The three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis) is one of two species of box turtle that occurs in Missouri. Its sympatric congener, the ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) prefers more open habitats such as prairies, while the three-toed tends to inhabitat shaded woodlands near streams. I was surprised to see how bright and colorful this turtle was. From very far away I could already see its bright red neck and yellow legs popping out from a pretty inconspicuous shell. He was evidently sporting his best breeding colors, though it is the tail end of the breeding season. Checking the underside of a turtle’s shell is generally the easiest way to determine the sex of wild turtles (though in some species the dimorphism may be more subtle). Male box turtles have a concave plastron (ventral surface of the shell), which enables them to fit above the rounded female’s shell during mating like a 3D puzzle. And yes, this one had the dip! Box turtles in the genus Terrapene are also characterized by a hinged lower shell, which allows them seal the openings when they retreat into their shells to protect their vulnerable heads and extremities. When I pick turtles up I usually end up staring deeply into the eyes of a shy and wary turtle, but with this one it encapsulated itself perfectly in its own sleek round fortress.
Oh! and “three-toed” refers to the toes on the hind feet, in case you counted the number of claws in this picture.