Class Chelonia
Family Emydidae


Terrapene carolina—Eastern Box Turtle // Terrapene ornata—Ornate Box Turtle

Terrapene sp.—Box TurtlesRegional distribution of Pleistocene fossil Terrapene sp.

Two species of box turtles are reported as fossil from our region. Milstead (1967) summarized the fossil history of Terrapene to the mid 1960s.

Today, box turtles are common throughout the lower elevations of the Trans-Pecos to Arizona and south into Mexico; only the Ornate Box Turtle (T. ornata) occurs in the U.S. portion of the region. Terrapene nelsoni occurs in the Sierra Madre Occidental of northern Mexico. The Eastern Box Turtle currently occurs in eastern Texas, thence east and north.

With suitable shell material, the Eastern and Ornate box turtles can be told apart on osteological features, but most fragmentary items can be identified only to genus.


Late Blancan: California Wash (Lindsay 1984); Virden (Morgan et al. 2008).

Sangamon: La Brisca (Van Devender et al. 1985: cf. gen.)

Mid Wisconsin: Térapa (White et al. 2010); U-Bar Cave (UTEP: ?).

Mid/Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Sierra Diablo Cave (UTEP).

Late Wisconsin: Human Corridor (Harris 1993c); Pendejo Cave (UTEP: cf.).

Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Boyd's Cave (UTEP).

Literature. Harris 1993c; Milstead 1967; Morgan et al. 2008; Van Devender et al. 1985; White et al. 2010.


Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus 1758)—Eastern Box TurtleRegional distribution of Pleistocene fossil Terrapene carolina

Synonyms. Terrapene canaliculata.

Terrapene carolina is primarily an eastern species, extending today almost as far west as central Texas and occurring northward into Oklahoma and Kansas.

Lundelius (1972) reported Terrapene canaliculata Hay from Blackwater Draw (Gray Sand unit). Terrapene canaliculata now is considered to be a large, extinct subspecies of T. carolina, T. c. putnami (Milstead 1967). Slaughter (1975) reported T. carolina cf. putnami from the terminal Pleistocene Brown Sand Wedge local fauna, noting the material as larger than most individuals of T. carolina. To the east, at Lubbock Lake, in the Panhandle of Texas, T. c. putnami occurred pre-11,000 B.P., with T. ornata occurring only after that time (Johnson 1987). Gehlbach and Holman (1974) reported T. carolina from Burnet Cave; Moodie and Van Devender (1979) examined the specimen and identified it as T. c. putnami. Likely this specimen was from very late Wisconsin times and part of the late Wisconsin surge of eastern forms into New Mexico.

There have been recent taxonomic changes within Terrapene (Martin et al. 2013), but T. c. major has, at least for the time being, been retained in T. carolina, and thus the presumably related T. c. putnami also.

Slaughter (1975) pointed out that the geographic range of all subspecies of T. carolina is within a region that receives more than 30 inches of precipitation per year; furthermore, the modern subspecies nearest in size (T. c. major) lives only in areas with more than 300 frost-free days. Johnson (1987:86) considered T. carolina as "perhaps the best indicator of trees in the area."


Late Wisconsin: Blackwater Draw Fauna (Slaughter 1975: cf.).

Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Burnet Cave (Gehlbach and Holman 1974; Moodie and Van Devender 1979).

Literature. Gehlbach and Holman 1974; Johnson 1987; Lundelius 1972; Martin et al. 2013; Milstead 1967; Moodie and Van Devender 1979; Slaughter 1975.


Terrapene ornata (Agassiz 1857)—Ornate Box TurtleRegional distribution of Pleistocene fossil Terrapene ornata

Ornate Box Turtle, Terrapene ornata. Carl S. Lieb photographOccurrences of box turtles identified as T. ornata east of the Guadalupe Mountains appear to be post-Pleistocene. Gehlbach and Holman (1974) recorded T. ornata from Pratt Cave, presumably Holocene, and, according to Johnson (1987), occurrences in the Clovis area (see Milstead 1967) also are post-Pleistocene. The Pendejo Cave turtles are mostly from Zones A through C; A and B are Holocene and much of C also is Holocene.

Fig. 1. Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). Photograph by Carl S. Lieb.


Late Blancan: Curtis Ranch (Lindsay 1984: cf.)

Late Wisconsin: Wilcox (Moodie and Van Devender 1978); U-Bar Cave 13-14 ka (Harris 1989: cf.); U-Bar Cave 14-15 ka (Harris 1989: cf.).

Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Pendejo Cave (Harris 2003).

Early Holocene: Anderson Basin et al. (Morgan and Lucas 2005).

Literature. Gehlbach and Holman 1974; Harris 1989, 2003; Johnson 1987; Lindsay 1984; Milstead 1967; Moodie and Van Devender 1978 ; Morgan and Lucas 2005.


Last Update: 9 Jun 2014.