Indiana State Reptile
Ornate Box Turtle (common name)
Terrapene ornata ornata (scientific name)
One of only two land turtle species native to the United States’ Great Plains, the ornate box turtle gets its name from the often intricate patterns on its shell. It’s commonly found in Midwestern states and was first noticed by European settlers in Nebraska. This turtle is the official state reptile of Kansas.
The ornate box turtle has a hinged shell so it can withdraw its head and limbs to protect itself from predators. The shell has a pattern of yellow lines radiating from the center on an olive green to brown-black background. Its shell is flatter than those of other box turtles. The turtle’s face and front feet also show bright yellow dots and blotches. The turtle’s markings sometimes have brighter orange to red shading.
Males have orange or red eyes and a tendency toward brighter markings, while females have brown eyes and a yellow pattern. Males are usually smaller than females and have a curved claw at the inside of their back foot. This turtle’s shell grows as it ages, but counting the rings is not a reliable way to tell how old it is. Factors such as food supply and weather conditions have a strong effect on the turtle’s annual growth.
Up to 37 years; average 25 years.
Open sandy areas near water.
Range: The American Midwest from Wisconsin west to Colorado and south as far as Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
Conservation Status: Near Threatened (NT). Habitat loss is an issue for these turtles. Populations are increasingly cut off from one another. Because these turtles are late to mature, many die before they can reproduce. Humans, who often find the shells attractive, are the turtle’s main predator. Many of these turtles are hit by cars each year.
An ornate box turtle is usually more active early and late in the day, foraging for food and walking around its home range. It’s an omnivorous and opportunistic animal and will eat a wide range of insects, invertebrates, and plant matter. This turtle burrows into sand or under bushes at night and at midday, though it may leave some of its shell exposed. The ornate box turtle prefers land but swims readily, though usually not under deep water. It’s usually active from April to October.
The ornate box turtle mates in spring. Females build nests in sandy earth and lay five to six eggs, which usually hatch in two to three months. As with many reptiles, incubation temperature determines the hatchling's sex. Because of this, it’s usual for about twice as many hatchlings to be female as male. Hatchlings are tiny but fully developed and independent. They have a range of predators and spend a lot of time under cover. As weather cools, the ornate box turtle burrows underground to hibernate. An ornate box turtle can bite, though it seldom does; retreating into its shell is its usual defense.
Caterpillars, insects, earthworms, any type of carrion, grasses, flowers, prickly pear cacti, fruit, vegetables.
Breeding interval: Spring and early summer, sometimes twice a year
Hatching period: August–September
Average nest size: 2–8
Size at birth: Width 1.2 in (30 mm); weight 0.25 oz (7 g)
Click to enlarge an image
Raw Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press