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Box Turtles of Louisiana

Louisiana has abundant wildlife, including reptiles such as snakes and turtles. All are welcome in Yvonne's backyard wildlife habitat.


Beneficial Terrapene carolina major, T. carolina triunguis and T. ornata ornata

The habitat in the riparian area around the Tchefuncte River is perfect for box turtles and other reptiles, but even before we bought our property in St. Tammany Parish, we provided habitat for Eastern box turtles in our yard in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina) and its subspecies are the most common land turtle in Louisiana. The Ornate Box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) also occurs in Louisiana, but in the western part of the state.

Box turtles are very beneficial to the environment and help the organic gardener get rid of snails, slugs and other pests. These turtles are another link in the important life cycle that will help to lead to sustainability in the landscape.

How Our Box Turtle Protection Program Began...

Our protection of box turtles accelerated on our second honeymoon trip to Arkansas. We were traveling back from Lake Ouachita in our Chevy Van, when I noticed a boy run out into the road and back to the ditch. As we got closer we saw a turtle in the road. I slammed on the brakes, backed up and put the turtle in our van. It didn't take me long to figure out that the boy had been placing turtles in the road and hiding in the bushes to watch them get run over by cars.

A quick search of the ditch and lots of yelling at the boy as he high-tailed it off into the brush, revealed a bucket full of turtles that would have been sacrificed for that sadistic little monster's afternoon of fun. I let the turtles go and threw the bucket as far as I could on the other side of the road. We brought the one Eastern box turtle home to our backyard habitat in Baton Rouge.

Rescued Eastern Box Turtle


The Eastern Box Turtle that we rescued from being road kill on a highway in Arkansas stayed within a 300 square foot area which included our yard and he lived in our yard and in the surrounding area for many years.

We discovered that he hibernated in our compost pile when I accidentally hit his shell with the tiller. The wounds were superficial and the LSU Vet school told us to keep them clean and treat them with an antibiotic ointment. He stayed in our green house for a few weeks while the wounds healed, though you could still see the scars.

For years he would periodically come to us to get a juicy treat, then he would go on his way. Then, when we were in the process of moving to our 9 acres, he showed up on our carport one day when I was packing the van to make one of the last loads to the country. It was as if he was trying to communicate that he didn't want to be left behind, so he came along to the new habitat with us. Now he has acres to roam in so that he, too, can enjoy his golden years.

Box Turtle Description


The Box Turtle that we rescued from the road in Arkansas lived many happy years in our habitat.

The Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) has more variation in color, size, shell shape and habitat use, than any other Southeastern turtle. The high domed shell of Terrapene carolina and its subspecies has a hinged plastron which enables the head and limbs to be completely enclosed in the shell. Its toes have no webbing. The upper shell can be brown or black, but is sometimes olive-brown with markings of yellow and orange or red. The plastron (underside) can also vary in color from yellowish to brown or black and sometimes with dark markings, but sometimes without. In some regions, males have red eyes and females have brown eyes. Adult males have a pronounced depression in the center of the plastron.

Two subspecies of the Eastern Box Turtle and one other species of Box Turtle live in Louisiana.

Eastern Box Turtle Subspecies

~ Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major)

The Gulf Coast Box Turtle is the largest. There is a distinct flare on the rear of the carapace (upper shell). Males often have large patches of white on the head. Both Eastern and Gulf Coast Box Turtles have four toes on each hind foot.

~ Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)

As its name states, Three-toed Box turtles usually have three toes on the hind feet. Their shell is drab compared to the other Eastern Box Turtles, being a horn-color, however the head can have bright spots of red, orange, yellow and occasionally even blue. The male three-toed males have heads that are almost completely red.

The subspecies often interbreed when they come in contact with each other along the edges of the zones and the result is a mixture of patterns and colors which makes it difficult to identify subspecies.

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Male Eastern Box Turtle on Zazzle


Male Eastern Box Turtle by naturegirl7

Box Turtles in Our Habitat

For several years, we have been photographing, measuring, marking and releasing the box turtles that live in our habitat along the Tchefuncte River. Before Hurricane Katrina, we would usually encounter about 10 a year, but since the massive destruction of the hurricane, numbers have decreased. Now we see only 3-5 each year.

The Common Box Turtle and the two subspecies that inhabit Louisiana exhibit a wide variety of colors and markings. Here are some photos of a few of the beautiful specimens that have inhabited our property.

