occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (200,000 to >2,500,000 square km (about 80,000 to >1,000,000 square miles)) Range encompasses the central United States, from southeastern Wyoming to southern Wisconsin and Indiana(Lodato and Hulvershorn 2001), and south to southeastern Arizona, northern Mexico, southern Texas, and southwestern Louisiana.
Distribution: USA (Wisconsin, Illinois, W Indiana, Iowa, S South Dakota, SE Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, SW Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, SE Arizona), Mexico (Sonora, Chihuahua) ornata: USA (Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kan- sas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico,Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin);
Type locality: “From the Upper Missouri . . . and from Iowa” (see “Remarks”); ﬁ rst restricted to “Council Bluffs [Pottawattomie County], Iowa” by Smith and Taylor (1950b:36), later to “junction of the Platte and Missouri rivers” by Schmidt (1953:951), and ﬁnally to Burlington [Des Moines County], Iowa,” the locality of the lectotype, MCZ 1536, by Smith and Smith (1980:587). See Smith and Smith (1980) for a discussion of the history of the type locality designations and earlier erroneous restrictions. luteola: Mexico (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora), USA (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas)
Length: 15 cm
Catalog Number: USNM 57
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Locality: Yellowstone, County Undetermined, Montana, United States, North America
- Paralectotype: Smith, H. M. & Smith, R. B. 1980. Guide to Mexican Turtles, Bibliographic Addendum III. Synopsis of the Herpetofauna of Mexico. 6: 587.; Agassiz, L. 1857. Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America, Volume 1, Part 2, North American Testudinata. 1: 445.; Syntype: Smith, H. M. & Smith, R. B. 1980. Guide to Mexican Turtles, Bibliographic Addendum III. Synopsis of the Herpetofauna of Mexico. 6: 587.; Agassiz, L. 1857. Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America, Volume 1, Part 2, North American Testudinata. 1: 445.
Habitat and Ecology
The Ornate Box Turtle is generally a ‘prairie turtle’, inhabiting treeless, sandy plains and gently rolling country with grass and scattered low brush as the dominant vegetation. It may enter woodlands, particularly along streams. Subspecies luteola in Arizona and New Mexico may also be found on the desert fringe (Ernst et al. 1994). In nature, Terrapene ornata feed mainly on insects (mainly beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers);berries, carrion and other items are also eaten (Legler 1960, Ernst et al. 1994).
Both sexes of Ornate Box turtles may reach 15.4 cm carapace length (CL). Most males mature at about 10-11 cm plastron length (PL), and females at PL of about 11-13 cm, at ages of eight to nine and 10-11, respectively (Legler 1960). Average clutch size is 4.7 eggs in Kansas (Legler 1960) and 3.5 in Wisconsin (Doroff and Keith 1990); extremes of clutch size are two to eight. Depending on location and probably on environmental conditions, some females may produce a second clutch in a year, while many females skip reproduction for one or two years (Legler 1960, Doroff and Keith 1990). Hatchlings measure about 30 mm (range 28-32 mm). The oldest animal in a studied Kansas population was estimated to be 28 years old, and the population was estimated to have almost complete turnover in 25 years (Metcalf and Metcalf 1985). Ernst et al. (1994) reported a captive female of about 42 years of age (Ernst and Lovich 2009).
No natural history information is available on the Mexican populations.
Comments: Ornate or western box trutles inhabit prairie grassland, pasture, fields, sandhills, and open woodland. They are essentially terrestrial but sometimes enter slow, shallow streams and creek pools. For shelter, they burrow into soil (e.g., under plants such as yucca) (Converse et al. 2002) or enter burrows made by other species; winter burrow depth was 0.5-1.8 meters in Wisconsin (Doroff and Keith 1990), 7-120 cm (average depth 54 cm) in Nebraska (Converse et al. 2002). In Wisconsin, hatchlings often were near or under rocks in dense vegetation (Doroff and Keith 1990). Eggs are laid in nests dug in soft well-drained soil in open area (Legler 1960, Converse et al. 2002).
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Comments: The diet of ornate box turtles includes many insects (especially beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars), worms, fruits, carrion (including road kill), and sometimes other sm all animals such as amphibian larvae or the eggs or chicks of ground-nesting birds (Legler 1960).
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Comments: Many occurrences, at least 100s.
100,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Comments: Often common where found, particularly in sandhills (Pope 1939).
Maximum home range diameter in New Mexico was 32-526 m (mean 276 m) (Nieuwolt 1996). Home range in Kansas averaged about 2 ha (Legler 1960). Home range in Texas averaged about 100 m in diameter (Blair 1976). In Wisconsin, home range was 0.2-58.1 ha (average 9 ha) for adults, average of 1.5 ha for 3-7-year-olds, 16 sq m for hatchlings; adult annual survival rate 81%; major source of adult mortality was vehicles (Doroff and Keith 1990). Annual adult survivorship was 0.81-0.96 in Texas, 0.83 in Kansas (see Iverson 1991). Annual survival was 97% in an isolated habitat in Illinois (Bowen et al. 2004).
