A few years ago, I saw a small box turtle crossing a grassy area in my backyard. I stood still while it walked to a flower bed. I remember at the time thinking, how cute, where did it come from, and did not give it a second thought until a few weeks ago. While weeding a flower bed close to the patio I was surprised to see a turtle moving close to a rose bush. Upon closer look it looked like a box turtle. It had beautiful yellow markings but by the time I grabbed my phone to take a picture it was gone. If it was the baby turtle, I had seen several years ago it had grown in size and was perhaps five inches long.
Texas has three different types of box turtles. They are subspecies of Terrapene ornata and Terrapene carolina. The Ornate Box Turtle, Terrapene ornata ornata can be found almost all over Texas except for west of the Pecos River and a few areas close to the Northern Louisiana border. The Western or Desert Ornate Turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola, lives west in the Trans-Pecos Region. The Three-toed Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina triunguis, is found in the eastern portion of the state.
The Ornate Box Turtle like the other box turtles has an underside or plastron that is hinged and allows the turtle to withdraw its head and front legs for protection. The carapace or shell is quite rounded and domed and has yellow markings radiating from the top to the sides. It also has four toes compared to the Three-toed Box Turtle with three on its hind legs. Although, it appears some Three-toed Box Turtles have four toes. The coloring of the Three-toed Box Turtle is usually not as colorful and does not have as many distinctive yellow markings. In addition, its shell has a ridge which the Ornate Box Turtle does not.
Box turtles live on land and do not have to be close to a body of water. They are omnivorous, eating food from both plants and animals. Hatchlings are usually carnivorous, eating insects, slugs, snails, and carrion. As they mature, they become more herbivorous but still enjoying a meal of grasshoppers, worms, centipedes, and other small creatures.