Turtles of the Southeast

One of the best books on turtles. It has great photos and factual information.

Eastern Box Turtle Louisiana on Zazzle


Habits and Habitat

Eastern Box Turtle Louisiana by naturegirl7

The subspecies of the Eastern Box Turtle are found in every southeastern state except for a part of south Louisiana. They occupy diverse habitats and can be found in hardwood forests and fields. In the coastal plains they inhabit sandy areas and palmetto thickets, wet meadows, pitcher plant bogs and the borders of seasonal wetlands.

In Louisiana, Box Turtles are active during all except the extremely cold times of the year. They move around more in the early morning in summer. The turtles will often congregate in shallow pools, in wet areas or under overturned trees where it is moist during drought periods. During droughts and when colder weather approaches, they dig shallow pits under the leaves and ground litter in the forest. They dig a deeper form to get more insulation in freezing weather.


Box turtles are omnivorous. They eat many different types of plants, including mushrooms, roots, flowers, seeds, berries, muscadine grapes and a variety of grasses. Small animals, including earthworms, grubs, beetles, crayfish, frogs and toads, salamanders, snakes and even birds (if they can catch them) are also on the menu.

Herping with Dylan: Box Turtle

Box Turtle at Long Pond



Mating usually occurs in spring, but can also occur during the summer and even into the fall. If a female box turtle chooses not to mate with a male, she will just close up her shell to repel him. However, most males don't give up easily and will go through a sort of mating dance which includes scratching, biting and nudging the female's shell as well as displaying the colorful underside of his throat. These turtles usually mate on land, but the Gulf Coast subspecies (which we have in Louisiana) will sometimes mate in shallow water. Females lay one to two clutches of about 5 eggs each in a nest from May through July. Most hatchlings emerge from the nest in the fall.

One interesting fact is that female box turtles can store sperm from a single mating for up to 4 years and can produce a fertile clutch of eggs in each of those years without mating again.

Box Turtle Pair on Zazzle


Box Turtle Pair by naturegirl7

The hatchlings hide in leaf littler and possibly underground passages so that they are not usually seen until they are 2-3 years old.

One year we found a baby box turtle under the fig tree in our yard in Baton Rouge, which looked small enough to be a hatchling. Because of its fruit, the fig tree was a favorite spot for all sorts of birds and animals.

The picture below shows the hatchling (on the left) with 3 other box turtles, of different sizes, that roamed free in our habitat in Baton Rouge. You can see how the shell (carapace) gets more dome shaped with age. Also note the dark coloration of the younger turtles.



There are predators at every stage of a Box Turtle's life. In the nest such animals as raccoons, skunks, foxes, snakes (scarlet snakes and king snakes) and crows destroy nests and eat the eggs. Crows also prey upon juvenile box turtles, as well as black racers and copperheads. Mississippi Kites, egrets and barn owls also prey on the young turtles. Adult Box Turtles a sometimes killed by large dogs and Coyotes. In the southeast, box turtles sometimes do not bury themselves deep enough during winter and fall prey to sudden cold snaps with several days of sub freezing temperatures.

A box turtle's best defense is its ability to withdraw its head and all of its appendages into its shell. The turtle below is peeking out to see if the coast is clear.

Box Turtle Peeking on Zazzle


Eastern Box Turtle Peeking by naturegirl7

Box Turtle Manual Book

Herping with Dylan: Hatchling

North American Box Turtles

Conservation Issues

The single factor causing the highest mortality among Box Turtles is habitat fragmentation and loss. When a long-lived Box Turtle's home range and favorite feeding patches is criss-crossed with roads, the resulting mortality can cause a population of turtles to disappear.

Humans can use strategies like providing passageways that allow the animals to move under or over roads.

The pet trade and collecting from the wild is another factor that causes a population to be depleted.

Pesticides have also been know to cause severe ear abscesses in individual turtles that have been exposed. Respiratory illnesses like those found in gopher tortoises have also been seen in Box Turtles.

Three-toed Eastern Box Turtle on Zazzle


Three-toed Eastern Box Turtle by naturegirl7

Ornate Box Turtle - Terrapene ornata ornata

Ornate Box Turtle and Desert

Ornate Box Turtle and Desert

Ornate Box Turtle and Desert (License: Wikipedia Commons)


The Ornate Box Turtle has very striking yellow striped markings in a star burst pattern on its domed shell. The underside (plastron) has similar markings, making it easy to distinguish from other box turtles (like the three-toed and the Florida box turtles). As with other box turtles, the plastron is hinged in the front.