Life History and Behavior
Comments: Most activity occurs from March to November, with a shorter season (April to September or October) in the northern part of the range (Ernst and Barbour 1972, Legler 1960, Doroff and Keith 1990). These turtles generally are active during daylight hours, but nesting activity may extend into darkness (Legler 1960). Above-ground movements often are stimulated rainfall (e.g., summer monsoon in southeastern Arizona). Evidently this species is active at lower temperatures in the north than in the south (Copeia 1993:447-455).
In New Mexico, ornate box turtles were most active at ambient temperatures of 13-24 C (Nieuwolt 1996).
In southeastern Arizona, the hibernation period (October-December to April) was contiguous with a three-month estivation period for a total annual period of subterranean refuge of about eight months; above-ground activity resumed with the summer monsoons (Plummer 2004).
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Mating occurs in spring or late summer/fall. Nesting occurs from May to August (mostly late May to mid-June in Nebraska (Converse et al. 2002), peaks in June in Kansas and southern Wisconsin (Doroff and Keith 1990), apparent peaks in July in New Mexico). Adult females lay 1-2 clutches of 1-8 eggs. Eggs hatch in 9-12 weeks, depending on temperature, in August or September in much of the range. In Kansas, most males are sexually mature in 8-9 years, females in 10-11 years (Legler 1960); in Texas sexual maturity is attained in 7-8 years (Blair 1976). In Wisconsin, 50-63% of adult females laid eggs in a particular year (Doroff and Keith 1990).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Terrapene ornata
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
A combination of gradual habitat degradation and loss, and roadkill and other human-caused accidental mortality, combined with the species’ slow growth and very limited reproductive capacity, indicate that the species will continue if not accelerate its gradual decline across much of its range, eventually probably becoming restricted to large stretches of protected or low-impact land. At an estimated population replacement time of 25 years, three generations stretch from the end of the Wild West era up to the suburban sprawl era. Is is currently listed as Near Threatened.
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Widespread and locally common in the plains region of central North America; local populations may be depleted by heavy mortality on roads; human populations are declining in many parts of the range; appears to tolerate heavy grazing and many habitat changes; impact of the pet trade needs to be evaluated.
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly to moderately vulnerable.
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 30%
Comments: Believed to be stable to slightly declining, but this needs verification. Populations declined in northwestern Indiana between the 1930s and 1990s (Brodman et al. 2002).
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 30-50%
Comments: Likely has declined moderately in abundance; area of occupancy has declined in agricultural regions.
Degree of Threat: Medium
Comments: Locally threatened with increasing urbanization and in areas where agriculture is increasing. Roads are a major threat to box turtle populations; within a single element occurrence, hundreds may be killed by vehicles in a single year on certain interstate highways, and dozens may be run over on secondary roads (Hammerson 1999); roads also increase vulnerability to collectors (Doroff and Keith 1990). Box turtles are popular in the pet trade of Europe and SE Asia; excessive exploitation for this trade may be a significant threat. In Missouri, this species incurred a high rate of mortality as a result of prescribed burning of tallgrass prairie in late October (Frese 2003).
The species likely inhabits a substantial number of protected areas across its range, but specific details are not available and would be desirable. Very limited information is available on the status and biology of the western subspecies luteola inhabiting the Sonora and Coahuila deserts, and studies would be appropriate.
Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: Doroff and Keith (1990) tentatively suggested that roadless areas of at least 100 ha, where collecting is effectively forbidden, are required to sustain viable box turtle populations.
Biological Research Needs: Need to determine the impacts of the pet trade.
Global Protection: Many to very many (13 to >40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: Many populations occur on protected or government-managed lands. Some occur on Nature Conservancy lands.
Needs: None indicated.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Comments: USFWS (Federal Register, 2 February 1996) reported that approximately 10,500 T. ORNATA were reported as exported from the U.S. in 1993, 12,300 in 1994.
There are two subspecies of T. ornata:
- Ornate box turtle, Terrapene ornata ornata (Agassiz, 1857)
- Desert box turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola (Smith & Ramsey, 1952)
T. ornata have a shell that is less domed than other species of box turtle, appearing to be slightly flattened. Their coloration is generally black or dark brown, with yellow striping. T. o. luteola tends to have more striping than T. o. ornata.
T. ornata ornata is found in the central United States from western Indiana, to eastern Texas and into Louisiana. T. ornata luteola inhabits the driest areas of all the box turtle species, and is found in western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and adjoining areas of northern Mexico.
- Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1996). Terrapene ornata. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 09 May 2006.
- Indiana Legislative Services Agency (2011), "312 IAC 9-5-4: Endangered species of reptiles and amphibians", Indiana Administrative Code, retrieved 28 Apr 2012
- "2009-73-1901 Kansas Code patriotic emblems, state reptile, designation". Justia. Retrieved February 11, 2011.
- Shearer 1994, p. 315