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Ornate Box Turtle

Terrapene ornata

  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult Size: 4 to 6 inches in carapace length
  • Range: The ornate box turtle is a species of the mid-western United States. Its easternmost range is Arkansas, Missouri and western Louisiana. In the West, it extends into the desert regions of Arizona. It is most common in the Great Plains states.
  • Habitat: The ornate box turtle is a species of prairie grasslands and woodlands. It is less likely to occur in forested habitats than the common box turtle. In the western U.S., the ornate box turtle is found in desert grasslands. In northern prairie regions, ornate box turtles have been known to burrow into the loamy soil to depths of several feet to escape freezing winter temperatures.
  • Captive Lifespan: More than 20 Years
  • Dangerous:
  • Care Level: Beginner


Ornate box turtles are a small species with a pleasant disposition. They are less suited to humid conditions than common box turtles and this factor should be taken into account when maintaining the species in captivity. Ornate box turtles do well in outdoor enclosures where they have access to both sunny and shady areas. Leaf piles provide the opportunity to regulate body temperature and escape hot, dry periods, as well as cold. If maintaining ornate box turtles in regions where winter temperatures will freeze the ground, then a suitable insulating cover must be provided. Loose well-drained soil should be provided that allows the turtles to dig to sufficient depth. Hardwood leaves provides an additional insulating layer.

Ornate box turtles can be maintained in indoor terrariums and seem to prefer drier conditions than common box turtles, although a shallow bowl for soaking should be provided.

Ornate box turtles are quite carnivorous and have been known to eat insects, such as grasshoppers and caterpillars. They will also eat carrions, and have fed on mice and nestling birds. They will also eat strawberries and other fruits.

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