Ornate Box Turtle
Here at Wildwood Zoo, we have two female Ornate Box Turtles who call the zoo home. Their names are Millie and Vanillie. Millie came to us in October of 2016 from Milwaukee. She was found wandering in the city and may have been a released pet and determined to be non-releasable. Vanillie came to us in June of 2019 all the way from the New Mexico Wildlife Center. She was found with old scarring along front of her shell (likely due to malnutrition) and her toenails were painted bright red, all pointing to her also being an ex-pet.
Here in Wisconsin, ornate box turtles are an endangered species and the only endangered species on exhibit here at the zoo. They are declining in Wisconsin because they do not have the same amount of habitat they once did. They are also being illegally captured and sold in the pet trade.
They are called ornate box turtles because of the distinct pattern on their carapace (upper shell) of yellowish lines on a black or brown background. They are also able to completely close their plastron (lower shell) to ward off predators. They only get to about 4-5 inches long with the biggest being found in Kansas at 6 ½ inches. Females are slightly larger than males and have yellowish brown eyes. Males typically have red eyes.
They are most active from April to October during temperatures 60-95 degrees F. When the temperature starts dropping in October they stop eating and start to dig into the ground to hibernate. You will be able to see them again in spring when they wake up around April. Box turtles, like most reptiles, are ectothermic (cold-blooded) and regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun during the cooler morning and evening hours, while seeking shade during hotter times of day.
The geographic distribution of the ornate box turtle includes a large part of the Midwest, from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico and from Louisiana to Colorado. It was first discovered in Nebraska in 1795, where "vast numbers" were found. The turtle is usually found in grasslands and on land rather than in water; they have been found in all habitat types of the Great Plains except aquatic, though most references indicate they prefer open grass or prairie lands.
Ornates like to live in oak savannas, which are areas that are mostly covered in grassland with some sporadic oak trees.
Breeding usually occurs right after hibernation in late march/ early April. They hatch after an average of 70 days. Like other box turtles, the sex of ornate box turtles can be determined by incubation temperature. At 80 degrees, a clutch will exhibit a fairly even mix of males and females. Eggs incubated at 72 degrees will produce mostly to all male turtles. An incubation temperature of 88 degrees will produce nearly all females.
In the wild: 32-37 years
In human care: 40+ years
Ornate box turtles are omnivorous; they eat meat, fruit, and vegetables, but prefer meat. In the wild they eat beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, earthworms, and dead vertebrates. They also eat berries and cactus.