The beautiful shell pattern and super-friendly nature of the Ornate box turtle never fails to impress anyone. When I saw this species at the start of my turtle-keeping journey, I was determined to get one for myself. After researching the care sheet, I was heartbroken. Handling an Ornate box turtle is not a cup of tea for the newbies.
The care sheet of an Ornate box turtle revolves around 4 basic things. Such as,
- Ensuring a spacious enclosure with proper arrangements
- Feeding the pet healthy
- Taking care of any minor health issue
- Providing a clean and hygienic habitat
Fortunately, one year after starting my journey with turtles, I was able to get an Ornate box turtle. I am writing this article from my own experience on how to take care of an Ornate box turtle. Continue reading to find out the tiniest detail on this species care sheet.
Box Turtle Care Infographic Chart
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How To Take Care Of Ornate Box Turtle?
Well, as I have said, taking care of an Ornate box turtle is not for beginners. Even if you are an experienced turtle keeper, you should research the species and its care sheet before bringing the turtle home.
In the upcoming sections, I will discuss every aspect of Ornate box turtle care. At the end of this article, you will know how to take care of an Ornate box turtle with zero knowledge.
Ornate Box Turtle: Species Summary
Subspecies of the Western box turtle, the Ornate box turtle, is different from its close relative, the desert box turtle. Instead of settling in an arid environment, Ornate box turtles prefer grassland areas.
The species is native to Southern South Dakota, Eastern New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana, Texas, Iowa, and Nebraska. Being the state reptile of Kansas definitely plays a role behind the Ornate box turtle’s popularity. Another reason is that the Ornate box turtle is one of the two available terrestrial species in the midwestern part of the USA.
Well, I can not say the beauty of an Ornate box turtle does not impress people. The chocolate brown to gray shell with bright yellow and white splashes makes the species eye-catching. Stripe-connected starburst patterns are more of an attraction to turtle aficionados.
There are more ways to separate these tiny Ornate box turtles from the rest of the species. Domed shell, red Irish, green spot on head, curved inner claw on rear feet, etc., are some of the distinguishing characteristics of this species. Try this article to learn how to identify turtles.
How Big Do Ornate Box Turtles Get?
An Ornate box turtle grows about 5 to 7 inches. The females are larger than the males.
Why is it important to know the size of the pet? It helps you get the perfect sized enclosure for the turtle. Ornate box turtles can be tiny in size, but they require space for moving and leading a healthy life.
Get a box turtle’s full growth chart by clicking here.
Lifespan Of An Ornate Box Turtle
The average lifespan of an Ornate box turtle ranges between 32 to 37 years, and it is linked to the care level. Raising a turtle for 37 years is a long-term commitment. Ask yourself if you are ready for it before buying the pet.
Skim through the lifespan of all box turtle species from here.
Ornate Box Turtle Care sheet
You need to be careful while preparing a care sheet for an Ornate box turtle. Generally, ensuring the following basic requirements help these turtles have healthy growth.
- Properly equipped enclosure
- Hygienic and suitable environment
- Balanced diet
- Regular health check-up
Allow me to break down each of these requirements to the base and present you with a detailed Ornate box turtle care sheet.
Habitat Type And Required Size
The average size of adult Ornate box turtles is around 4 to 5 inches. In many cases, the species grows up to 7 inches. However, do not get fooled by the size of these turtles. Even though they are small, a spacious and large enclosure is mandatory for their healthy growth.
Ornate box turtles feel more comfortable and close to nature in an outdoor habitat. If you can manage space and security, I recommend building an outdoor pen for your Ornate box turtle. But of course, if the weather, security, or space is an issue, you can raise your pet in an indoor habitat. Also, a controlled inside environment works best for the Ornate box turtle hatchlings and young ones.
Now, a newborn Ornate box turtle barely touches 1.25 inches. Experienced turtle keepers suggest that the hatchlings can manage a healthy life in a small, plastic shoe-box size enclosure. The pen must include all necessary items for the babies.
