Box turtles are small turtles in the genus Terrapene. They have a dome-like shell that has a hinge at the bottom, allowing the turtle to close its shell completely in order to escape predators. Males are characterized by having usually red or orange eyes while females have brown eyes. River Legacy Park and the woods adjacent to River Legacy Living Science Center are home to two species of box turtles: the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis) and the western ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornate ornata).
The three-toed box turtle is a subspecies of the common box turtle (Terrapene carolina). As the name indicates, this turtle has three toes on its back feet. These turtles can be found walking through the forest looking for food including vegetation, small insects, mushrooms, fruits, earthworms, and snails. The males of this turtle can sometimes exhibit orange or red spots on its throat and head. Three-toed box turtles will bury themselves underneath the leaf litter during the dry season to try to conserve moisture.
The other River Legacy box turtle, the western ornate box turtle, is a subspecies of the ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata). It is characterized by ornate patterns on its shell, which are usually bright yellow. In contrast, the three-toed box turtle does not have these patterns. Males of this species tend to be a bit smaller than the females and also tend to have a thicker tail. Ornate box turtles tend to prefer grassland or prairie habitats rather than dense forest though they will also venture into the woods.
Box turtles can live up to their 30’s, which is fairly long for a small animal. As you walk through the trails of River Legacy, keep your eyes open and you might spot a box turtle walking through the woods. In addition, do not forget to visit River Legacy Living Science Center to see a three-toed box turtle in our exhibit hall!