Ornate Wood Turtle: Ultimate Guide

The Ornate Wood Turtle, also known as the Painted Wood Turtle, is a very popular turtle species in the realm of domesticated pets. 

Beyond that, however, the Ornate Wood Turtle is a particularly beautiful turtle species that lives a long and interesting life in the wild. 

In today’s ultimate guide to the Ornate Wood Turtle, we’ll be discussing the habits of this turtle species in its natural habitat as well as the recommended care guidelines if you choose to keep one of these turtles as a pet.

Male vs. Female 

One way to tell a female Ornate Wood Turtle from a male of the same species is by looking at the turtle’s tail. This is an effective method of discerning the sex of many turtle species. 

Male Ornate Wood Turtles have tails that are, for the most part, noticeably thicker and longer than those sported by the females. The female turtles, on the other hand, have more domed shells than the males. 

If an Ornate Wood Turtle is of a certain age, you might also be able to differentiate between the sexes by looking at their colors. The coloring of male Ornate Wood Turtles tends to remain vivid for longer than females. However, this is not such a reliable method of sexing your turtle, especially if it is still a juvenile or a younger adult. 

Males of the Ornate Wood Turtle species are smaller than females on average, but not by very much. 


Ornate Wood Turtles can vary quite a lot in terms of physical appearance, so identifying them can be confusing, especially to novice turtle enthusiasts. 

The base color of this species’ shell is brown, but the shell is decorated with black, yellow, and red rings. 

These turtles can grow up to 20 cm in length, which comes to roughly 7.9 inches. 

As a Pet

Ornate Wood Turtles are one of the most common turtle species that people keep at home. This is because they are relatively small as well as beautiful to look at. Plus, they adapt very well to changes in their environment and aren’t too high-maintenance. 

It’s important to consider the methods through which you obtain an Ornate Wood Turtle as a pet. There is a significant amount of debate amongst both the animal-loving and pet-owning communities about the moral aspect of owning wild animals such as turtles as pets.

So,  please do your due diligence and research the issue from reliable sources in order to figure out where you stand from an informed perspective before making any commitments. 


Ornate Wood Turtles typically live for up to 30 years in the wild. These turtles can also enjoy normal life spans when kept as pets, although in order for this to be possible, the environment you create for your pet turtle must mimic their natural habitat as closely as possible. 

For more information on the enclosure and care requirements of Ornate Wood Turtles, see our dedicated section on care below. 


As a semi-aquatic turtle, the Ornate Wood Turtle has webbed feet that help it to swim efficiently when required. 

Breeding Season

Breeding season for Ornate Wood Turtles ranges from late summer to early winter. Specifically, these turtles mate between the months of August and December. 


Female Ornate Wood Turtles can lay up to 4 egg clutches every year once they reach maturity. Each clutch typically comprises anywhere between 3 and 5 eggs. 

Egg-laying can, however, be difficult for female Ornate Wood Turtles, especially if they are being kept domestically without access to the nutrition they would usually be able to find in the wild. 

A lack of calcium, in particular, can cause an Ornate Wood Turtle to struggle to lay her eggs. This can be very painful and distressing for the turtle. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial to make sure that your Ornate Wood Turtle receives enough calcium through its diet.

We’ll discuss how to achieve the best nutritional balance for this turtle species in our ‘Care’ section below, so don’t forget to check it out!

Growth Rate

In the wild, it often takes Ornate Wood Turtles anywhere between 14 and 20 years to reach adulthood (maturity). 

This is very slow compared to the majority of turtle species, many of which reach maturity between 2 and 8 years (male turtles usually mature faster). 

Life Cycle 

Ornate Wood Turtles emerge from eggs as hatchlings, but most, unfortunately, die while they are still juveniles. 

For those who survive, after reaching adulthood at between 14 and 20 years of age, the breeding cycle begins. For females, this means producing up to 4 clutches of eggs per year during the period between August and December. 

