Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima, carapace

Mexican wood turtle, Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima, carapace.
Photograph by Betsy McCormick

The genus Rhinoclemmys is composed of eight species and numerous subspecies. Rhinoclemmys species include R. annulata, R. areolata, R. funerea, R. melanosterna, R. nasuta, R. pulcherrima, R. punctularia, and R. rubida. The only New World members of the subfamily Batagurinae, the members of the Rhinoclemmys genus are native to tropical and subtropical Central and South America.

The Mexican wood turtle, Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima, is a very attractive semiterrestrial species. I have had four other species of Rhinoclemmys over the years and have found R. pulcherrima to be by far the easiest and most interesting to maintain. I have yet to see a shy or withdrawn member of this species. They all seem curious and eager to accept the situation at hand. They spend time soaking but definitely prefer being out of water, and they always eat on land.

The carapace of the Mexican wood turtle is light brown with a ridge down the middle and moderate sculpturing on the scutes. The plastron is yellowish with red patterning visible on the marginal scutes. The body parts are yellowish with red mixed in a rather lacy pattern. There are red lines on the head and the eyes have a blue line on either side of the pupil. The shell is somewhat elongated. Adult turtles measure 6-8 in (15.2-20.3 cm) in carapace length, with the females being larger than the males.

My experience with the R. pulcherrima pulcherrima began in 1971 when Taco entered my life. She was a wonderful creature - alert, active, and very responsive to my care. This is the behavior I have found in all the animals of this species that I have known over the years. Taco was an enthusiastic eater; fruit, greens and soaked cat chow were all devoured, with the latter being her favorite. Snails were enjoyed when available, and I'm sure she ate other bugs and worms as she found them.

I've found that my creatures will take live food if it's right in front of them, but they can't be bothered if it moves too fast - then they just enjoy watching it move! It's much easier to have their meal served on a platter, and they seem secure in the knowledge that starvation will not be an option for them.

It wasn't long before Tortilla, Enchilada and Pedro joined Taco. She seemed to welcome the company. Eventually I felt Pedro needed assistance with his three ladies, so I added José. All were compatible and well-adjusted. They shared an 8 x 24 ft (2.4 x 7.3 m) pen with box turtles. There is a shallow pond, various water dishes, and lots of shady and sunny areas. The three houses in the enclosure are elevated on cement blocks and accessed by carpeted ramps. The "caves" under the houses created by the cement blocks are favored hideouts. There are sandy SuperSoil™ areas; the pulcherrima love to throw the soil and sand up on their backs using their front legs in flipper fashion.