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Wood Turtles

Wood turtles are interesting turtles to have as pets. Their ornate shells made them aesthetically pleasing and their ‘doglike’ nature makes them loveable.

However, just like every other turtle, they should be handled at a minimum. There are two wood turtles kept as pets and these include the North American wood turtle and the central American wood turtle.

The North American wood turtle is usually referred to as the wood turtle. The central American wood turtle is also referred to as the ornate wood turtle, the Honduran wood turtle, or the painted wood turtle.

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Average Adult Size: 7 to 8.25 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 58 years
  • Clutch Size: 3 to 20 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 47 to 69 days
  • Food: Aquatic turtle food, leafy green vegetables, insects
  • Tank Size:  75 to 100 gallons
  • Average Temperature: 85°H/60°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed

Wood Turtle Turtle Species  

1. North American Wood Turtle

North American Wood Turtle
North American Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Glyptemys insculpta
  • Common Names: Wood turtle, North American wood turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 7 to 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 58 years
  • Average Price Range: $300 to $400

Also known as the North American wood turtle, the wood turtle can be found in eastern Canada and northeastern America.  The Glyptemys insculpta is an interesting looking semi-aquatic turtle.

Unlike other semi-aquatic turtles, the scutes of the shells are well defined. The concentric rings on the scutes resemble carved wood.

The medium-sized wood turtle can grow up to 10 inches although on average they grow to about 8 inches. Adults can be as heavy as 3 pounds. Caring for the wood turtle is quite easy. This also makes them excellent for beginners.

2. Central American Wood Turtle

Central American Wood Turtle
Central American Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima
  • Common Names: Painted wood turtle, ornate wood turtle, Honduran Wood Turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 7 to 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years+
  • Average Price Range: $100 to $200

The painted wood turtle is quite a common turtle kept as a pet. These turtles have gorgeous shells that are brightly colored. They are easy to tame and are quite intelligent and personable. They can found in Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

As aquatic turtles, they need an aquatic setup. Unlike many aquatic turtles, the ornate wood turtle can feed on land as well as in water.

Check out the Central American Wood Turtle Care Sheet for more.

3. Furrowed Wood Turtle

Furrowed Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys_areolata)
Furrowed Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys areolata)
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys areolata

The furrowed wood turtle can be found in the Yucatán Peninsula, and Veracruz in Mexico, Belize, northern and central Guatemala, and northwestern Honduras. These turtles are not kept as pets.

4. Black Wood Turtle

Black Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys funerea)
Black Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys funerea)
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys funerea
  • Common Names: black wood turtle or black river turtle

The black wood turtle has a black shell and dark skin. They can be found in  Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

Maracaibo Wood Turtle

Maracaibo Wood Turtle (rhinoclemmys diademata)
Maracaibo Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys diademata)
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys diademata

The Maracaibo wood turtle is endemic to northern South America in specific Venezuela and Colombia.

5. Spot-legged Wood Turtle

Spot-legged Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys punctularia)
Spot-legged Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys punctularia)
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys punctularia
  • Common Names: painted wood turtle, spot-legged wood turtle

The Spot-legged wood turtle can be found in South America, specifically Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, and brazil. These should not be confused with the more popular Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima (also known as painted wood turtles).

6. Brown Wood Turtle

Brown Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys annulata)
Brown Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys annulata)
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys annulata
  • Common Names: brown wood turtle or brown land turtle

The brown wood turtle is endemic to central and south America including Panama, Honduras, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Colombia. Little is known of the brown wood turtle and they aren’t kept as pets.

7. Large-nosed Wood Turtle

Large-nosed Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys nasuta)
Large-nosed Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys nasuta)
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys nasuta

The large-nosed wood turtle can be found in Colombia and Ecuador. As with most Neotropical wood turtles, the large-nosed wood turtles as not kept as pets.

8. Colombian Wood Turtle

Columbian Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys_melanosterna)
Columbian Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys_melanosterna)
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Rhinoclemmys melanosterna

The Neotropical Colombian wood turtle is endemic to central and south America. Their geographical range includes Panama, Ecuador, and Colombia.

Wood Turtle Facts and Information

North American Wood turtles belong to the family Emydidae, which includes many other North American pond turtles such as sliders, cooters, painted turtles, and many more.

Wood turtles reach lengths of 6 to 10 inches, although the average adult is 8 inches long. The most defining feature of the wood turtle is the carapace and its scutes.

The carapace is grayish brown to just brown with a low central keel. The scutes have well-defined concentric growth rings, this gives the species shell a sculptured appearance.

This gives the wood turtle its specific name – insulpta, and maybe eleven its common name. The number of growth rings can give a reasonable estimate of the age of juvenile wood turtles.

