By Jan O.
Upto 4" - 5"
juvenile ornate box turtles are highly carnivorous. Preferred live foods
include worms, snails, slugs, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs.
Ornate box turtles, even as adults, are slightly more carnivorous than other box
turtles. As they get older, ornates will eat plants and fruits.
Daytime Air Temperature:
70 - 90°
80 - 90°
30 - 60%
open woodlands, sandy areas with scrubby vegetation.
Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, eastern Wyoming, eastern Colorado,
eastern New Mexico, Missouri, and portions of Louisiana, Iowa, Illinois,
Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Unless it is a
very young hatchling, ornate box turtles do best outdoors. The habitat should
be secure from predators, including raccoons, cats, dogs, possums, and humans.
A variety of low shrubs for hiding, trees for shade, and plants for food are
desirable. A moist compost pile of leaves and grass makes a perfect home for
grubs, beetles, worms, snails, and slugs that a box turtle can hunt. Water is
necessary at all times for soaking and drinking. The habitat should have moist
areas and dry ones. Ornate box turtles do not need a lot of air humidity, but
they do need to be able to dig into moist spots under bushes or in one of the
Outdoors is best,
and at least 16 sq. ft. is the minimal size for an adult. Box turtles are good
climbers and diggers. The base of the pen should extend 8-12 inches below the
surface using wood, heavy-duty chicken wire or hardware cloth, or cinder
blocks. The walls of the pen should be about 18 inches high and should be made
of wood or something else that does not give the turtle a good surface for
climbing. Making rounded joints instead of square corners will discourage
escape attempts so common in corners. If your pen does have square corners, use
a wide piece of wood across the top to block the turtle from climbing out. It
also doesn't hurt to put a wooden lip along the entire top edge of the
pen. Better safe than sorry with these escape artists! If you suspect that
predators, including humans, could be a problem, make a locking screen top for
the pen. If your pen is large, the top can be made in sections to make it
easier to open and close.
Choose a sunny, warm location where
the pen will get morning and afternoon sun. Box turtles like to hunt at those
times of the day. Dirt, rocks, logs, and other “furniture” make the pen more
interesting and will discourage turtles from patrolling the margins of the pen
looking for escape routes. Rocks and logs also provide places to hide, which
are essential for box turtles. You can build wood hides easily by propping one
end on a rock or up against other pieces of wood. Terracotta plant pots also
make good hides. Mounds, logs, clumps of plants, etc. are also good for
breaking up the line-of-sight and making a pen seem larger to the turtle. If he
can't see all the way across to the other side of the pen, he'll be less likely
to try to escape.
Plant the pen with a variety of
grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs. Choose a shady spot for a compost pile made
of leaves and grass clippings that haven't been treated with fertilizers or
pesticides. Get some worms, snails, and other bugs and put them in the
compost. Pretty soon, they'll start reproducing and your box turtles will have
a nice supply of live food. Add clippings and leaves to the pile occasionally
and sprinkle it with water to keep it moist during the summer.
If your soil isn't deep enough for
your box turtle to dig in, you can supplement it with organic top soil, regular
dirt from your yard (not treated with pesticide or fertilizer), peat moss, or
cypress mulch. Do
use anything with cedar or pine,
however, as these aromatic woods can cause respiratory problems.
If an ornate box
turtle needs to live indoors, the enclosure should be as large as possible. I
wouldn't use anything smaller than a 50 gallon Rubbermaid plastic tub for an
adult so that you can provide the microenvironments your box turtle needs.
Substrate can be one or a combination of several things: top soil, cypress
mulch, peat moss, sphagnum moss, and bed-a-beast, and it should be several
inches deep. You'll need to supply lighting and heat indoors. Turtles need UVA
and UVB light. Fluorescent tubes such as the Reptisun 5.0 provide UVA & B;
ceramic heat emitters provide heat; mercury vapor bulbs supply both UV and
heat. One end of the tub should be warm—the basking end—and the other end
should be cooler. For adults, the cool end can be room temperature, assuming
you don't keep your house below 70 degrees in the winter. Provide the same
types of hides, a water dish, and interesting “furniture” indoors that you do
outdoors. A portion of the substrate should be kept moist, but not extremely
wet, so that the turtle can bury itself in a moist microenvironment when it
Ornate box turtles
are more carnivorous than other box turtles. These guys evolved on the plains
and one of their preferred food sources was beetles and grubs in bison dung. In
captivity, the most common live foods used are crickets, superworms, red
wigglers, earthworms, mealworms, wax worms, silkworms, and even pinky mice.
Mealworms and wax worms are not recommended as a staple because the mealworms
are harder to digest and wax worms have a lot of fat. Silkworms are good
because they're fed on mulberry
leaves, which are high in calcium.
All insects should be gut loaded with a high calcium food source and dusted with
calcium powder before feeding. You can also wet the insects in some baby squash
(the kind in jars sold for human babies!), then roll the insect in calcium
powder. I use that technique when I need to get more Vitamin A into the turtle.
Ornates will also eat flowers,
greens, fruit, carrots, and squash when offered as part of a salad. To entice
them to eat the salad, you may need to sprinkle a few worms on top or mix in
some moistened Mazuri or RepCal pellets.
Foods to avoid include corn, spinach,
broccoli Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beans, peas, and cauliflower because they
interfere with the body's utilization of calcium. Box turtles love corn, for
example, but it really isn't good for them.
You can keep
multiple ornate box turtles together if your enclosure is large enough. Unless
your enclosure is quite large, it's better to have only one male because they
can become aggressive towards each other. Multiple females usually get along
fine. If you're going to house different sexes together, it's better to have at
least 2 females to 1 male, otherwise the lone female will be harassed
constantly. Males are very persistent!
Why does it say
“No” to ornate box turtles being a good beginner turtle? People have a lot of
trouble with ornates in captivity for a couple of reason. One is that wild
caught adults frequently have a difficult time adapting to captivity, and
they're often very stressed by the time they reach the pet store or the dealer.
The second reason is that people misunderstand the ornate's environmental
needs. They do come from a drier climate in terms of humidity in the air than
Terrapene carolina species. However, people tend to keep them too dry,
which leads to ear abscesses and puffy eyes. When given an enclosure with a
choice of moist (not wet) and dry microenvironments, they do much better.