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Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene Ornata Ornata) [Video]

Native to North America, the tiny ornate box turtle is a popular breed of land turtle kept as a pet. While the ornate box turtle is a good swimmer, it isn’t an aquatic turtle and can drown if placed in water.

They are listed as threatened in Illinois and are protects in six other states. Although they are threatened in several states, they are easy to find in many pet shops across the country.

Ornate Box Turtle Facts and Information

Plastron of Ornate box turtle

The scientific name of this turtle is Terrapene ornata ornata. As you may have noticed from the scientific name, the ornate box turtle is a subspecies.

The species, Terrapene ornata, includes both the ornate box turtle (T. o. ornata) and the desert box turtle (T. o. luteola). The entire species is commonly referred to as western box turtles or even simply as ornate box turtles.

The T. o. ornata is a highly domed turtle (although it is less domed than other box turtles are). Adults grow up to between 4 to 5 inches. They are dark in color (ranging from brown to color).

They have yellow stripes on their shell, as well as their body. The T. o. luteola has more stripes on their shell and body than the T. o. ornata. The ornate box turtle weighs between 198g to 538g.

These turtles have a lifespan of 28 years in captivity. In the wild, they have an average lifespan of 40 years. Wild ornate box turtles which are taken as pets die rather quickly as they are unable to adapt to captive conditions.

The ornate box turtle is very similar to Desert box turtles. The main difference between the desert box turtle and the ornate box turtle is the amount of yellow on their bodies.

Desert box turtles usually have more yellow stripes and are more adapted to thriving in dry desert conditions.

Ornate Box Turtle Diet

The ornate box turtles are omnivores and eat food that is commonly available – their feeding habit is determined by food availability. The growing juveniles usually eat an animal-based diet, while adults are more omnivorous.

Although they prefer to eat slugs, beetles, grasshoppers, and earthworms, they eat arthropods, aquatic invertebrates, mollusks, eggs, and carrion as well.

Plant foods they like to eat include mulberries, pear cacti, and dandelion flowers. However, they also eat leaves, seeds, grains, nuts, flowers, and fruits available in their locality.

When feeding them, it’s important to ensure they acquire enough calcium. Calcium is essential to their health. One way to ensure they get enough calcium is to dust their food with it.

In addition to all the foods already mentioned, you can feed them crickets, waxworms, mealworms, fruits, vegetables, dark leafy green, and grass.

Ensure they have clean drinking water at all time.

Ornate Box Turtle Habitat

Female Ornate Box Turtle on patio

These turtles are easily stressed when kept in small-enclosed indoor areas. They prefer the spacious outdoors. Their outdoor enclosure needs to be large enough for them to roam. The enclosure has to include several hiding places and sheltered areas.

If you decide to keep them indoors, ensure that the enclosure is large, properly heated and properly lit. The lighting needs to follow the same pattern as the sun does every day (12 hours light, 12 hours darkness).

The temperature of the enclosure needs to be around 86 degrees in the daytime and around 72 degrees in the nighttime. If your ornate box turtle is healthy, they may hibernate during winter.

In the wild, they can be found in the Midwest, from the Gulf of Mexico to Wisconsin and from Colorado to Louisiana.

They prefer grasslands. They also burrow into the soil when temperatures get too hot or too cold. They are known to cool off in water when the weather is hot.

Ornate Box Turtle Breeding

Head of Ornate Box Turtle

The T. o. ornata mates from April to October. Females lay just one or two clutches each mating season. Each clutch consists of 1 to 8 eggs. Since the female can store the sperm of the male for extended periods, they tend to nest only when environmental factors are conducive.

Ornate Box Turtle Health

As with most turtles, vitamin A and calcium deficiencies are significant health issues when it comes to the ornate box turtle. As such, it is important to supplement their diet with these nutrients.

Parasites and respiratory infections are two other common health problems that affect this species. Respiratory infection is usually a sign of vitamin A deficiency. Respiratory infections are characterized by excess mucus around the mouth and nostrils as well as wheezing.

They are also prone to shell rot. This is usually as a result of injury to the shell. In the case of shell injury, an iodine wash is recommendable. If the injury does not improve after a few days, contact your vet.

It is important to ensure their enclosure is clean, and they are properly fed. Good nutrition is important for a strong immune system and proper growth.

Ornate Box Turtle Predation

The ornate box turtles are commonly preyed on because of their small size and limited mobility.

Common predators of this species include red foxes, minks, opossums, raccoons, copperheads, crows, ravens, skunks, coyotes, and even dogs.

Juveniles, hatchlings, and eggs are most vulnerable to predation. Ornate box turtles are even known to prey on their own eggs. 

Ornate Box Turtle Endangerment

The T. o. ornata is a threatened species in several states in the U.S. and is protected by several state laws. In Wyoming, they are listed as critically imperiled, while in South Dakota, they are listed as imperiled.

In Illinois, they are listed as threatened. According to the IUCN red list, they are near threatened. The main driving force behind the decline of this species is the destruction of their habitats.

The pet trade is also a factor that affects the wild population. As such, you should only acquire the ornate box turtle from reputable breeders.


While the ornate box turtle is not hard to find in the United States, they can be tricky to care for. They are easily stressed and require specific needs. Successfully caring for a wild specimen is nearly impossible.

It is best to acquire a captive-bred ornate box turtle if you wish to keep one as a pet. If you have any comments about this turtle, we would love to see them below!

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