The wood turtle can be found in eastern Canada and northeastern America – from Nova Scotia to northern Virginia through the northern Appalachians to as far as eastern Minnesota. As an endangered species, the wood turtle is uncommon and even rare within their geographical range.

Wood Turtle Habitat

Wood turtles are semi-aquatic and prefer moving water such as rivers, creeks, and streams. You can find wood turtles that live quite far from a water body. Females may be more landbased than males.

They offer hard-bottomed streams. These include streams with gravel, sand and gravel, or rocky bottoms. The wood turtle is a woodland species but can also be found in open grasslands, swamps, berry thicks, or riparian woods.

Wood Turtle Care Sheet


The wood turtle is best housed outdoors as they are very active turtles. The more spacious the enclosure, the better. The enclosure should be at least 5 ft by 5 ft.

You can modify a plastic-based rabbit cage or cattle troughs into turtle houses. It is best to have this enclosure custom made. As they are semi-aquatic, you need to provide a pool for them.

The pool should be shallow and at least 2 sq ft in size and 2 ft deep. Ensure that you provide hiding spots for the turtle. Deep substrate and commercial turtle hiding spots should be provided.

The walls of the enclosure should be about 25 inches tall and about 10 inches underground to prevent the turtle from digging out.

Create shade by providing covers such as commercial hides, hollow logs, or leaf litter. The presence of both sunny and shaded areas ensure the turtle can regulate its body temperature.

Hatchlings and juveniles are quite small and can be housed in a large Rubbermaid container or an aquarium. The water in the hatchling aquarium’s water level should be just high enough for them to surface without swimming.

The dry parts of the aquarium should be easy to access, turtle piers and platforms provide easy access. Young wood turtles should be moved outside when they are about 5 inches in straight carapace length.

Frequent water changea is a must.

If you have raccoons, stray dogs and other such animals in your neighborhood, you must protect the turtle from them. Raccoons can remove the turtle from the enclosure and leave it somewhere else.

Dogs can seriously injure the turtle. I recommend you build a screen top over the enclosure to protect the turtles from any unwanted visitors. 


The wood turtle enclosure needs a substrate that ensures humidity retention. Some excellent substrate choices include eco earth, sphagnum moss, and aspen shaving.

The substrate should be deep enough for the turtle to borrow. A mix of sphagnum moss, dampened topsoil, and peat moss is an ideal substrate. You can also add dead leaves to the mix.


The right temperature ranges ensure the turtle is comfortable and healthy. It is important to create areas with different temperatures. This allows the turtle to easily regulate its body temperature.

The basking area, which is where the turtle dries off after swimming must have a temperature of 85 to 90s.  The water temperature should be in the mid-70s. The water temperature shouldn’t fall under 60 F. The general air temperature of the enclosure should be in the 80s.

When housed indoors, you need to provide the needed heating. A ceramic heat lamp or incandescent lamp works well. Some keepers even provide night heat bulbs. The  Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit is an excellent choice as it provides UVB light in addition to heating.

Monitor the temperatures in the enclosure to ensure everything is right.


As with any turtle, UVB light is critical to the growth and wellbeing of the reptile. The best source of UVB light is the sun. However, if the turtle doesn’t have access to the sun, artificial UVB light must be provided.

Direct sunlight can easily heat up the inside of a glass aquarium so it is not recommended to place a transparent aquarium by the window. Additionally, glass significantly reduces the amount of  UVB light that reaches the turtle.

Place UVB light bulbs within the enclosure. The best UVB light bulbs include the ReptiSun 5.0 or ReptiSun 10.0.

Turn off all lights including UVB light bulbs at night.


You can have a shrub or two in an outdoor enclosure. This can provide shade for the turtle. The plants should be edible as the wood turtle may eat them. You can also provide commercial hiding spots and hollow logs.

Wood Turtle Diet

In the wild, the omnivorous wood turtle feeds both in and out of water. They feed on leaves, roots and tubers, fruits, and flowers. They also eat young mice, eggs, carrion, arthropods, mollusks, earthworms, and crustaceans.

The young are more carnivorous, while adults are mostly herbivores. They are known to thump the ground with their forefeet and capture earthworms that come to the surface.

When feeding young wood turtles in captivity ensure that the larger percentage of their diet is animal-based. Feed them insects such as pinky mice, earthworms, mealworms, superworms, dubia roaches, sowbugs, crickets, grubs, wax worms, grubs, snails, and slugs.

You can check out these guides if you want to breed your own food:

You can give them canned snails. Wood turtles eat dead animals as well as live ones. As wood turtles are slow and deliberate pre-killed animals may be best.

Young turtles accept 93% lean hamburger mixed with oyster shell calcium powder (for indoor get calcium powder with d3).

Add commercial turtle pelleted food such as Reptomin Food Sticks to their meal; this helps to ensure that the turtle gets all the needed nutrients.