A 30-gallon tank will work for a young Ornate box turtle, but it is not enough for the adults. A 40 to 50-gallon turtle glass aquarium or commercial plastic tub is necessary to accommodate an adult Ornate box turtle. You can use any custom-built enclosure for your pet turtle as long as it is spacious and well-protected.
If you are thinking about an outdoor habitat, choose the place first. Half of the habitat should cover shade, while the rest should embrace direct sunlight. After selecting the area, start building the outdoor pen for your Ornate box turtle.
The outdoor enclosure size for an adult Ornate box turtle should be a minimum of 16 square feet. For burrowing, cover the base with a heavy layer of a substrate. You know, box turtles have a tendency to escape the pen. So, you have to build a sturdy and high barrier to make it impossible for the pet to climb out.
Fencing around the enclosure should be 18 inches high. Bury the wall base 8 to 12 inches inside the soil to add strength. This way, the turtle can not break out by pushing the fence. You can use chicken wire, wood, cinder blocks, or hardware cloths for this purpose.
No matter which type of habitat you choose for your Ornate box turtle, ensure the following two things,
- The enclosure is large and spacious for the turtle
- A lid or any other type of cover is installed to prevent the pet from escaping
Habitat Setup And Necessary Equipment
A large enclosure is good for nothing if you can not provide the Ornate box turtle a comfortable environment. Experts always advise on recreating a natural vibe inside the turtle’s pen. How can you do it?
Simple, by arranging the necessary elements for the enclosure. The following list includes all the requirements for Ornate box turtle pen,
- Heating source
You know Ornate box turtles are ectothermic or cold-blooded species. They depend on the environment to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, turtles count on the sun for any heat requirement. So, when the cold season crawls in, turtles go for a long sleep.
Anyway, when you raise your Ornate box turtle in an outdoor pen, it will receive direct sunlight. Thus, you do not need to install any additional heating source. Just make sure there is a shade inside the enclosure. Ornate box turtles often look for cool places if the sun’s heat gets irritating or unbearable.
However, an artificial heating source is required in an indoor enclosure. Lamps of 60-watt to 75-watt, designed for box turtles, are available in the market.
While installing the bulb, maintain a particular height from the base. Powerful light may irritate the pet skin. Also, you need to set up the lamp at one end of the pen so that half the enclosure includes a shady area.
I have seen owners installing cage heaters or heating rocks inside the pen for the cold season. Improper setup of such devices can lead to accidents and harm your pet turtle.
Here is the required temperature for Ornate box turtle habitat:
|Day Temperature||Night Temperature||Basking Temperature|
|80 to 90 Degrees Fahrenheit||70 to 75 Degrees Fahrenheit||90 to 95 Degrees Fahrenheit|
The area directly under the lamp is warmer and contains a heat of 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use either an analog or digital thermometer to measure the tank temperature. A gradient of temperature gives the Ornate box turtle freedom to choose a comfortable place of its preference.
Keep the lamp on for 10 to 12 hours a day. There is no need for a heating source at night unless you live in a cold area.
Have you noticed the temperature is less at night? It is because a cooler temperature helps your pet get a sound and long sleep. Does it make you wonder whether Ornate box turtles need a night light or not?
The answer is no. Unlike many species, Ornate box turtles are diurnal, which means they sleep at night and stay active during the day. While sleeping, the creatures close their eyelids to avoid as much light as possible. So, setting up a night light will not be a good move. Right?
Owners often install night lights of low intensity that radiate heat to keep the turtles warm on cold nights. Keepers also set up infrared bulbs that are suitable for newborn babies and sick turtles. High-intensity tubes should not be used as they irritate the turtle’s eyes and mess with the sleep cycle.
Find the best heating lamp on the market from here.
Besides heating lamps, another mandatory lighting source for indoor Ornate box turtle enclosure is UV bulbs. If you are already into the turtle-keeping hobby, you know how significant UV exposures are for these little creatures. From cheering up their mood to strengthening the body, UV plays a key role.
UV includes 3 rays, UVA, UVB, and UVC. Among the three, UVA and UVB influence an Ornate box turtle’s mind and body structure. How?
