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The Herps of La Crosse

Living With Herps

Easy Herp Monitoring

Herps as Pets

General Herp Info

Suggested Reading and Bibliography


About Me and Contact Info

Ornate Box Turtle
(Terrapene ornata)

Endangered Wild Animal

This turtle is not normally found in the La Crosse area.  It is considered to be one of the most endangered reptiles in the state.  It is absolutely illegal to capture, or keep as a pet, an Ornate Box Turtle.


    Description: Ornate Box Turtles are slow moving, land-dwelling turtles, that are very rare within Wisconsin.  They have high, domed shells, unlike most aquatic turtles commonly seen within the state.  They have dark brown, or black plastrons, with yellow stripes along the raised parts of each scute.  While these colors are very bright in juveniles, they tend to fade in adults.  Furthermore, the dry habitats in which these turtles persist lead to the turtles themselves being dry or dusty, making their colors appear drab.

   Habitat/Ecology:  Ornate Box Turtles prefer dry prairies or oak savannahs with sandy/loamy soil.  The are more often found in areas with sparse vegetation, that they can easily push their way through.  It seems that prickly pear cacti are almost always found within Ornate habitats, and the turtles will frequently chew on these succulent plants for moisture.  They are omnivores, however, consuming both plant and animal (insect) material.  Ornate Box Turtles emerge from hibernation in May, and breed soon after.  By late May, June, females begin digging nests with their strong legs to deposit the eggs.  

Often times, Ornates will dig "divets", which are holes just the right size for them to crawl into and rest overnight (see pic below).  To the trained eye, the presence of divets, can also mean the presence of Box Turtles nearby.

Pictured above: Ornate box turtle habitat (note the pickly pear cacti).  On the right, a "divet" dug out by a box turtle to rest in.

    Remarks:  Ornate Box Turtles are an incredibly rare turtle within the Upper Midwest.  They do not exist within La Crosse County and are more restricted to remnant prairies in the central part of the state.  Extensive work by the DNR, Bureau of Endangered Resources has been done to help the species bounce back from near elimination within Wisconsin.

Turtle tracks!!

   Box turtles are very interesting because their plastron is hinged.  Therefore, they are able to close their shells and seal themselves inside.


Pictured above: These Ornate Box Turtles are captive specimens legally owned by an employee of the DNR.  These turtles are part of a captive breeding program and used for educational purposes.  It is absolutely illegal for private collectors to own these turtles within Wisconsin.  The individual on the left is a juvenile, while the one on the right is an adult.  They are cute little buggers, aren't they!

Pictured above: The turtle in these pictures is actually a three-toed box turtle, and it is not native to WI.  I found this individual in a pasture located in Jackson Co., and have no idea how it got there.  My best guess would be that it was an escaped, or released, pet.  Notice the picture on the right.  See how tightly box turtles can seal their shells?


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