Plant foods to include in the wild turtle’s diet include carrots, mushrooms, squash, pears, apples, yams, dandelion, kale, and raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries.

Adults are predominantly vegetarians and can be fed a mix of the plants listed above. They are particularly fond of dandelion greens, Bidens, apples, and berries. Adults will also feed on any edible leaves available in their enclosure.

Wood Turtle’s Temperament & Handling

Wood turtles are very sociable. In fact, many turtle enthusiasts view them as being dog-like in nature. They don’t scare easily and will generally come up to their keepers.

They are very curious and even display problem-solving abilities. Behaviors that are not seen in other turtles. When it comes to cognitive tests, they score higher than other turtles.

These cognitive abilities make the wood turtle popular among turtle lovers.

Wood turtles are also comfortable around other wood turtles and can live in large communities. They show little to no aggression as long as males aren’t housed together.

Make sure there are enough hiding spots so stressed turtles can hide out of sight. Females are also more territorial than males.

Do not handle wood turtles regularly. Only handle them if you need to inspect them for signs of illness or injuries. As always, remember to wash your hands with soap and water before and after handing a turtle.

Wood Turtle Lifespan

The wood turtle has a long lifespan. On average, a captive-bred wood turtles live from 40 to 58 years. In the wild, the species have a generation length of 36 to 47 years.

As they are long-lived, you need to be committed before adopting one. And if you can no longer care for your pet turtle, ensure you find it a good home. It is not advisable to release captive-bred turtles into the wild.

Wood Turtle Breeding

Although the peaks in mating activity occur in the spring and fall, Wood Turtles are known to mate opportunistically throughout their activity period.

Males have been observed exhibiting aggressive behavior such as chasing, biting, and butting both during the mating season and at other times. Before they actually touch noses, they lower their heads, and swing them from side to side.

Courting adults may produce a very subdued whistle that is rarely heard by researchers. A female may mate with multiple turtles over the course of the courting season.

Hatchling and juvenile survival is very low and the time to sexual maturity is long. These characteristics are compensated by adults living a long time and reproducing for many years.

Common Health Concerns

Unlike many other pets, turtles hardly ever suffer from any health complications. With the right care, the turtle should live an illness-free life.

However, regardless of how particular you are, turtles like any other animal they can develop health complications. The most common of these include parasites, superficial wounds, and nutrient deficiency.

Intestinal parasites – worms such as nematodes, cestodes, and trematodes can become a serious problem if left untreated. Internal parasite infection is usually due to poor living conditions.

Since a turtle can transmit parasites from one turtle to another, make sure to quarantine infected turtles. Some symptoms of parasites include diarrhea, constipation, worms in fecal matter, regurgitation of food, and foaming at the mouth. You need to contact your vet so they can diagnose and provide medication.

Cuts, bruises, and injuries – Superficial wounds are common and should be expected. This usually happens when several aggressive males are housed together.

Turtles housed outdoors can also injure themselves. Cuts and bruises must be treated so the wounds don’t get infected. Disinfect the wound with a 1-part povidone-iodine/10-part water solution.

And apply a triple antibiotic ointment. You can also visit the vet although this is rather expensive for just a cut. However, if you suspect the wound is infected, you must visit the vet.

Nutrient deficiency – Vitamin deficiency can lead to eye problems, nasal drainage, stomatitis (mouth rot), and even shell and bone deformities collectively known as metabolic bone disease.

Common nutrient deficiencies include vitamin D and calcium deficiency, and vitamin A deficiency.

To prevent nutrient deficiency, mux the turtle’s natural food with commercial turtle diet, and calcium powder. Also, provide supplements such as  Reptivite with D3 two to three times weekly.

Pricing and Availability

As the North American wood turtles are an endangered species, even captive-bred wood turtles are quite expensive. Expect to pay $300 to $400 for a single specimen.

When acquiring a wood turtle, do so from a reputable breeder. Some few sites where you can find reputable breeders include The Turtle Source, Underground Reptiles, and Fresh Marine.


The North American wood turtle is considered to be an endangered species. Their wild populations has been falling. Threats to this species include habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation, illegal pet trade, and predation by raccoons.

In most provinces and states trade in wild wood turtles are illegal. Included in n CITES Appendix II, the wood turtle is protected in most places where it occurs.


The wood turtle is a unique turtle. Their attractive shell and clever demeanor make them a favorite among turtle enthusiasts.

However, since the wood turtle is endangered, you should only acquire a pet wood turtle from a reputable breeder.

Adults also require an outdoor enclosure with a pool to cool in. Building the enclosure is the tough part.

Caring for the wood turtle is straightforward and simple. If you have any additional information or questions, leave a comment or two.

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joe mama

Monday 21st of October 2019