Well, UVA exposure is the reason why your adorable box turtle sees the color. The ray has an impact on its mental state and appetite system. What I mean is, if the pet gets sufficient UVA, it will stay in a playful and calm mood. Also, its appetite for food will increase, and the turtle will stay fit.
Similarly, UVA ray helps the Ornate box turtle generate vitamin D3 and absorb required calcium from the diet. As a result, your pet will grow up having the strongest bone and shell structure.
So, what will happen if there is no UV light in your Ornate box turtle’s pen? The pet will suffer from bone or shell deformation and other MBD (metabolic bone disease) conditions. Different studies have proved that without a UV lamp, a turtle hatchling dies within a year. Isn’t that terrible?
However, while buying a UV bulb, you should always go for the 2.5% or 5% UVB. 10% UVB may sound more powerful, but those are improper for the grassland Ornate box turtles. Even if you buy one by mistake, instead of returning it, setting it up far away from the pen will work. For 2.5% and 5% UVB, maintain a distance of 12 inches and 18 inches, respectively.
UV rays can hardly get through glass or plastic covers. So, make sure your turtle tank lid is compatible with the light. Lastly, you have to replace the UV bulb every 6 months. After that period, the light won’t work.
Now, a few years back, there was a hype of buying full-spectrum bulbs. Remember, those lights have a negligible amount of UV rays and are not recommended for your Ornate box turtle.
Setting up two different lights can seem messy to many owners. You will be happy to find out that few bulbs offer both heat and UV rays in a single product.
There are different kinds of UV lights available in the store, and you can purchase smartly by researching the market. I hope my previous guide on UV lamps will surely help you with that. In case you have missed the article, I am attaching the link here.
Are you looking for detailed lighting arrangements for Ornate box turtles? If yes, then do not forget to check this article.
One more thing. UV lamps or heating bulbs are not necessary for outdoor pens. The sun is the ultimate source of UV rays and heat, and the Ornate box turtles will get everything naturally.
Ornate box turtles come from a grassy wetland area. As the species is comfortable living in a moist region, maintaining a high humidity inside the captive habitat is important.
A 30% to 50% humidity level is necessary for Ornate box turtles. In the wild, these turtles manage the humidity level by burrowing in the wet soil and creating a microenvironment for themselves.
But in captivity, you have to play the role. Providing the Ornate box turtles with a minimum of 4 inches substrate layer and misting the bed with water spray will help you gain the desired humidity.
Ornate box turtles need both moist and dry areas in their pen. So, do not wet the whole bedding and make it uncomfortable for the pets. To measure the humid level, you can install a hygrometer inside the enclosure.
The substrate or the bottom bedding of your Ornate box turtle enclosure serves more than one purpose. For example, it recreates the wild environment, and so the turtle feels closer to home. Substrate absorbs and holds the sprayed mist, which eventually impacts the humidity level.
You know Ornate box turtles love burrowing. In the wild, these turtles dig the soft soil now and then. It makes them feel protected and secure.
While in captivity, you need to make sure that your pet turtle is getting the same satisfaction. And that is the main reason for layering up the enclosure bottom. Experts suggest putting bedding of a minimum of 4 inches in both indoor and outdoor habitats.
Peat-based soil mixed with sphagnum, leaf litter, peat moss, or cypress mulch will work as an excellent substrate for the Ornate box turtle. Never use anything with cedar or pine as those substrates might cause respiratory illness to the Ornate box turtles.
For a better insight into the best box turtle substrate, follow this article.
Can Ornate box turtles swim? Do they need a water body in their enclosure? The answer to both questions is yes. But wait, do not build a deep pool of water in your pet’s habitat.
Ornate box turtles can swim, but they are not great at it. They might manage to float, and in deep water, they will surely drown. So, if you are thinking about building a deep water source for your Ornate box turtle, well, don’t.
Ornate box turtles do not need water to swim but for drinking and soaking their bodies. For that, a shallow water bowl or linear pool is enough. Just make sure the pet can reach the water surface without much effort.
