Arkansas is home to 16 turtle species. Only two, the three-toed box turtle and the ornate box turtle, are land dwellers.
Box turtles are the only turtles in North America with a flexible hinge on their belly to close the front and rear halves of the shell tightly like a box.
The three-toed box turtle is found statewide in grassland and woodland habitats and is the most frequently encountered of the two species.
The ornate box turtle is limited to prairie remnants in Northwest Arkansas, Arkansas River Valley, Grand Prairie and the Delta.
Both species have a high-domed shell and average about 5-inches long as adults. Three-toed box turtles are a uniform yellowish-brown and some individuals have radiating black markings on the upper shell while the belly is a uniform yellowish tan.
Three-toed box turtles get their name for having only three toes on their hind feet. The ornate box turtle gets its name for the ornate yellow markings on the upper and lower shells against a black background.
Box turtles mature five to 10 years after hatching and breed from late April to October. Females dig a nest chamber in the soil of open areas to let plenty of warming sunlight reach the nest. They lay from one to seven eggs. Females may nest two or three times per year.
Incubation of the eggs takes approximately 90 days. Research has confirmed box turtles can live more than 70 years, with a few cases of turtles older than 100.
They eat plant and animal material; ranging from mushrooms, flowers, fruits, insects, earthworms and all manner of invertebrates. Box turtles also have been reported eating small amphibians, reptiles and young rodents.
Box turtles live their lives within a home range of about 10-14 acres. Multiple adult turtles will have overlapping home ranges. They have a strong homing instinct, and, if removed from their home range, are capable of making long-distance treks back to their original home territory.
The ornate box turtle is protected from take and possession by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulations.
Game and Fish does allow a person to possess a three-toed box turtle as a wildlife pet, but once removed from the wild, it is against Game and Fish regulations to release that turtle back into the wild without first relinquishing it to a wildlife rehabilitator for evaluation. This is intended to prevent the potential spread of diseases in wild turtle populations.
Scientific reports in the last 20 years have demonstrated viruses and bacteria have caused significant disease outbreaks in wild box turtle populations in the eastern United States. Diseases continue to be a major concern in the conservation of reptiles and amphibians around the world.
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