Ornate Wood Turtle
Tropical Wood Turtle
Central American Wood Turtle
Sonoran Wood Turtle
Painted Wood Turtle
Ornate wood turtles are one of the most attractive North American turtles. There are four recognized subspecies, R. p. manni, R. p. incisa, R. p. pulcherrima and R. p. rogerbarbouri. The first two are most commonly encountered in the pet trade and are the ones that we deal with at Sandfire Dragon Ranch. R. p. manni are tremendously colorful with patterns of alternating red, black and yellow evident on their scutes and red patterning on their faces. R. p. incisa often exhibit the same colors but are less patterned, far less pronounced and much less dramatic. Usually the carapace of R. p. incisa is uniformly olive-brown. All of the subspecies are semi-aquatic and omnivorous. Adults rarely exceed 9 inches (23 centimeters) in length, with females being slightly larger than males. They can live to be 35 years old or more.
Ornate wood turtles are native to Central and South America, ranging from southern Sonora Mexico through central Costa Rica and in several interior valleys of Honduras and Guatemala. Within this range it is most commonly found in sub-humid riverine areas from sea level to the ecotones of evergreen or rain forests. Ornate wood turtles are primarily a terrestrial species preferring riparian habitats adjacent to scrublands, woodlands and forests.
As mentioned above, ornate wood turtles spend much of their time on land adjacent to waterways. As such, their enclosure should provide both land and water area. This fact coupled with the size of ornate wood turtles suggests a fairly large enclosure. In the warmer parts of the country this can be achieved outside with enclosures that incorporate both land and water. Pre-molded ponds have very unnatural steep sides that function as a death trap for many reptiles and amphibians and therefore are not recommended unless appropriate measures are taken (e.g. the use of ramps or rocks to aide in entrances/exits). Ornate wood turtles like to semi-bury themselves with soil, using their front legs in more of an oceanic turtle fashion to flip the soil onto their backs. Providing an area of potting soil affords the turtles with this opportunity. A hiding space with a significant amount of moisture (like an artificial cave or pit with sphagnum moss or the like) should also be provided. When temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time, artificial warmth should be provided or the turtles should be moved indoors.
Because they prefer a humid environment, aquariums are often a good choice for housing provided they are large enough. Generally an 80-100 gallon/300-400 liter aquarium (or one with a footprint of approximately 20-24 inches/50-60 centimeters by 40 to 48 inches/100-122 centimeters) would be the minimum size to meet these requirements. The accommodations should be horizontally oriented. Tubs, stock barrels or large kiddy pools can also be used as long as precautions are taken to ensure adequate humidity (75-80 percent). Both water and land area should be offered, with more land than water. A basking area should be provided on the land area as well as a hide spot designed to maintain moisture (imagine a warm, damp, leaf littered forest floor). The basking spot should provide surface temperatures of 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The water may need to be heated so as to remain in the 72-78 degree range. If a filtration unit is not used, frequent water changes will be necessary (even though the turtles often eat on land, they donít always defecate there!)
Ornate wood turtles are omnivorous, and will eat worms, snails, insects, fish, grasses, flowers, and fruits (such as mangos, oranges, and guavas). In captivity they can also be offered moistened cat, dog or monkey chow, but care should be taken not to offer these high-protein foods more than once a week to 10-days. An ounce of this food is more than enough per serving. Their food should also be supplemented with an appropriate vitamin/mineral dust. Food should be offered on land as ornate wood turtles rarely eat in the water.
As is true with many chelonians, ornate wood turtles are long-lived, and the choice to keep one should not be made hastily. Also, these turtles are quite tropical in nature and require quite a bit of warmth and humidity. If you live in an area where this must be artificially provided for most if not all of the year, take into account the ongoing costs of running the heating, lighting and filtration elements.
At the very least, ornate wood turtles are visually stunning animals. Add to this their curious, alert and responsive nature and you have an animal that can provide wonderful companionship. Groups of these animals will display distinct personalities as they interact with one another and their keeper(s).