Even though Ornate box turtles are not a fan of water, you can not ignore the hygiene. Provide filtered fresh water every day and clean the water body every once in a while. Otherwise, the turtles will suffer from bacterial infections or other diseases.
I have mentioned almost everything you need to set up your Ornate box turtle’s habitat. Besides all these equipment and essentials, experts recommend adding live plants inside the turtle’s enclosure. The plants make the pen look more aesthetic and also provide hiding places for the Ornate box turtle.
Why do Ornate box turtles need to hide in their own home? Well, this is their way of dealing with the world. Whenever these turtles feel attacked, insecure, or panicked, they look for a place to hide. Boxing up in the shell does not always help them to calm.
Plants serve another purpose by creating a visual barrier. You know Ornate box turtles are the escape artists. If these turtles can not see through the wall, they will barely make any effort to get out of the enclosure.
Before adding any plant, make sure they are safe and nontoxic. Cultivating plants and Ornate box turtles together might sound like a challenge. With excellent management skills, you will get adjusted to the routine in no time.
You can use other things as hiding sources too. For example, log, terracotta pots, mounds, etc. Placing flat rocks here and there will give the enclosure a wild look. Avoid putting any sharp-edged toys or accessories in the pen.
Ornate Box Turtle Diet
You are already halfway there if you have arranged the Ornate box turtle enclosure properly. Now let’s take care of the food for the pet.
Ornate box turtles are omnivorous, which means they eat all kinds of food. But at the early stage of life, these turtles are more carnivores than any other box turtle species. It is because the young Ornate box turtles survive on the beetles and grubs. With time, they get used to both animal and plant-based foods.
Ornate box turtles usually hunt cricket, grasshopper, beetles, worms, and insects in the wild. Besides that, they also graze on the low vegetation, fruits like berries and mushrooms. As the Ornate box turtles consume all kinds of food, it makes their diet preparation easier for you. But of course, some box turtles can be really picky eaters.
Here is an animal-based food list for your Ornate box turtle,
- Hard-boiled egg
- Ground beef
- Aquatic invertebrates
- Reg wigglers
- Pinky mice
Almost all worms are high in calcium and protein, which is healthy for the Ornate box turtle. Avoid insects with a high-fat percentage because the pets find those items hard to digest.
Recommended fruits and vegetation for your Ornate box turtle,
- Sliced melon
- Collard greens
- Dandelion green
Always bring variety to the Ornate box turtle’s diet by exploring more options. However, the protein and plants are not enough to keep your pet healthy. Sprinkle extra calcium and vitamin D3 over each meal of the turtle.
The vitamin and calcium supplements work as a backup. It ensures the strongest bone and shell growth of the Ornate box turtle. However, overfeeding will backfire and cause health damage to the pet.
Get a fool-proof diet chart for Ornate box turtles from here.
How Much And How Often Should You Feed An Ornate Box Turtle?
Turtle keepers always get confused when it comes to preparing the diet chart. Well, it is not that tough. Keep feeding your Ornate box turtle hatchling daily until it gets young. Babies require more food to develop a strong body and immunity system.
For young adults, feeding every other day will work. When the Ornate box turtles get old, they might refuse to eat like before. Twice or thrice a week feeding schedule will be healthy for them.
Now for determining the food quantity, you can follow either of the 2 rules,
- 15-minute rule
- Head method
As per the 15-minute rule, you need to provide more than enough food to the Ornate box turtle and let the pet eat for 15 minutes. After that time, remove the food scraps from the enclosure. Experts believe a turtle devours what its body requires in the first 15 minutes of the meal.
If you want to go with the head method, you would need a bowl the size of your Ornate box turtle’s head. Fill it with food, sprinkle the meal with supplements, and feed the pet.
Ornate box turtles are wild species and are voracious eaters. They would continue eating even after having a full belly. So if you do not measure the food, the pet would end up overeating. And I can assure you one thing, no overfeeding and underfeeding is healthy for the Ornate box turtle.
Ornate Box Turtle Health Problems And Treatments
Diseases make turtles vulnerable and deduct years from their lifespan. As an owner, you should try your best to keep your Ornate box turtle away from any sickness. The easiest way to do that is to be aware of the possible health threats to the pet and keep it under regular medical check-ups.
