Amphibians

Reptiles

Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene triunguis)

Description

This smallish, terrestrial turtle has a high domed shell. Coloration varies greatly, but the carapace is typically a plain, dullish brown. Some individuals, however, can be quite colorful with shells of yellow and orange radiating streaks and dots. The plastron is usually plain yellow, although some individuals will have darker areas (generally that correspond to creases between the scutes). Head, neck, and limb coloration may include browns, blacks, oranges, and yellows arranged in no clearly discernible pattern. Adult males of this species have a slightly concave plastron; bright red eyes; and relatively longer, thicker tail. Adult females have a flat plastron; brown or dull red eyes; and relatively shorter, thinner tail. Juveniles have a slightly keeled, less-domed carapace than adults.

A single sub-species, the Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrepene carolina triunguis) inhabits the state. As the name suggests, specimens of this sub-species (usually) have three toes on the back feet and are relatively small. The influence of the larger, four-toed Eastern Box Turtle (Terrepene carolina carolina) can especially be seen in specimens of the extreme northeastern portion of the state.

This species can be easily confused with the less common and protected Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). While numerous distinguishing characteristics exist, assurance of identification is most easily achieved by considering the plastron markings. While the plastron of a Three-toed Box Turtle is generally plain, the Ornate Box Turtle has a plastron of bold, black and yellow "brush strokes":

This species is also known as the Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapin, or (incorrectly) Tortoise.


Habitats

This species is usually associated with woodlands. It also inhabits fields, prairies, and marshes that are adjacent to woodlands. Generally speaking, it prefers large tracts of undisturbed forest with ample cover.


Habits and Life History

This species hibernates throughout the colder months in a shallow burrow, often no deeper than a few inches. A naturally-produced antifreeze provides protection against subfreezing temperatures and winter mortality is surprisingly low. As temperatures warm, this species becomes active and may bask in more open areas. Habitat preference is for grassland in spring and autumn, with forest habitat being utilized during the summer.

Breeding occurs throughout the spring and summer, with multiple small clutches being laid. Baby and immature box turtles are more secretive than adults and are rarely seen; this question of "where are all of the baby box turtles?" remains something of a mystery to science. While estimates of longevity vary, this species commonly exceeds a 50 life span.


Prey and Hunting Techniques

This species is omnivorous: eating a variety of berries, flowers, fungi, insects, worms, etc. as opportunities present themselves. Juveniles lean more toward a carnivorous diet, whereas adults lean toward herbivory.


Temperament and Defense

Most individuals are mild-mannered and rarely attempt to bite. When first captured, a specimen is most likely to seal up tightly into its shell.


Conservation

While seemingly ubiquitous, this species faces numerous threats, such as habitat destruction, road mortality, and collection. Their slow life cycle may leave populations particularly vulnerable to even slight alterations of the ecosystem. A 2007 citizen-scientist survey of box turtles, coordinated by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, should shed light on the current status of the species in the state.


State Distribution and Abundance

This species occurs statewide and is abundant.

Gallery

Three-toed Box Turtle in shell Three-toed Box Turtle Portrait Three-toed Box Turtle, Hatchling Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle, Pair Three-toed Box Turtle, Nesting Female Three-toed Box Turtle, Nesting Female Three-toed Box Turtle, Nesting Female Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle Eating Muscadine Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle DJT_8274 Turtle Arkansas Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle (Juvenile) Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtles Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-toed box turtle, Saline County, Arkansas Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Young Three-toed Box Turtle Young Three-toed Box Turtle Young Three-toed Box Turtle Young Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle Turtles Male Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle Handful of Baby Three-toed Box Turtles Female Three-toed Box Turtle with Damaged Shell Female Three-toed Box Turtle with Damaged Shell Male Three-toed Box Turtle Male Three-toed Box Turtle Male Three-toed Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle and Ornate Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Three-toed Box Turtle and Ornate Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Male Three-toed Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Female Three-toed Box Turtle Baby Three-toed Box Turtle Baby Three-toed Box Turtle Baby Three-toed Box Turtle Baby Three-toed Box Turtle Baby Three-toed Box Turtle © Rex Lisman_060429_0690 Turtles Copulating Young Three-Toed Box Turtle Young Three-Toed Box Turtle Young Three-Toed Box Turtle Young Three-Toed Box Turtle Young Three-Toed Box Turtle Young Three-Toed Box Turtle Young Three-Toed Box Turtle © Rex Lisman_05061 Lisman_050530_00000001 Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle Three-Toed Box Turtle

Turtle Races - Harrison 2011

First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races Ornate Box Turtle at First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races Ornate Box Turtle at First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races Ornate Box Turtle at First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races Ornate Box Turtle at First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races Ornate Box Turtle at First Federal Bank's 29th Annual Turtle Races

Turtle Races - Harrison 2008

26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races 26th Annual Turtle Races

Contributors


Bibliography

  • Behler, J. L., and F. W. King. 1979 (1987). The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd ed. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 743 pp.
  • Conant, R., and J. T. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed., Expanded. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 616 pp.
  • Trauth, S. E., H. W. Robison, and M. V. Plummer. 2004. Amphibians and Reptiles of Arkansas. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville. 421 pp.
  • Schwartz, E.R., C.W. Schwartz, and A.R. Kiester. 1984. The three-toed box turtle in central Missouri, part II: a nineteen-year study of home range, movements and population. Missouri Dep. Conserv. Terrestr. Ser. 12:1-29.

Discussion

  • I learned the hard way to be careful about picking up box turtles when I was about 10 years old! One snapped its shell closed just as I was picking it up and it pinched the skin on my pinky finger. My Dad had to pry the shell open and I ended up with a nice row of blood blisters! Ouch! ~ kaptainkory February 23, 2007, at 08:28 AM
  • While box turtles can make good pets, they have special requirements that are rarely met unless a keeper has done their research. Probably the biggest mistake is feeding turtles iceberg lettuce, which hold little nutritional value. ~ kaptainkory February 23, 2007, at 08:28 AM
  • Please do not paint turtles! This only makes them more noticeable to predators. ~ kaptainkory February 23, 2007, at 08:28 AM

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