The head and legs have yellow spots. The hind feet have four toes on each foot and the males have a toe that curves inward which helps it hold onto the females shell during mating. Adult males have bright red eyes and a slight concave in the plastron. Adult females have yellow to brown to maroon eyes and a flat plastron.

Ornate Habits and Habitat

T. ornata ornata inhabits the western part of Louisiana and prefer western prairies and grasslands, although they may be found in oak savannas, they usually avoid close-canopy hardwood forests. They tolerate dry soils and sandy conditions better than common box turtles.

Ornate Box Turtles are active from March to November, in early morning and late afternoon, and become inactive during the winter months. At night, they bury themselves at the base of plants. During hot spells, they will soak in shallow pools of available water. They migrate great distances to find mates, food and from one hibernation spot to another.


Ornate turtles are omnivorous. Their carnivorous diet includes dead animals, the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds, caterpillars and their favorite, dung beetles. They also eat berries and cactus.

Ornate Box Turtle Poster on Zazzle


Ornate Box Turtle by naturegirl7

Natural History of the Ornate Box Turtle Book

Ornate Reproduction, Predators and Conservation Issues

Ornate Box Turtles mate on land from April through October. Females lay 2-8 (average 5) eggs in nests that they dig in open, sunny areas. Even though they are active during the day, females will often dig their nests at night. They lay 1-2 clutches per year.


Predators include raccoons, coyotes, skunks, crows and ravens. The primary defense to such predators is to withdraw into its shell. Sudden cold snaps will kill Ornate Box Turtles if they have not buried themselves deeply enough.

Conservation Issues

As with the Common Box Turtle, the Ornate's survival is threatened by habitat loss and destruction. The loss of native prairies to agriculture and the building of roads has eliminated or fragmented much of its original habitat. Ornate Box Turtles need the prairies, but are being forced into unsuitable habitat where many dangers exist. Habitat management of public owned oak-savanna woodlands and prairies that incorporates the needs of the Ornate Box Turtle should be initiated to insure its survival in the wild.

Additionally, because of their beautiful appearance, Ornate Box Turtles have long been collected for the pet trade, resulting in a decline of native populations.

Buhlmann, Tuberville and Gibbons, Turtles of Southeastern Louisiana, U. of GA Press, 2008.

Box Turtle Tie


Box Turtle Designs on Zazzle

Box Turtle Designs by Naturegirl7. Visit Naturally Native Shop on

Box Turtle at Silver Pond Lake Book

Children will love the Box Turtle at Silver Pond Lake Book from the Smithsonian collection

Box Turtle T-Shirt

  • Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins of Louisiana
    Louisiana is blessed with thirty species of turtles, tortoises and terrapins. The body form of this ancient group of reptiles has changed little in the 200 million years of its existence. Besides various freshwater and land turtles, the waters of...

© 2009 Yvonne L B

Don't close up before you leave a comment.

anonymous on September 11, 2013:

Hi- thanks for such an informative page- wish I'd found it 8 years ago. My husband found a little box turtle in the 9th ward right after Katrina--and brought her home to live in our courtyard -- she did well but we've recently moved to a community that is frequently landscaped and we are worried about pesticides and injury. We wonder if you could suggest an area to release her--we are in New Orleans and will take her wherever you'd recommend ! Thanks ( the new owner of the house doesn't want to keep her).

Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on June 17, 2013:

@anonymous: I'm glad you enjoyed the page. I just rescued a female box turtle from sure death in the middle of a busy road. After photographing her, I released her into my habitat where she'll have plenty of room to safely roam.

anonymous on June 14, 2013:

I love turtles!! Thank you for teaching me more about them now I can tell my friends all about turtles!!:) I also have my own turtle he's a box turtle named Rocky hope everyone else enjoys!!:)

anonymous on May 20, 2013:

My husband was surprised this morning by a visit from a spotted turtle in his garden. Here in Slidell, LA, we've seen box turtles before, usually in the ditch, but, not this spotty. Your website was a very valuable tool in learning about the box turtles. Thank you. Our turtle looks like your pic of B13. It was not the Ornate. My husband put the turtle back into his garden. I, too, had a similar experience with turtle meanness. I saw this little box turtle crossing the road. I went around it, then decided I'd better help him across. I got out my car, and another was coming behind me. I waved them to slow down and pointed at the turtle. I guess he didn't feel the way I did. He speeded up, hit the poor turtle so hard it went flying into the woods like a missile. I was so mad, I threw a rock at the car. I never found the turtle, just hoped he was alright. Again, thank you for a very nice website.

