Wildwood Zoo

Meet the Ornate Box Turtles at Wildwood Zoo


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 tonails were painted bright red, all pointing to her also being an ex-pet.  

The Ornate Box Turtle is found throughout Kansas and was declared its state reptile in 1986. It is also found from Wyoming and Indiana to southern Louisiana and New Mexico. But here in Wisconsin, they are an endangered species and the only endangered species on exhibit here at the zoo. We have decided to make and exhibit to showcase these animals to teach people about interesting animals in their backyard that need their help. Ornate box turtles are endangered in Wisconsin because they do not have the same amount of habitat they once did. They are also being caught and sold in the pet trade. People believe that they would make good pets but don’t let them fool you. Ornate box turtles are extremely good escape artists and need plenty of room to run around in.

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. Ornate box turtles can be prey for mammals such as skunks and coyotes. 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. They will be the only animal at the zoo that will be off exhibit for a period of time when they 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 best time to see them active would be right before lunch or right after.

Ornate box turtles are a completely terrestrial species that primarily lives in open prairies and sometimes grazed pastures. There are only two species of land-dwelling turtles that live on the American Great Plains, the ornate box turtle and its close cousin, the eastern box turtle.

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.

Life Expectancy
Ornate box turtles typically mature around the age of 8 to 10 years old.
They will live 40 plus years in captivity.

Natural Diet
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.

More Information
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