Wildwood Zoo

Meet the Ornate Box Turtles at Wildwood Zoo


The ornate box turtle, Terrapene ornata, is found throughout Wyoming and Indiana all the way down to Louisiana and New Mexico. It was declared the state reptile of Kansas in 1986. Here in Wisconsin, they are an endangered species and the only endangered species at the zoo. We are showcasing them to bring awareness to the interesting animals in our "backyards" and that they need our help. Ornate box turtles are a completely terrestrial species that primarily lives in open prairies and sometimes grazed pastures. They are one of only two species of land-dwelling turtles in the American Great Plains. The other is its close cousin, the eastern box turtle. Ornates like to mostly live in Oak Savannas. These are endangered areas that are covered in grassland with sporadic oak trees. The population of ornate box turtles has dwindled in Wisconsin because their habitat has significantly decreased. People are also capturing them in the wild and selling them in the pet trade. Don’t let theses turtles fool you, they do not make good pets. Ornate box turtles are extremely good escape artists and need plenty of room to run around in.

Their name comes from 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. Ornate box turtles are prey for all sorts of animals including skunks and coyotes. These turtles only get to about 4-5 inches long with the biggest ever recorded found in Kansas at 6 ½ inches. Females are slightly larger than males and have yellowish brown eyes. Males typically have red eyes.  Ornate box turtles mature around the age of 8 to 10 years old and can live 40 plus years in captivity.

Ornate box turtles are omnivorous, which means they eat meat, fruit, and vegetables. Although they can eat veggies they prefer meat. In the wild they eat beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, earthworms, and dead vertebrates. They also eat berries and cactus. At the zoo their diet consists of earthworms, berries, small chunks of meat, carrots and leafy greens.

They are most active from April to October during temperatures of 60-95 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature starts dropping in October they stop eating and dig into the ground to hibernate. They are the only animals at the zoo that will be off exhibit during the winter. 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. The best time to see them active would be right around lunchtime.


More Information
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Meet the American Elk
Meet the Bald Eagle
Meet the Great Horned Owl
Meet the Red-tailed Hawk
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