Here are the possible health issues of an Ornate box turtle,
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A plays a role in developing body tissues and immunity against many diseases. Lack of this vitamin causes Hypovitaminosis in Ornate box turtles.
Swollen eyes, appetite loss, bacterial infection, runny nose, necrotic somatosis, etc., are symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A shots, antibiotics, and balanced diets are the way of cure for the Ornate box turtles.
Due to the cold, virus, bacteria, vitamin A deficiency, lack of nutrition, and unhealthy enclosure, Ornate box turtles can suffer from respiratory illness. The sick turtle feels tired and lethargic all day. It might have a runny nose, puffy eyes, trouble breathing, and sneezing issues.
A respiratory infection can cause permanent damage to the pet turtle. It is challenging to cure an Ornate box turtle wholly of this disease. However, a hygienic enclosure, warm temperature, balanced meals, and proper medications can better the turtle’s condition.
Shell Rot and Other Conditions
Shell rot can start from a single cut or crack on the scutes. Pitting scutes, holes on the shell, shedding, fluid under the scutes, and nasty discharge are the symptoms of shell rot.
The condition can get severe if it goes untreated. In several cases, the rot reaches the bone, exposes tissue, and eventually, the whole plate sheds off. Take action before anything like this happens.
Start the treatment by isolating the turtle, cleaning the wound with disinfectant solution, and applying healing cream. Ask for expert advice if you see no development in the turtle’s condition.
Metabolic Bone Disease
A lack of vitamin D3 and calcium in the diet and a poor quality UV bulb lead to bone diseases in box turtles. The pet might have trouble walking, bumpy scutes, abnormal shell, and bone growth, outgrown beaks, or soft shell because of this disease. High-quality UV along with vitamin D3 and calcium-enriched food will treat this condition in Ornate box turtles.
Eye And Ear Infection
Infection in the middle ear or vitamin deficiency is why Ornate box might get an ear abscess. A soft cheesy lump filled with pus or dead tissues might appear on the ear of the pet. The sick turtle suffers a lot because of an ear abscess. Vets treat the lump after injecting the Ornate box turtle with anesthesia.
An Ornate box turtle can suffer from shut eyes, puffy eyes, swollen eyes, or other eye conditions. Mainly, unhygienic habitat and vitamin A deficiency are responsible for this condition. The turtle will recover soon if you can provide a hygienic environment, healthy foods with necessary medicines.
Other common diseases for Ornate box turtles are,
- Internal parasite
- Shell peel
- Organ failure
- Paralysis, etc.
Ornate Box Turtle Not Eating: Why?
It is not uncommon to face trouble feeding your Ornate box turtle. Every once in a while, you may observe this kind of behavior in your pet. Here are the probable reasons why your box turtle is refusing to eat:
- If you have just bought your Ornate box turtle, it is natural for the pet to refuse any food. Usually, turtles do not like change and get stressed. The pet will take a few days to adjust to the new home and routine.
- Check the temperature of the habitat. Cold weather slows down the metabolism of the Ornate box turtle, and it stops eating or drinking.
- Ornate box turtles may stop eating because of any illness. You might have noticed that loss of appetite is a common symptom of many diseases. With proper care, the turtle will start eating again.
- If you are feeding the same food every day, the turtle will get bored. It can be the reason why the pet is showing no interest in meals. Bring variety to the dish and notice the change.
Ornate Box Turtle Hibernation Care
You already know that Ornate box turtles are ectothermic species. So, during the cold, they struggle to fight the rough weather. As a part of the mechanism, these turtles hibernate in the winter.
Hibernation is nothing but a long sleep. Ornate box turtles slow down their metabolism, stop eating or drinking, their heart rate and activity level drop, and the creatures sleep burrowing themselves under the pile of leaves or dirt.
In captivity, you should not let your Ornate box turtles hibernate without the vet’s permission. If you want your pet to hibernate, prepare it for the process.