anonymous on May 01, 2013:

I've been rescuing box turtles for years and I have a soft spot for em.... The only thing I've never had the honor of witnessing is the mating/egg laying process. :(

Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on September 27, 2012:

@anonymous: It should be okay. If there was blood, you may want to swab the shell area with neosporin or some other antibiotic ointment. Keep it clean. We have rehabilitated several box turtles. One was bounced around on the interstate & had the edges of its shell broken, but made a full recovery. We consulted the LSU Veternary Hospital for advice. Thanks for rescuing the little guy.

anonymous on September 25, 2012:

I was out taking a neighborhood stroll yesterday and came across a Box Turtle in a gutter. Looks like a dog had chewed about a quarter of the outside "varnish" layer off the sides of the shell. Will this harm him, or will be fine? Brought him home to observe. I have several Dragons and snakes, so will look up about caring for this little person.

anonymous on September 01, 2012:

I was driving on a back road from Ruston to Granbling

Yesterday when a saw a small animal racing across the

It took several minutes to find this large box turtle .

It was very defensive and scratched me and kept snapping.

In my car it tried to climb under the dashboard. I went to

Family Dollar and got a box to put it in and relocated it to

My pond. It was surprisingly fast and aggressive.

anonymous on September 01, 2012:

I was driving on a back road from Ruston to Granbling

Yesterday when a saw a small animal racing across the

It took several minutes to find this large box turtle .

It was very defensive and scratched me and kept snapping.

In my car it tried to climb under the dashboard. I went to

Family Dollar and got a box to put it in and relocated it to

My pond. It was surprisingly fast and aggressive.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on July 08, 2012:

Your box turtle pictures are wonderful. I love the picture of the 4 different sized box turtles. That is simply amazing to have all 4 turtles featured in the same shot.

anonymous on July 03, 2012:

Thank you for rescuing turtles and taking the time to educate people about box turtles! You are very appreciated!

KimGiancaterino on June 16, 2012:

I learned so much here. Thanks for putting that horrible turtle torturing brat in his place.

anonymous on May 30, 2012:

I've thinking about getting a pet turtle. :)

anonymous on May 15, 2012:

I have 9 turtles and I feed them lettes, carrots, tomatoes and strawberries.

anonymous on May 15, 2012:

@anonymous: I have 9 box turtles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

anonymous on April 07, 2012:

Am getting ready to get a desert box turtle. Saving for it right now. Love turtles and tortoises.

anonymous on March 23, 2012:

Found a hatchling Eastern box turtle today can't wait to set up a safe habitat.

anonymous on December 23, 2011:

Love all the photos. Box turtles have such fun personalities. :O)

Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on September 18, 2011:

@anonymous: A lot of the pictures you see here were taken in Baton Rouge, in the Magnolia Woods subdivision.

In winter, box turtles dig down in the soft soil and leaf liter of a sheltered area to hibernate. Compost piles are a favorite place. You may want to pile some leaves in an unused corner and mark the area so you don't make the same mistake we did and accidentally dig him up. They don't come out until it warms up in spring.

anonymous on September 17, 2011:

Hi, I love your site. I live in Baton Rouge and in March a box turtle came up under my carport. I think he come from the lot behind our house. The overgrown lot was cleared for a new house. So I let the turtle into my backyard. It is a fenced in garden, no grass. He comes up on the patio in the mornings for blackberries, peaches, tomatoes, but there is lots of food for him in the yard too. I have enjoyed his visit, I would like to know how to make sure his has the right place to make it through the winter.

anonymous on July 06, 2011:

My son found a turtle and brought it home.. trying to find out what kind it is.. it is a box turtle with 5 toes, orange spots under mouth but not covering whole neck, no markings on shell just brown. Likes lettace.. found on dirt road in Hot Springs AR.. any info on how to care for this turtle will be helpful.

anonymous on June 15, 2011:

This is a great site! You are very dedicated to box turtles! I am going to show my sister this site--she adores box turtles. I saw the box turtle tie and I thought it was the cutest thing! I recently found a box turtle when I was doing a home project with replacement windows where could I take the lil' guy? I don't have time to keep him and I want to make sure that he is safe!