Desert Ornate Box Turtle, Texas Ornate Box Turtle, Eastern Ornate Box Turtle
Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata ornata
The Ornate Box Turtle is a relatively small turtle, measuring only 4 to 6 inches in length. Their shells are dark brown with a yellow stripe and yellow lines down its back. They do not have teeth, but they use their sharp jaws to crush prey. The male can be differentiated from the female by their slightly concave plastron and red eyes (the female's eyes are brown). The baby turtles resemble the adults, only their stripes look like spots. The Ornate Box Turtle can live as long as 40 years, maybe longer.
For housing, a glass aquarium is not a good idea for the Ornate Box Turtle. They will do well in an enclosed area outside, as long as the plants are wisely chosen. They also do well in a large indoor terrarium. For ground material, use peat-based potting compost and it is preferable to have it mixed with sphagnum moss. It should be at least three to four inches. Always be aware that they have plenty of shade and that the tank does not become too dry. They should have a tray of water in which they can soak and temperatures should remain in between 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the basking area and at 70 degrees Fahrenheit in a cooler area. Ornate Box Turtles are omnivores, eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables such as grapes, berries, cantaloupe, bananas, yellow squash, and tomatoes to name a few.
The Ornate Box Turtle mating can occur throughout the active season, but is generally most successful in late summer. They will reach sexual maturity between the ages of one and two years. The male will use his claw on his hind feet to hold the female in proper position. In June, female turtles will dig their nest holes, usually in sandy areas, lay two to eight eggs and then cover the nest. Eggs will incubate for about 55 to 70 days. Hatchlings are about nickel sized.
The Ornate Box Turtle possesses a high-domed shell (with special hinges on its plastron, or, lower shell, which hinge to completely box them in, hence the name) which acts as its defense from predators. Strictly a terrestrial species, when threatened, they will box themselves in. In the wild, they inhabit many environments and they make use of burrows and microclimates. They can be found all over the United States, but mostly, they seem to prefer areas where temperatures are higher and the soil is dryer. There are two subspecies of this turtle, Terrapene ornata ornata and Terrapene ornata luteola. T. o. ornata is also known as the Eastern Ornate Box Turtle and T. o. luteola is also known as the Texas or Desert Ornate Box Turtle.
Ornate Box Turtles are very sensitive and they have many specialized needs, in terms of both environment and diet. In captivity, they are known to stress easily.
Among turtles bred as pets, they are one of the most difficult of North American species to maintain and they are definitely not recommended for beginners.
Some will also eat pothos and cactus (spineless,of course), just to site a few examples. In addition live food such as crickets (with added calcium), waxworms, mealworms and earthworms, along with an occasional pinkie mouse are enjoyed.