Although the usual lifespan for an Ornate Wood Turtle is up to 30 years, some can surpass this and live for much longer. 


Wood turtle populations, in general, are decreasing, including the number of Ornate Wood Turtles in the world today. 

Because of this, conservation measures have been put in place to minimize the risk of extinction. 


This is an omnivorous turtle species, which means that it will happily eat both meat and plants. 

In the wild, Ornate Wood Turtles prefer to eat small fish such as minnows in addition to worms (primarily earthworms and red worms), insects like crickets, and sometimes even small vertebrates like mice. 

However, because they are omnivorous, these turtles also enjoy vegetable-based meals and salads. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 60% of this turtle’s diet should be made up of leafy greens. 


Ornate Wood Turtles, like the rest of the Wood Turtle family, can be preyed upon by a variety of wild animals in their natural habitat. 

Snapping turtles, which are often more aggressive and have further-reaching and stronger jaws than most turtles, can pose a threat to Ornate Wood Turtles. 

Other predators, such as raccoons, foxes, otters, and even domestic cats that happen to be in the vicinity, can also select Ornate Wood Turtles as prey. 

Roaming Range

The Ornate Wood Turtle can be found in Mexico, from Costa Rica to Sonora. You might also spot Ornate Wood Turtles in Honduras and Guatemala. 


Ornate Wood Turtles are prone to internal and external parasitic infections. Roundworm, in particular, is a frequent problem with imported Ornate Wood Turtles. 

Because Ornate Wood Turtles often have to be shipped long distances to meet the demand for pet turtles, they can sustain shell damage and other injuries during transport. This can lead to infections and diseases, including shell rot. 

Eye Color

The eyes of the Ornate Wood Turtle typically appear to be completely black, although red stripes on the turtle’s face usually traverse the eyes, making them appear to be more colorful. 


Because Ornate Wood Turtles are native to Mexico, where it is typically very warm year-round, there is no need for them to hibernate. 

Can They Swim?

The Ornate Wood Turtle is a semi-aquatic turtle species, which means that it lives both in and out of the water. 

Because the Ornate Wood Turtle is partially aquatic, it can swim. Its webbed feet help it to do so. However, these turtles are not as strong in a swimming capacity as other fully aquatic turtles, and will likely need to spend a lot more time out of the water.


When keeping an Ornate Wood Turtle as a pet, you’ll need to provide it with plenty of space, the right temperatures and lighting, and enough water.

Outdoors, Ornate Wood Turtles can be kept in pens as long as they always have access to enough water. Outdoor enclosures should be dug into the ground by at least 10 inches to prevent escape and should rise at least 25 inches from the ground. They should also be kept shaded by plants. Put water in a shallow pan and change it every day. 

For an indoor enclosure, get a large tank (at least 75 gallons) and fill it with water until it reaches an inch over the height of your turtle. You’ll need to have a layer of substrate at the bottom of the tank as well as a basking spot. 

Keep the water around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but make sure the basking area stays between 80 and 90 degrees. Always keep a UVB light on during the daytime. 

Feed your turtle any combination of the proteins listed in our ‘Diet’ section, combined with a selection of vegetation. This could include collard greens, lettuce, non-toxic flowers, and weeds such as pondweed and dandelion. 

Recommended fruits include strawberries, mango, apples, bananas, and blueberries. 

Feed juveniles once daily, then decrease to once every 3 days in adulthood. Supplement with a Calcium supplement weekly. 


Depending on who you buy from, the cost of purchasing an Ornate Wood Turtle can vary. Some breeders will sell these turtles for $75, while others will ask for closer to $200 per turtle. 

Prices are typically based on whether the turtle has any shell damage, injuries, or health issues, as well as the size and age of the turtle. 

You may also need to pay an additional fee to have the turtle sexed if this is an important factor in your decision. 

In addition to these costs, you’ll need to pay for all equipment, food, healthcare, and any other purchases related to the turtle. This can cost several hundred dollars every year, and as we’ve established, Ornate Wood Turtles can live for a long time.