found being a female measuring 6⅛ inches.  Females grow slightly larger than males.  Adult males have red eyes, females are yellowish brown.  The head and limbs are dark brown, gray or greenish, and are covered with yellow or orange-yellow spots.

Home Range: Found throughout Kansas, and the midwest United States from Wyoming and Indiana south to Louisiana and New Mexico.


Habitat Type: A completely terrestrial species. Primarily open prairie; also grazed pasturelands, and waterways in arid, sandy-soiled terrain.  If habitat conditions remain constant, an individual may spend its life in an area scarcely larger than that of a football field.


Reproduction:   Mating occurs commonly in the spring and fall, but can also take place in the summer.  The male mounts the female, hooking his claws on the rear edge of her lower shell.  The female secures the males hind limbs by wrapping her own about them.  The male positions his cloaca against the female’s, and copulation occurs.  The hind end of the males plastron is slightly concave to facilitate his position on top of the female during breeding.

Females may lay one to two clutches of eggs annually.  Two to eight somewhat brittle shelled elongate white eggs are laid in a shallow flash shaped cavity dug in well drained soil.  They hatch in a little over two months.  Sexual maturity is reached at seven to eight years.


Diet in the Wild:   Primarily carnivorous. They feed on beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, cicadas, earthworms and dead vertebrates.  They also regularly consume berries and other fruits.  Has been seen feeding on pincushion cactus.


Diet in the Zoo:   Greens (lettuce, kale, etc.), soaked rabbits pellets, a tiny pinch of Nebraska brand carnivore meat, and small chunks of various fruits and vegetables: melons, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, carrots, apples, etc.


General Information:   Likes to bask briefly in the morning sun, then search for food.  By midday it seeks shady shelter.  On grazing lands it will search dung piles for beetles.  They are often seen crossing roads after a downpour, or sitting on asphalt for warmth, consequently many are killed by automobiles.  Active from April to October at temperatures from 60-95ºF.  With the approach of winter (dropping temperature and diminishing food), they dig into the ground or enter dens or burrows of other animals for the purposes of hibernation.  In the open grasslands they may dig to a depth of 18”.  Emergence in the spring is dependent on a period of warm, moist weather.  Named box turtle because of the hinged plastron which allows it to tightly close up its shell at the first sign of danger.


Conservation Status: Common. The Ornate box turtle is the Kansas state reptile


Predators: Mammalian predators such as skunks and coyotes prey upon these reptiles.  A juvenile box turtle was once found in the stomach of a Channel catfish.



Amphibians & Reptiles in Kansas. 3rd Edition Revised. Joseph T. & Suzanne L. Collins.  University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History. 1993.  pp. 190-195.