Box Turtles of North America
Types of Turtles
North America hosts two native box turtle species.
Four subspecies of the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) inhabit the forest floors, swamps and grassy areas of the Eastern United States:
- Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) exhibits the widest range, extending from Southern New England, south to the Florida state line and west into Indiana, southern Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee.
- The Three-Toed Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis) ranges through the South Central United States.
- The range of the Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) is limited to the peninsula area.
The Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major), the largest native species, inhabits open areas such as meadows, along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.
While they are popular in the pet trade, generally box turtles don't make good pets. They are wild animals that have evolved to live in specific environments. They become ill rather easily when kept in indoor display containers.
Shell pattern varies among subspecies, but the turtle's small size and high dome make it easy to identify. The picture shows an individual discovered on the side of a road. Like many wild box turtles, they are shy around a human presence and tend to retract their legs and head into their shell.
Their diet is as broad as their range. Any plant, animal or berry food source it encounters while foraging is fair game.
The Western Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata), also known as the Ornate Box turtle, is one of two native box turtle species.
Two separate subspecies have been identified, Terrapene ornata ornata and Terrapene ornata luteola, with both inhabiting dry and sandy habitats in their range.
The more common subspecies, the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata), inhabits the grasslands of the central United States from South Dakota, south through Texas. The Desert Box Turtle inhabits the grassland areas of the Desert Southwest regions, south to northern Mexico.
They are a terrestrial species that live in burrows. Occasionally they can be found in shallow water environments, but their proclivity to be around water habitats pales in comparison to other native turtle species.
Their diet consists of a variety of foods in their immediate territory including fruits, insects, cacti and plants. Sightings by humans often correspond with their emerging from their burrows during morning and late afternoons in order to forage for food.
In Kansas, where it holds the status of official state reptile, it tends to be mostly carnivorous.
Population levels are uncertain, although there are reports of decline in many areas, due largely to habitat loss.
© 2009-2012 Patricia A. Michaels