Starving the turtle for one month, dropping the habitat temperature gradually, weighing the pet every day, and checking up on any illness are the mandatory steps if you want to put your turtle to hibernation. Any mistake and your Ornate box turtle might not see another day.
Generally, the outdoor Ornate box turtles will hibernate naturally. If possible, bring them inside your home and set up an indoor habitat.
The indoor turtles do not usually hibernate because the inside temperature is regulated via manual sources. But of course, you should keep an extra eye on them as winter can make the pet vulnerable.
Ornate Box Turtle Breeding And Nesting
Breeding your Ornate box turtle in captivity is not always recommended. Mating can be a stressful process for pets, and it can cause health issues. Experts suggest getting experience and enough knowledge before breeding the turtles.
After reaching sexual maturity, Ornate box turtles can mate and lay eggs. For breeding turtles, you need to maintain the male-female ratio. Make sure the female box turtles outnumber the males. Otherwise, the males will force or disturb the female box turtles for mating.
Generally, Ornate box turtles mate during the spring. If you are willing to breed the species, prepare a temporary habitat for the turtles and leave them for days. Provide enough food during the time. After successful mating, separate the female Ornate box turtle and wait.
Soon, the female turtle will exhibit signs of carrying eggs. When the time comes, you have to set up a nesting area for the gravid turtle. Usually, the mother turtle looks for a suitable place for laying eggs. An additional box with soft, loose soil or the nesting box provides the mother with the perfect area.
The gravid Ornate box turtle will dig a deep hole and lay her eggs. After that, she will cover the eggs with dirt and leave the place forever.
Egg And Hatchling Care
In the wild, eggs hatch all by themselves at the mercy of nature. But while in captivity, you can not take the risk. It is hard to recreate the same temperature and environment inside the turtle enclosure. So, you have to move the eggs and hatch them using other techniques.
First, remove the eggs from the nesting box and clean them using a paintbrush. Use a store-bought incubator or home-built one for hatching the eggs. During the incubation process, the temperature should be high, and the device has to maintain a high humidity level. After 50 to 90 days, baby Ornate box turtles will come out of the eggs.
Now, you have to be careful with the hatchlings, keep them in a clean space, and set up infrared lamps for heat. Feed the babies daily and, if possible, consult a vet for health inspections.
Ornate Box Turtle Community Habitat
Ornate box turtles are happy and friendly species. But like other species, they have a territorial complexity. So, when you house more than one Ornate box turtle, they will probably show aggression to one another.
The best way to make the turtles get along is to provide a spacious enclosure with a large basking spot, enough hiding locations, sufficient food, etc. Usually, female and young Ornate box turtles live in a peaceful environment. The male Ornate box turtles create the real mess.
Males tease the young box turtles and harass the female ones for coitus. Even if you house two males, they will always fight over nothing. So, it is advised not to leave two male Ornate box turtles alone in a single enclosure.
Ultimate Guide To Take Care An Ornate Box Turtle: In A Nutshell
Handling an Ornate box turtle is not for beginners. Even as an experienced turtle hobbyist, you may have to face troubles keeping these turtles in manners. I have discussed almost everything you should know about taking care of an Ornate box turtle. Here is the summary and a few bonus tips,
- Build the Ornate box turtles a spacious enclosure with a quality heating lamp, UV bulb, water source, hiding spots, etc.
- Layer up the bottom of the enclosure with the proper substrate.
- Feed the turtles a balanced diet following the schedule and quantity.
- Take the turtle to a vet every six months for a regular check-up.
- Look for any signs of symptoms in the Ornate box turtle. If you have any doubt, contact the nearest vet. You will find the emergency vet directory on my page.
- For breeding the turtle and incubating the eggs, ask for expert advice.
- Try not to house more than one Ornate box turtle in the same enclosure. If you do, provide enough food and space.
- Do not touch the turtle too often. Frequent touch can stress the pet.
I am pretty sure now you have an overall idea of taking care of an Ornate box turtle. The pet can be a bit tricky, but isn’t it fun to win the challenges? Ornate box turtles make great pets as long as you treat them right. Prepare a care sheet and contact an expert if you need any help.
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