Missouri State Reptile
Three-toed Box Turtle (common name)
Terrapene carolina triunguis (scientific name)
The three-toed box turtle is a hinge-shelled turtle. Its common name comes from the number of toes on each hind foot, even though it seems that some actually have four toes. These are small, particularly gentle, turtles most popular as pets. They are an important part of their ecosystem because they distribute seeds from berries, which are part of their diet. They also eat insects, including some pests. The three-toed box turtle became Missouri’s official state reptile in 2007.
A three-toed box turtles has a high, domed, tan to olive hinged shell that allows it to withdraw its head and legs into the shell completely. The underside of the shell is olive to tan with a few markings. A three-toed box turtle has brown skin, though its head and front legs may have yellow, orange, or reddish flecks. A male is likely to have more color, and may even have a red head. A male also has red irises while a female has yellow, but both usually have flecks of other colors in their eyes. Both eye coloring and a three-toed box turtle’s markings are different on each animal.
Documented over 50 years; estimated up to 80 years.
Woodlands, forest edges, and fields near woodlands with bush cover near a source of water.
Range: Northern Missouri into south-central Texas and southeastward across western Tennessee and Georgia.
Conservation Status: The three-toed box turtle is protected in most states where it lives. It grows and reproduces slowly, making loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation particular issues. With a limited home range, each turtle has more trouble foraging and finding a mate. Many turtles, especially young turtles looking for their own home range and adults searching for a mate, die by being hit by a car when trying to cross a road.
The three-toed box turtle migrates as the seasons change to maintain its optimal humidity level. It hibernates in colder months in a shallow burrow, often no deeper than a few inches. As temperatures warm, it becomes active and may bask in open, grassy areas. In summer, it usually retreats to a forest or some other moist, shady place.
This turtle mates all through spring and summer. A female digs and covers several nests of three to eight eggs in soft earth. These hatch two or three months later, or overwinter in colder climates. A newly hatched three-toed box turtle goes into hiding and is mature when it is between seven and 10 years of age. Concrete information about young turtles is scarce, but it’s likely that they live under bushes or other cover and eat insects in their early years.
Plants, berries, flowers, and mushrooms, including some poisonous types tolerable to the species. Younger turtles also eat worms and insects.
Breeding interval: Annual
Hatching period: Varies based on temperature
Average nest size: 6 eggs
Size at birth: 1–1.5 in (2.5–3.8 cm)
Click to enlarge an image
Raw Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press