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Ornate Wood Turtle Care Guide

The painted wood turtle, also known as the ornate wood turtle, is a gorgeous chelonian that makes a great house pet. This hardy turtle doesn’t require much to thrive and is a great starter pet especially when you take its ornate appearance into consideration as well.

Although hatchlings are quite aquatic, they become more land-based the older they get. As such, it is necessary to provide both swimming areas as well as a large land area for them to scamper on.

Ornate Wood Turtle Facts

  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima
  • Average Adult Size: 8  inches (20 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Clutch Size: 3 to 5 eggs
  • Food: Plants, commercial diet & insects
  • Enclosure Size: 55-gallon aquarium or 8 ft by 8 ft outdoor pen
  • Average Temperature: 90°H/75°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $50 to $200
  • Conservation Status: No status on IUCN Red List
Plastron of Ornate Wood Turtle (Painted Wood Turtle)

The Painted Wood Turtle is scientifically known as Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima. There are several painted wood turtle subspecies namely- the nominate subspecies (R. p. pulcherrima), the  Honduras wood turtle (R. p. incisa), the ornate wood turtle (R. p. manni), and the Mexican wood turtle (R. p. rogerbarbouri). The subspecies most widely kept as pets is the ornate wood turtle.

These moderately sized turtles have an average adult size of 8 inches. Males generally grow to be 7 to 8 inches, while females generally grow to be 8 to 9 inches.

The turtle has a dome-shaped carapace and a plastron which features a continuous ventral line. A distinguishing feature is the red stripes found on the body. As with other freshwater turtles, the painted wood turtle has webbed feet.

The painted wood turtle is native to Central America and as such is also called the Central American wood turtle. They can be found from Mexico all the way to Costa Rica.

In fact, the painted wood turtle is the only species of the subfamily Baraggurinae found in the Americas. Interesting fact – some herpetologists consider the Bataguridae subfamily as a separate family from Geoemydidae.

Painted Wood Turtle Habitat

Ornate Wood Turtle

The painted wood turtles prefer to live in areas where there is access to water. They can be found in scrub lands, rainforests, shallow rivers, and moist woodlands. While they are much more terrestrial than almost all other turtles found in the Americas, they still like to swim in shallow waters every now and then.

Painted Wood Turtle Care Sheet


Landen 120P 72.2 Gallon Rimless Low Iron Aquarium Tank, W47.2 × D19.7 × H19.7 (120x50x50cm) 10mm Thickness with Black Nano Foam Leveling mat Included 111012

The painted wood turtles prefer to live in outdoor enclosures although they can live comfortably in several different types of setups.

If you wish to house them outdoors, you need to build a pen for the turtle. The walls of the pen should be about 25 inches high. It also needs to be about 10 inches underground as the turtle can dig. The pen should have sunny spots and shaded spots. This ensures that the turtle can regulate its body temperature.

For outdoor enclosures, you can create shade by providing ground covers such as leaf litter, wooden open-fronted hides, plant pots or a small hollow log. Shrubs also provide shade. The turtle requires access to water at all times. You can use a large shallow water pan. The water in the pan should be dechlorinated and should be changed daily.

If you wish to house them indoors, you require a large aquarium. A 55-gallon aquarium will do. However, a 75-gallon aquarium is best. Landen offers a 72 Gallon option and if you want to start out a little smaller while your turtle grows you can go with the Tetra 55 Gallon. Alternatively, you can keep the turtle in a long wide pen covered with a screen top.

The painted wood turtle needs constant access to water. There are many containers that can be used to provide the turtle with a swimming and drinking area.

Some keepers use shallow water pans, others also use under-bed storage boxes. A homemade ramp can be used to ensure that the turtle can access the water.

The swimming area needs to be shallow. The water level needs to be about an inch higher than the top of the shell. Use small internal canister filters to filter the water.

As with outdoor enclosures, the water made available to the turtle needs to be dechlorinated. Use a water conditioner such as the API TAP Water Conditioner to keep the water free of chlorine and chloramines. In addition to this, it also detoxifies the water.

If you can, mist the enclosure twice a day. Alternatively, you can use a humidifier such as the Coospider Reptile Fogger to keep humidity levels high. Painted wood turtles thrive in humidity levels above 90 percent.


