Central American Wood Turtle: Ultimate Guide

The Central American Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima manni), also known by some as the Ornate Wood Turtle, is a species of Painted Wood Turtle that is native to Costa Rica and western Mexico.  

Central American Wood Turtles are some of the hardest turtles to look after in captivity. They require expert level care. However, this can be a rewarding process for experienced turtle breeders. 

Finding a Central American Wood Turtle that has been bred in captivity is a difficult task, but those that do exist are often very good quality turtles. 

Male vs Female

There aren’t a huge amount of differences between the Male and Female Central American Wood Turtles. In fact, there are only two main ways to tell them apart. Although the females tend to be a little bit bigger. 

Firstly, if you see a brightly colored Central American Wood Turtle then it is either going to be very young or a male. Hatchlings are born with bright shells. The colors of the shell of the females fade as they age. But the colors stay bright on the shells of the males.

Secondly, the males tend to have much longer and thicker tails than the females. 


Central American Wood Turtles are usually about 8 inches long – with some females being slightly bigger. 

They come with brightly colored shells – usually featuring yellow and orange hues. Most turtles have black eyespots on their carapace. It is possible that a Central American Wood Turtle may also have pinks and reds in its coloring.  

The patterns on the back of their shell tend to be unique to each turtle. 

The further south the turtle is from, the less flashy its shell will be. 

As a Pet

Central American Wood Turtles are very small and social animals. They quickly get used to being handled and will often demand to be held if they are in the mood for it. 

These turtles can be accomplished escape artists and are very food motivated. It is best to keep their food out of sight of their tank. 

Central American Wood Turtles that have been bred in captivity make for better pets than wild-caught and imported Central American Wood Turtles. 


When kept in proper conditions, Central American Wood Turtles can live for up to 25-30 years. 

The females tend to live longer than males. 


Central American Wood Turtles have a few adaptations that make them a very interesting turtle to study. 

Firstly, they have long, rudder-like tails that help them to swim. However, these tails do not get in the way of their life on land. 

They are also very smart reptiles and they will learn to do things, in exchange for their favorite snacks. 

Breeding Season

Breeding season can be quite intense for female Central American Wood Turtles. Many breeders admit that they will often separate males and females, to give the ladies a break. 

The females are fertile between April and October. 


Female Central American Wood Turtles tend to lay around 4 eggs per mating season. These eyes measure on average as  24-32 mm x 37-52 mm. 

They like to lay their eggs semi-submerged in water. Before burying them in very moist ground, in well-protected areas. The female will camouflage the nest and wait nearby to guard it. 

They do not reproduce very regularly, so the females are very protective of their eggs. The fertilization rates of these eggs are around 50%. The eggs are incubated for around 120 days before the hatchlings emerge. 

Growth Rate

Central American Wood Turtles, like other species of Wood Turtles, grow very quickly. 

Life is so dangerous for them after they have hatched, that they have evolved to mature quickly. Turtles will reach ¾ of their full size within the first three months of their life. It then takes them 3-20 months to grow the last quarter. 

As we already mentioned, once they leave adolescence the color on females’ shells will start to fade. 

Life Cycle

Central American Wood Turtles live for up to 30 years after hatching. 

As an egg they are incubated for 120 days, then they hatch. 

They are considered hatchlings for 45-70 days. After this, they are considered juveniles for around 2 years. They then spend the next 23-28 years as adults. 


Central American Wood Turtles are an endangered species. Like most other species of Wood Turtle. But there is very little data on current population numbers. 


Feeding time is by far the favorite part of the day for Central American Wood Turtles, and they won’t be afraid to let you know that. They are even shameless enough to beg for food. 

These turtles are omnivores and are really not fussy when it comes to food – as long as they get a lot of it. 

For the meat portion of their meals insects, snails, and small mice make great options for them. They will eat mealworms at a push. 

As they are coastal turtles we would recommend giving them seafood at least twice a week – uncooked shrimps tend to be their favorite. 

You should also be making sure that they are eating a lot of greens. Clovers, grass, dandelions, and stinging nettles are good options for them. They have also been known to enjoy fruits like melons and grapes. 


While not many creatures attack adult Central American Wood Turtles. There are many creatures who prey on their eggs and hatchlings. 

Foxes, cats, otters, snakes, and even snapping turtles will attack a Wood Turtle nest for food. 

Roaming Range

In the world, Central American Wood Turtles have an average roaming range of 3.1 ha when they are not nesting. 

However, a glass tank measuring  48 by 24 by 16 inches tall will provide enough space for two adults. 


Here are the four most common health concerns for Central American Wood Turtles. 

Vitamin A deficiency – this most commonly occurs when turtles are not fed properly. They need a mixture of greens, meat, and seafood. Lack of Vitamin A affects turtles’ skin, mouth, eyes, kidneys, and their respiratory tracts. Signs of Vitamin A deficiency include abscesses, tiredness, and decreased appetite. 

Infected shell – most common in wild turtles, infections like Shell Rot can cause turtles a lot of pain. If the infections are left untreated for too long they can work their way through the shell into internal organs. 

Abscesses – can grow all over the turtle’s body, but are most common in the ear and behind the eye. They appear like hard lumps under the skin. They are filled with pus that is often thick and dry. Abscesses are most common in turtles with a Vitamin A deficiency. 

Gastrointestinal parasites – parasites such as roundworms can be very common in pet turtles. They are hard to detect without examining their fecal matter. Signs of parasites include diarrhea and weight loss.  

Eye Color

Central American Wood Turtles can come in a variety of eye colors. Heterochromia is very rare amongst these types of turtles. 

Some Central American Wood Turtles have completely black eyes, while others have red or green. Occasionally, a Central American Wood Turtle will be spotted with yellow eyes. 


The Central American Wood Turtles have no designated hibernation time and they tend not to hibernate when kept indoors. However, if they are kept in outdoor enclosures they will have periods of reduced activity in the colder seasons. 

They will still move and eat during this period, just less than usual. 

Can they swim?

Central American Wood Turtles are semi-aquatic and they actually love to swim. They will spend a lot of time swimming in the water, with sessions of basking on land in between. 



  • Water (for swimming) 
  • Basking spots 
  • Hiding spots 
  • Native Fauna (dense along riverbed)
  • Waterpoint (for drinking) 
  • Heat lamp 
  • Humidifier 
  • Deep, sandy soil (for digging and hiding) 

If you intend to keep your Central American Wood Turtle in an outdoor enclosure then you will need to live in an area that regularly reaches above 93 degrees. You should avoid using see through fences as this can cause the turtles distress and they try to walk through them. 

If you want to keep a Central American Wood Turtle in an indoor tank, then you will need to keep the basking spots at 93-104 degrees throughout the year. The glass of the terrarium should be between 10-15mm thick to help keep the moisture in. 

You will need to make sure that there are a series of basking spots across the tank that the turtle can make use of. You will also want to install a few areas of dense Central American plants. As well as, putting a large amount of swimming space in the tank. 

Central American Wood Turtles like to bury themselves in soil, so you will need to have an area or two where they can do that. As well as, other places where they can hide. 


Central American Wood Turtles can cost anywhere between $150-$350 depending on the age, size, and health of the turtle. 

Hatchlings and eggs tend to cost more than fully grown adults. 

Fun Facts

  • The Central American Wood Turtle is one of four Painted Wood Turtle breeds in the world 
  •  Central American Wood Turtles are masters of disguise and will often only leave their hiding places for food