Ornate Box Turtle
Ornate Box Turtle
(Terrapene ornata)

Interesting facts:
Ornate box turtles have a hinge on their lower shell (plaston). This allows them to completely pull their head, legs, and tail into their shell.

Ornate box turtles are 4 to 5 inches long. They have a flattened dome-like shell that is brown marked with radiating yellow marks that look like starbursts. Their lower shell is also brown marked with yellow. Their skin is gray; the head is dark brown with yellow marks. Adult males develop a greenish color on the top of their heads, and get a purple tongue. Box turtles can live up to 30 years of age.

Habitat and behavior:
Box turtles are native only to North America. Ornate box turtles live from South Dakota to Illinois and south to Texas and Arizona. They live on treeless plains, prairies, and grassy hills, seeking out damp or wet areas.

In Illinois, ornate box turtles are active in the daytime from April to October, especially after a rainfall, because they need lots of water. They hibernate from November to March. Breeding takes place in the spring and the fall. The female lays 2 to 8 oblong white eggs underground and leaves them. The hatched young dig their way out of the ground and are on their own.

Ornate box turtles eat live beetles, caterpillars, cicadas, and worms. They also eat dead animals, berries, and other fruits.

Distribution and status:
Ornate box turtles are distributed in isolated patches of prairie in Illinois. They were more broadly distributed prior to loss of prairie habitat.