The indoor enclosure needs a substrate. I recommend 3 layers of substrate. The first and bottom layers should be made up of pea gravel. The second and middle layer should be about 2 feet deep and made up of a mix of peat moss and dampened sand. The third and topmost layer should be a thin layer of cypress mulch.


You need to maintain the right temperatures if you want the turtle to be comfortable.

  • The turtle requires a basking area while the turtle can dry off after a swim. The temperature of the basking area needs to be in the high 80s or the low 90s. I recommend a temperature of 90 F.
  • The water temperature should be in the mid-70s.
  • Maintain an ambient temperature of about 80 F, ideally, low to mid 80’s.

Do not place the basking light close to the turtle. This helps to prevent overheating. There are several heat lamps to use for the basking site. Incandescent lamps and ceramic heat lamps both work very well.


To need to provide the turtle with the needed UVB light. ReptiSun 5.0 or ReptiSun 10.0 are two excellent UV light sources. They provide the turtle with all its UV light needs. Uvb lights help prevent metabolic bone disease.

As you know, both the heat lamps and the UVB lights need to be turned off during the night. For 10 to 12 hours each day turn off the lights. You can use an automated timer switch to ensure the lights are turned on and off every day.


If you must have plants in the enclosure ensure that the plants are real and edible as painted wood turtles are highly herbivorous. Other accessories you can have in the enclosure includes hollow logs and hiding spots.

Feeding the Painted Wood Turtle

Painted Wood Turtles Eating

Animal protein to feed the turtle includes but not limited to mealworms, crickets, slugs, snails, grubs, caterpillars, roaches and earthworms. Feeder insects are quite easy to acquire.

These can be found online or at your local pet supply store. Vegetables and plant matter to feed the turtle include romaine lettuce, dandelions, collard greens, flowers, duckweed and such.

The painted wood turtles are omnivores. Their diet should be made up of about 60 percent plant matter and 30 percent insect protein. Try not to feed them meat. Insects to feed them include crickets, roaches, earthworms, mealworms and many more.

You can farm the feeder insects at home or get them from your local pet store. Plants to feed them include anacharis, water lettuce, duckweed, collard green, flowers, dandelions, water lilies, frogbit, water hyacinth, water milfoil, hornwort, water fern, pondweed, and romaine lettuce. The turtle also accepts shrimps and commercial turtle food such as Mazuri aquatic turtle diet.

As with other turtles, the painted wood turtle enjoys fruits. These should be fed the turtle only as treats. The turtle’s staple diet should compose of plants. Fruits that the turtle enjoys include mango, strawberries, apple, blueberries, and banana.

Feed baby turtles daily, and adults once every three days. While adults need to be fed mostly plants, younglings need to be fed more protein. Once or twice a week, dust the foods fed to the turtle with calcium and vitamin supplements.

This ensures that the turtle gets all the needed nutrients. When feeding the turtle stick to a strict feeding schedule. This ensures that you notice any changes in the turtle’s feeding habit. Wash your hands before and after feeding them. This helps prevent the spread of salmonella.

Painted Wood Turtle’s Temperament & Handling

The best time to bond with the turtle is during feeding time. Hand-feeding allows the turtle to get used to your presence and helps calm nervous turtles. Turtles don’t like to be handled. This stresses them.

The painted wood turtle can bite or even urinate on you when stressed. Their scratches and bites can draw prevent any accidents only handle the painted wood turtle when it is absolutely important.

As with any small turtle, remember to wash your hands before and after handling them.

Painted Wood Turtle’s Lifespan

Painted Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys_Pulcherrima)

The painted wood turtles are long-lived turtles and can live to be 20 years. When properly cared for, the painted wood turtle can live to be 30 years. Before acquiring a painted wood turtle make sure that you’re committed enough to care for it for several decades.

Ornate Wood Turtle Breeding

Reproduction may occur throughout the day, but most often attempts are made in the early morning hours, before the heat of the day. Females lay their eggs in sandy bars along rivers and other gravel areas (driveways, roadsides, borrow pits) in June.

Ornate turtles are typically found basking in the sun by rivers and streams in spring; along roadsides in June & July (when females are up laying eggs) and August & September (when travelling to overwintering sites); swimming in waterways, or walking through nearby woods, in the spring, summer, and fall.

Common Health Concerns

As with any turtle, the painted wood turtles are hardy. As such, they are hardly unwell and hardly ever suffer from any health issues. Healthy turtles have smooth shells, clear eyes, and skin that is free from irritation and infection. Parasites such as roundworms are not easy to identify and are actually rare to come by. Imported turtles may, however, harbor a number of parasites.


