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Ornate Wood Turtle Care

Ornate Wood Turtle Care

Ornate Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima manni)

also known as the Mexican Wood Turtle, the Painted Wood Turtle, and the Central American Wood Turtle

Popularity: Aside from being one of the most beautiful turtles available in to pet owners, the Ornate Wood Turtle is also one of the more personable. They tend to be outgoing, curious and active. Many will accept food from their keeper’s hands.

Origin: Mexico and Central America

Native habitat: Semi-aquatic; damp woodlands and scrublands

Size: 6-9 inches

Lifespan: 30+ years

Appearance: The Ornate Wood Turtle has a beautiful shell that resembles fine finished wood. It has distinctive markings that look as though an artist painted them. They have a high-domed shell that makes the effect more dramatic. The shell and the head are light brown to olive, and there are bright red lines on the snout and face.

Diet: Omnivorous

Misc characteristics: Males do a head-bobbing dance to attract a female. If she is interested, she will also bob her head.


Housing and Furnishings

Rather than an aquarium tank, these active turtles are better suited for a long, wide pen covered by a screen top. If you opt for a tank, you need a minimum size of 120 gallons for one turtle. The enclosure must be semi-aquatic. Part of the enclosure must be covered by water that’s about as high as the top of the turtle’s shell at its deepest point. There should be a slope of smooth rocks or other material leading up to the dry area. There should also be resting islands made from rocks in the aquatic area, and rocks for basking rocks in the dry area of the enclosure. A shelter or hide box should also be provided. Since these turtles are often on the go, they should not have fragile plants or decorations in their enclosures.


A 3-4 inch deep mixture of sterilized sand and non-aromatic wood bark with damp sphagnum moss mixed in selected sections provides a good substrate. This will provide the turtle with a chance to burrow. Keep the substrate dry to protect against infections caused by bacterial buildup.


These turtles regulate body temperature by moving between warm and cooler areas. The enclosure should provide this thermal gradient. Ambient temperatures should be between 75 and 82 degrees F, with a basking area from 88 to 95 degrees. Turn off basking lamp and other heating devices at night and allow the enclosure to be at room temperature, providing it doesn’t fall below 60 degrees. Control heating devices with a thermostat or rheostat. Use three thermometers to regulate temperature: one placed in the water, one about two inches over the surface of the dry area, and one in the basking area.


The turtle needs at 12 hours per day of UVB lighting to process vitamins and minerals. Provide this with UV lights designed specifically for terrariums. Place fluorescent reptile UVB emitting bulbs over the enclosure. Too much light exposure can stress the turtle. Glass blocks out UVB light, so keep overhead light sources behind a wire mesh cover — not a glass or acrylic tank top. There should be a distinct day/night cycle: The day period must be light; and night must be dark. Use a timer to set day/night periods. If a heat source is required to maintain correct nighttime temperatures, use heat mats or strips mounted below or on the side of the tank, infrared heat lamps, ceramic heat emitters, or a combination of these.

Water and Humidity

Always make sure the turtle has access to chlorine-free clean, fresh water. They will drink the water they swim and soak in, so remove uneaten food, debris and waste often and change water daily. They need a high humidity level in the enclosure. Maintain this by having a swim area in the enclosure and by misting daily.


Ornate Wood Turtles will eat most anything you offer, so make sure it is wholesome. Plant matter such as Romaine, dandelion, squash, sweet potato, carrot, tomato, corn, mango and apples should comprise 80 percent of the diet. The remainder should be protein rich food such as prepared turtle pellets, crickets and earthworms. Finely dice all plant matter before serving. Feed adults every other day, and feed juveniles daily. Place food on a shallow dish and remove uneaten portions after 1-2 hours.

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