Western Box Turtle

STATUSNear Threatened

COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Terrapene ornate

DIETSnails, worms, insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, lizards, small mammals, carrion and plants

RANGEGrasslands of South Dakota through Illinois and southward to Arizona and Texas

HABITATPrairies, forests and glades

Western Box Turtle

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Program and General Information

The Ornate Box Turtle is a species of turtle that inhabits mainly the Midwest of the United States, typically in terrestrial, prairie, or grassland regions. These turtles are normally 4 to 5 inches in length and are characterized by their dome-like, dark brown shell with flashy yellow lines stemming from the center. As omnivores, their diet may consist of anything from earthworms to grasshoppers, but may extend to various types of vegetables, fruits, and berries. Their life cycle begins with mating the spring, with the females having 1-2 clutches of eggs per year, consisting of 1-8 eggs each. These turtles have a 70-day incubation period, are typically 3 cm when hatched, and will mature in 7-8 years. This species faces challenges from human activities, including agriculture, urbanization, and the pet trade..

Common Physical Features

The carapace of the Western box turtle is less domed than that of other box turtle species and it looks a bit flattened. For both sexes, the length of the carapace is 4-5 inches on average, with the females being larger compared to males.. The coloration of the carapace is usually black or dark brown with yellow striping. The face and forelegs may have a reddish tint. They may also have dark brown, green, or grey coloring on their limbs and head. Eye color is usually red in males and yellow/brown in females.

Most male western box turtles reach sexual maturity when their plastron is 10-11 cm long. For females, the number is 11-13 cm. Males are usually 8-9 years old at this point, while females normally do not reach sexual maturity until they are 10-11 years of age.

Habitat and Global Range

Western box turtles are found in central and western United States and the adjoining areas of northern Mexico. You can find them from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi, in the Sonora Desert and northwards up to South Dakota and Wisconsin. They prefer desert or semi-desert areas in an arid climate with high temperatures, low humidity, and cool soil, or in waterways within these areas. These animals may actually limit themselves to a range about the size of a football field if their habitat and resources do not fluctuate.

Western box turtles live on prairies and in deserts, depending on subspecies. It usually spends it whole life in a small area (less than a few acres). In the fall, the western box turtle will dig a shallow hole to hibernate in during the winter.

Diet

In the wild, the western box turtle chiefly lives on insects, spiders, worms, carrion and berries. It is known to catch beetles, grasshoppers and caterpillars.

Behavior and Life Cycle

After a female box turtle matures, it will typically lay 3-6 eggs, each of which are thin-shelled eggs. Unlike most species, the eggs are laid and left unguarded. Females of this species can store sperm for several years and produce fertile offspring up to four years after copulation.

Mating usually takes place in the spring. Each year, females will usually have 1-2 clutches of eggs, which consist of 1-8 eggs. These eggs are white, brittle, and incubate for 70 days. When hatched, they are about 3 cm in size. The nests for these eggs are in well-drained places and are not too deep, about 5-6 cm.

These turtles hibernate from October to March. Box Turtles have a hinged plastron which allows them to close their shell completely when they feel threatened.

Fun Facts

  • These turtles can curl up their limbs and hinged plastron to basically seal their shell.
  • These turtles are the state reptile of Kansas.

Conservation Messaging

Invasive species such as the Red-Eared Slider put the Western Box Turtles at risk. Red-Eared Sliders compete with box turtles for food, shelter, and nesting sites. Many people who have Red-Earned Sliders as pets have released them into the wild, resulting in a large invasive population. Habitat destruction and fragmentation also put the box turtle at risk. Many state protect their native box turtles and do not allow collection.

It is important to increase awareness about this trade of turtles that is taking place. Since certain states are thinking about banning this collection, it would be beneficial to encourage people to write to their state lawmakers.