Western Box Turtle

STATUSLeast Concern


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

Status: Near threatened

The Western box turtle is 4-5 inches long with a flattened-dome carapace (top shell) that is dark brown or black with bright yellow lines that radiate to form a starburst pattern. The plastron (under shell) is always marked with yellow and brown lines. The skin is dark gray and white and the head is dark brown with spots of white or yellow. The mature males obtain a greenish color on the top of the head.

Habitat and Range: Western box turtles are found in the grasslands of South Dakota through Illinois and southward to Arizona and Texas.

Diet in the Wild: The western box turtle is omnivorous, feeding on insects (especially beetles), berries, leaves, fruits, and sometimes carrion.   Over 90% of box turtles have mostly plant material in their digestive tract.

Diet in the Zoo: The western box turtle gets fruit and veggies everyday. They get meat once a week and crickets or super worms once a week.

Predators: Birds of Prey, Crows, Coyotes, Snapping Turtles, domestic cats, foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks, snakes. Adult Western box turtles will sometimes prey on hatchlings. Their primary defense against predators is retreating into their shell.

Life cycle/ Social structure: Box turtles generally grow slowly, reaching sexual maturity at between 7 and 10 years of age and 5 or 6 inches in length. Once mature, a female box turtle will lay between 3 and 6 elliptical shaped, thin-shelled eggs, each spring in a shallow nest. The eggs are left unguarded and hatch in the late summer or early fall. Females can store sperm for several years and produce fertile eggs following single copulation, however fertility rate drops with passage of time. Hatchlings sometimes overwinter (hibernate) in the nest.

Life Span: Box turtles commonly reach 25-30 years of age, and there are well-documented cases of them living to 40 or even 50 years.

 Interesting Facts:

  • Two features useful in telling the sex of box turtles are eye color and plastron concavity. In general male box turtles have very orange or red eyes and a slightly concave plastron, while females have brown or light orange eyes and a plastron that is almost completely flat.
  • Box turtles are the only turtles with a hinge in the plastron shell.
  • State reptile of Kansas
  • Can be adept climbers, they have been reported to been able to scale fences.
  • In October, the turtles will begin to prepare to hibernate for the winter by digging a burrow or finding an abandon burrow. Will remain in the burrow until March/April

Conservation Messages: Box turtles are competing for habitats, food and nesting sites with the invasive Red-Eared Slider. Red-Eared sliders became invasive because of pets being released into the wild. Their populations are decreasing due to the pet trade, and habitat destruction and fragmentation. Many states protect their native box turtles and do not allow collection.

What You Can Do: If you do end up with a pet that you are unable to care for, please re-home it responsibly. Releasing a non-native animal into a habitat can have drastic negative affects on populations of native species. In addition, make sure you purchase pets from responsible breeders. Part of the decline in this turtle’s species is due to collection for the pet trade.