Meet the Critters! The Ornate Box Turtle

Our male ornate box turtle relaxing in his water dish.

This week on Meet the Critters, we’re introducing you to the state reptile of Kansas: the ornate box turtle!  This turtle is a protected species in Kansas, as well as five other Midwestern states (Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, and Wisconson).  The ornate box turtle is a species of concern in these states because they are vulnerable to threats from several areas.  Agriculture and development are two of the biggest threats to these turtles.  Ornate box turtles can be killed by agricultural equipment, or even trampled by cattle.  Greater human development means more roads: even the turtle’s tough shell is no protection against a car or truck.  Some people even intentionally swerve to hit a turtle that is trying to cross the road!

So why DOES the turtle cross the road?  Ornate box turtles are philopatric – meaning that they always return to their birthplace to breed.  Turtles may have to range far from home to find food, up to a tenth of a mile.  That may not sound like much, but it’s a long way when you’re a five inch long turtle!  In addition to their need to return to their birthplace for breeding, ornate box turtles are known to eat carrion when it’s available.  Roadkill is one source of food, but eating it puts these turtles in danger.

Other than motor vehicles, there’s not much that can take on an adult ornate box turtle.  Young turtles are on the menu for everything from crows and cats to raptors and racoons.  As you might have guessed from the above note about carrion, ornate box turtles are less than picky eaters.  They are true omnivores, and very opportunistic in their food choices!

Male ornate box turtles are much more dramatically colored than the females.  The males have much brighter shells, and incredible ruby red eyes.  While females are duller in coloration, they tend to be slightly larger than the males.

Male ornate box turtles have bright ruby red eyes and bright shells.

Female ornate box turtles are more subtly colored than the males.

About Jean Aycock

Jean Aycock is an Educator at Ft. Hays State University’s Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) at Cheyenne Bottoms. Jean received a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry - Wildlife Management from Mississippi State University, and a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Arkansas-Monticello, studying shorebird migration. Jean is a native of southeast Missouri, and an avid birder, hiker, and crafter.

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