Internal parasites can be common among imported turtles. This is usually down to bad living conditions in which the turtles lived in before being shipped to you. Symptoms of parasites include weight loss, vomiting, passing undigested food, diarrhea, and dehydration. If your turtle has parasites, contact your local herp vet and book an appointment.

Nutrient deficiency

Nutrient deficiency is a big deal among turtles. If you rely solely on organic foods, feeling a captive turtle a well-balanced diet can be tough. To prevent nutrient deficiency offer supplements.

Also, commercial turtle diets such as  Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food contain all the needed nutrients. You can mix this with the plants that you offer to the turtle.

Vitamin D3 and calcium deficiencies lead to metabolic bone disease, while vitamin A deficiency causes respiratory problems.

Cuts, bruises, and injuries

When living together painted wood turtles can get into fights which can result in wounds. These wounds are usually superficial. This only becomes a problem if the wounds get infected. If the turtles fight often, then the enclosure isn’t big enough and/or lacks enough hiding spots.

Pricing and Availability

The painted wood turtle is quite a popular turtle species kept as pets. As such, they are quite easy to find. If you choose to acquire one, do so from a reputable breeder.

These breeders generally have the health history of the turtle. Acquiring a turtle from a reputable breeder ensures that the turtle is healthy and strong.

Some reputable sites to acquire a specimen of the painted wood turtle from include Turtle Source, Backwater Reptiles, and Snakes at Sunset.

Painted wood turtles generally cost about $50 to $200.

Conservation and Threats

Misfortune and loss of natural surroundings are the biggest dangers to wood turtles. Many populations in Connecticut are low in numbers and separated from each other by populated human scenes.

Turtles are compelled to wander more distant from the fitting environment to discover mates, and settling destinations are bound to be kept running over via autos, assaulted by predators, or gathered by individuals as pets or poached.

Different reasons of mortality include entrapments in litter and dirt deserted by individuals, like the use of mowing machines on hayfields and other potential residences for the turtles.

The wood turtle is risked all through an expansive bit of its range and was set under global trade regulatory through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1992.

Wood turtles also have been incorporated on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List as threatened animal categories since 1996. They are recorded as types of extraordinary worry in Connecticut and secured by the Connecticut Endangered Species Act.

The Painted Wood Turtle has no special status on the IUCN Red List, the US Federal List or CITES. Their populations are known to be stable and they are thriving. The main threats to the turtle’s wild populations include deforestation and collection for food and the pet trade.


Painted wood turtles are cute semi-terrestrial turtles. While the hatchlings and juveniles are highly aquatic, adults are more land-based. Regardless of their terrestrial nature, the ornate wood turtle requires a swimming area.

With the painted wood turtle the initial set up is the difficult part. Once you have successfully built the enclosure, maintenance is simple. As painted wood turtles are hardy, they hardly suffer from any health complications.

Newly acquired turtles may harbor parasites otherwise there are no real health issues to be worried about as long as they are kept in a clean enclosure and fed a well-balanced diet. If you have any additional information or questions, kindly leave a comment.

Over to you! What did you think? Are you going to go and get one? Do you already have one? What kind of setup do you have? Let us know in the comments below!

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Wednesday 18th of March 2020

Check your facts before you spew this junk. If you don't know about something then don't write an article on it. Ornate wood turtles DO NOT "LIVE IN A VARIETY OF AQUATIC HABITATS ACROSS NORTH AMERICA". Unless you only count aquariums as those habitats. Ornate wood turtles live in Central american jungles like in Costa Rica. These turtles cannot survive the North American climate so they do not live in North America. Please stop writing articles and go find something to do that you're good at.


Wednesday 18th of March 2020

Thanks for your feedback Bo! We will have this article reviewed by our experts and will correct any mistakes that are in it.


Tuesday 28th of May 2019

this is the best sight ever

Richard Wagner

Thursday 10th of January 2019

I have a painted wood turtle from Costa Rico they say it won't eat is it because it's winter here?

Dena Shelangoski

Saturday 22nd of December 2018

I have a question. Can ornate wood turtles get overgrown beaks like a box turtle if it doesn't eat hard food? I'm just concerned about my turtle getting an overgrown beak. He still eats well, but I wondered.


Tuesday 28th of May 2019

its good