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Don’t rely on a colorfully patterned top shell to distinguish Oklahoma’s box turtle species. Instead, take a look at the bottom shell to differentiate the three-toed and plains box turtles. 

Watch Wild Double Take: Box Turtles on YouTube.


Find tips for identifying Oklahoma’s look-alike species in our video series on YouTube.

Similarities: Oklahoma’s two box turtle species have a dome-shaped top shell with a single hinge on the bottom shell. The top shell of both species may have a pattern, so this feature should not be used to differentiate these look-alikes. Both species burrow in the winter and may forage on insects, plant materials, or carrion. Male box turtles have red eyes while females have yellow or brown eyes.

Differences: The key difference between three-toed and plains box turtles can be found on the bottom shell: The bottom shell is plain or unmarked for three-toed box turtles and patterned for plains box turtles. Three-toed box turtles also tend to have a slight ridge on the top shell and are most often found in wooded areas. There is no ridge on the top shell of plains box turtles, and these reptiles are more often found in prairies.   

Roads can be a dangerous place for wildlife, especially for box turtles moving in the spring. If you choose to move a turtle from the road, make sure the conditions are safe for you and other drivers, use a firm grip so as not to drop the turtle, and take the turtle to the side of the road in the direction it was heading. 

If you see a box turtle in your backyard, local park, or the larger Outdoor Oklahoma, consider sharing the sighting on the free nature platform iNaturalist. Adding a photo to your observation can allow others to help confirm the identification. 

These Oklahoma look-alikes are included in the Wildlife Department’s “A Field Guide to Oklahoma’s Amphibians and Reptiles.” Tips for identification, a map of the Oklahoma range and information about the diet and preferred habitats are provided for 135 of the species that can be found in our state. The book’s spiral binding makes it easy to flip through and make comparisons of different species when identifying animals at home or in the field. Copies are available at