Thursday, September 27, 2012

Missouri Ornate Box Turtle

I work in a small bank at the edge of a small town.
Directly across the road is Lake Taneycomo, and
behind the bank is woods. It's not unusual to have
the "odd" critter make it's way through our
drive-thru.  Over the years I've seen deer, raccoon,
geese, ducks, a rooster, giant beetles, creepy
spiders, birds and an endless variety of kittens
and dogs.  Today, it was a little ornate box turtle. 
We brought him inside the bank until we had
a chance to take him to the edge of the woods. 
I am only 5ft. 1in. tall & have a very small hand.
 (Great for hand sewing in tiny places!)  As you
can see this is a small turtle. 
Lucky for us, he did
not leave a deposit!

Ornate Box Turtle

Terrapene ornata ornata
Emydidae (basking, marsh and box turtles) in the order Testudines (turtles)

This small, colorful turtle has a domed upper shell and a hinged lower shell. The upper shell is usually smooth or flattened along the top, without a ridge, and is normally brown with numerous yellow lines radiating from the center of each individual plate. A yellow stripe often runs down the top. The lower shell is brown with distinct yellow spots and blotches. The head and limbs are brown or black with yellow spots and blotches. There are normally four toes on each hind leg.
Similar species: The three-toed box turtle usually has three toes on each hind leg, a ridge along the center of the top shell and the top shell is usually olive or olive-brown with faint yellow or orange lines radiating from the center of each plate. It is more of a woodland species than the ornate box turtle and is found statewide except for extreme northern and northwestern portions.
Upper shell length: 4-5 inches (adult).
Habitat and conservation:
This species is a fairly common resident of Missouri’s native prairies and grasslands, including pastures, open woods and glades. Thousands of box turtles are killed on roads by vehicles. Overwintering burrows can prove inadequate during hard winters, and many turtles are starved or killed by humans trying to keep them as pets. Leave turtles in the wild, follow the speed limit and keep your eyes on the road.
Although 90 percent of this turtle’s diet is composed of insects, particularly grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars, ornate box turtles also eat a small amount of plant matter, especially berries and tender shoots.
Distribution in Missouri:
Statewide, except for the southeastern corner of the state, and is more common in the western and northern parts of Missouri.
Turtles have been generally declining statewide, mainly due to loss of habitat.
Life cycle:
Ornate box turtles become active in late March. Courtship and mating are most common in the spring; it tapers off in summer and can resume in early autumn. The females lays eggs in exposed areas with loose soil or sand, digging a shallow hole with her hind limbs and depositing her eggs. A clutch is usually 2–8 eggs, which hatch 2-3 months later. There are 1-2 clutches per season. Box turtles dig into leaf litter and soil and go dormant to survive winter.
Human connections:
Of all the reptiles, turtles are the most admired by humans for their symbolic characteristics of slow, steady progress, longevity and resilience as well as for their unique body form. They can live to be 50, perhaps even 80, years old.
Ecosystem connections:
Even though adult box turtles are defended by their shells, the eggs and young provide food for many predators. Hatchlings are only about 1 inch long and are especially vulnerable.
From the Missouri Department of Conservation


  1. What a beauty (and this time it's not one of your dolly creations! The yellow radiating lines create a wonderful design on his back...also love the eyes! I will be watching for the little critters in our Ozarks!

  2. Thank you for the info on this beautiful creature. They are quite plentiful in the woods near Galena where we are building our cabin. Several times we have had to turn a turtle over as he has fallen on his back and will die without assistance. Lat time there was a turtle right next to the upside down turtle, I wonder if it was trying to help him turn over? Our neighbor says this happens during mating, the male falls off backwards, poor fellow. Don't know if that is true?

  3. We have a lot of these little darlings in our area also. I've often stopped traffic to get out of the car and move one off to the side of the road. The people behind me may grumble but I'm happy!

  4. I love when you post the natural history of stuff. LOVE IT. Glad things worked out for Mr. Box Turtle, (and that he left no deposit.) When we used to live in Missouri (Ft Leonard Wood) I used to be afraid to drive during their mating season--they were everywhere and I knew they'd get killed. Poor guys.


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