The bottom shell (plastron) is hinged so it can close against the upper shell (carapace). This species has 3 (or 4) hind toes. The carapace is high-domed, usually has a top ridge, and is olive or brown with faint yellow or orange lines on the scutes (horny scales on the carapace). The plastron is yellow with brown smudges. Males have red eyes, orange on the head and forelimbs, a concave plastron, and a thick tail; females have yellow-brown eyes, less orange, a flat plastron, and a small tail.
Similar species: The ornate box turtle usually has four toes on each hind leg, lacks a ridge along the center of the top shell, and the top shell is usually brown with numerous yellow lines radiating from the center of each plate. It is more of a grassland species than the three-toed box turtle and is found statewide except for the Bootheel.