Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene triunguis)
This smallish, terrestrial turtle has a high domed shell. Coloration varies greatly, but the carapace is typically a plain, dullish brown. Some individuals, however, can be quite colorful with shells of yellow and orange radiating streaks and dots. The plastron is usually plain yellow, although some individuals will have darker areas (generally that correspond to creases between the scutes). Head, neck, and limb coloration may include browns, blacks, oranges, and yellows arranged in no clearly discernible pattern. Adult males of this species have a slightly concave plastron; bright red eyes; and relatively longer, thicker tail. Adult females have a flat plastron; brown or dull red eyes; and relatively shorter, thinner tail. Juveniles have a slightly keeled, less-domed carapace than adults.
A single sub-species, the Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrepene carolina triunguis) inhabits the state. As the name suggests, specimens of this sub-species (usually) have three toes on the back feet and are relatively small. The influence of the larger, four-toed Eastern Box Turtle (Terrepene carolina carolina) can especially be seen in specimens of the extreme northeastern portion of the state.
This species can be easily confused with the less common and protected Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). While numerous distinguishing characteristics exist, assurance of identification is most easily achieved by considering the plastron markings. While the plastron of a Three-toed Box Turtle is generally plain, the Ornate Box Turtle has a plastron of bold, black and yellow "brush strokes":
This species is also known as the Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapin, or (incorrectly) Tortoise.
This species is usually associated with woodlands. It also inhabits fields, prairies, and marshes that are adjacent to woodlands. Generally speaking, it prefers large tracts of undisturbed forest with ample cover.
This species hibernates throughout the colder months in a shallow burrow, often no deeper than a few inches. A naturally-produced antifreeze provides protection against subfreezing temperatures and winter mortality is surprisingly low. As temperatures warm, this species becomes active and may bask in more open areas. Habitat preference is for grassland in spring and autumn, with forest habitat being utilized during the summer.
Breeding occurs throughout the spring and summer, with multiple small clutches being laid. Baby and immature box turtles are more secretive than adults and are rarely seen; this question of "where are all of the baby box turtles?" remains something of a mystery to science. While estimates of longevity vary, this species commonly exceeds a 50 life span.
This species is omnivorous: eating a variety of berries, flowers, fungi, insects, worms, etc. as opportunities present themselves. Juveniles lean more toward a carnivorous diet, whereas adults lean toward herbivory.
Most individuals are mild-mannered and rarely attempt to bite. When first captured, a specimen is most likely to seal up tightly into its shell.
While seemingly ubiquitous, this species faces numerous threats, such as habitat destruction, road mortality, and collection. Their slow life cycle may leave populations particularly vulnerable to even slight alterations of the ecosystem. A 2007 citizen-scientist survey of box turtles, coordinated by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, should shed light on the current status of the species in the state.