Desert Box Turtle

Our little Frank has had an adventurous life so far. He was turned in as a surrender. The previous owner stated he was taken from the wild and left abandoned in a military barracks. He was then taken in as a pet and finally made it all the way across the country to NC and our rescue. This is where he will stay with a big outdoor pen in the summer and all the bugs he can eat.
Common Name: Desert Box Turtle or Sonoran Box Turtle
Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata luteola
Type: Terrapene
Diet: Omnivore
Average Life Span: 50+ years
Size: 14 inches
IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened
Current Population Trend: Decreasing

About the Desert Box Turtle

The desert box is one of two subspecies of the Western Box turtle (Terrapene ornata). The two subspecies are: Desert box turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola and Ornate box turtle, Terrapene ornata ornata. The desert box turtle is similar in appearance to the ornate box turtle. However, the desert box turtle is more yellowish in color. It is also more adapted to life in arid conditions than the ornate box turtle.


Desert box turtles are endemic to the southwestern U.S. including west Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They can also be found in northern Mexico as far south as Sonora and Chihuahua.


The desert box turtle is found in regions that are arid, semi-arid, grasslands, and prairies. It needs soil that is easy to dig for nesting and hibernating. You can often find the desert box turtle in prairie dog towns. The desert box turtle is only active in the summer months when the humidity is very high.


The desert box turtle has a hinged shell similar to other box turtles that allows it to completely close its shell to protect itself. Desert box turtles have two different types of colorations. One is patterned and the other is unpatterned. The patterned turtle has a brown to pale carapace and thin yellow lines. The unpatterned type is straw colored or greenish. This type is less common and has no striping. The body and legs are dark colored with yellow markings. The average length is 14 inches.


The male desert box turtle has red eyes and the female has brown eyes. Also, the male turtles usually have one back toe that turns inward and thicker tails.


The desert box turtle eats a diet mostly of insects. But it will also eat plants, berries, and animal tissue. It will search under cow dung to find insects such as beetles.

Life Span

A desert box turtle is not an adult until it is 10 years old. Some can live as long as 50 years or more with proper care. It is not possible to tell a turtle’s age by counting the growth rings on its shell. The rings show the rate of growth so they don’t form based on the passage of time. They may have 3 or 4 rings when they’re younger and growing quickly. Many wild turtles stop growing new rings after the age of 20.


It is never a good idea to take a turtle from the wild and make it a pet. Wild turtle populations are shrinking and it’s best to leave it to reproduce and add to the natural population. Wild turtles do no always adapt well to life in captivity. Also, if you find adult turtles for sale in a pet store ask where they were obtained. They were often caught in the wild and will have the same problems we just discussed.