Ornate Wood Turtle

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Species group:

Other common names: Painted Wood Turtle, Honduran Wood Turtle, Central American Wood Turtle

Scientific name: Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima manni

The basics:
The Ornate Wood Turtle’s exquisite beauty is only partially described by its name…even well-experienced herpetologists have been stopped in their tracks by the sight of one! Add to this their curious, even bold personalities, and it’s easy to see why this striking turtle has long been a pet trade favorite. Ornate Wood Turtles are found from Sonora, Mexico to Costa Rica. The subspecies described here (there are 4), which is the most colorful, lives in the southern part of the range. They favor forest edges and riverside thickets, but sometimes adapt to overgrown fields at the borders of cultivated land.

Appearance / health:
Ornate Wood Turtles vary greatly in coloration, with the most striking individuals being hard to describe in words. The carapace is clad, to varying degrees, in vivid red and yellow blotches and eye-spots, and a complex pattern of red and orange lines and stripes marks the head. Adults average 7-8 inches in length.

Behavior / temperament:
Ornate Wood Turtles adjust to captivity quickly, and soon learn to anticipate feeding times and to take food from the hand. Many owners compare them to North American Wood Turtles in responsiveness and longevity. Males often harass females with mating attempts, and may stress or bite them in the process; males cannot be kept together, as they will usually fight.

Hatchlings may be raised in aquariums, but adults do best in custom-made enclosures that measure at least 3’ x 4’ in area; outdoor maintenance is ideal when weather permits. Plastic-based rabbit cages and cattle troughs can also be modified as turtle homes. A pool of shallow water should always be available, and humidity should be kept high via misting with water. Suitable hiding spots are important to the well-being of pet turtles; these include deep substrates into which your turtles can burrow and commercial turtle huts. Cypress bark and similar commercial products, or a mix of topsoil, peat and sphagnum moss, may be used as a substrate. Ambient temperature: 72-85 F; Basking temperature: 90-92 F. UVB exposure is essential.

Turtles are messy feeders, and quickly foul swimming and drinking water. Removing your pets to a plastic storage container for feeding is a good way to lessen cleaning chores. Some folks find it easier to maintain their semi-aquatic turtles in plastic storage containers that can easily be emptied and rinsed.

Ornate Wood Turtles have not been well-studied in the wild, but their appetites appear to know no bounds. Pets should be offered a diet comprised of whole animals such as earthworms, snails, crickets and other insects, crayfish, prawn, minnows, an occasional pre-killed pink mouse and a variety of fruits, greens and vegetables. Goldfish should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders. Spinach and various cabbages cause nutritional disorders and should be avoided. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 40% of the diet. The calcium requirements of Ornate Wood Turtles, especially growing youngsters and gravid females, are quite high. All foods (other than whole fish and commercial pellets) should be powdered with a reptile calcium supplement. A cuttlebone may also be left in the cage. Vitamin/mineral supplements may be used 2-3 times weekly.

Three to five eggs are produced at a time, with 1-4 clutches per year being typical. Breeding usually occurs between August and December. Females sometimes have difficulty passing their eggs, especially if the diet lacks sufficient calcium. Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention always leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis).

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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