Species group: American and Asian Box Turtles
Other common names: North American Box Turtle
Scientific name: Terrapene carolina carolina
The beautifully-patterned Eastern Box Turtle is extremely responsive, intelligent, calm in temperament, and may live for 50 or more years...all-in-all, a turtle fan’s dream! Wild populations are protected, but captive-born individuals are readily available.
This United States native is found from southern Maine to Georgia and west to Michigan, Illinois and Tennessee.
Eastern Box Turtles are largely terrestrial, but frequently enter shallow water as well. They inhabit open woodlands, brushy meadows, overgrown fields, marshy areas, farm fringes, pine-barrens, and suburban woodlots. Habitat loss, road mortality and collection for the pet trade have drastically reduced wild populations, which are now protected.
Appearance / health:
The domed carapace is brown in color and sports a highly variable assortment of yellow or orange spots, lines, bars and blotches; the skin is marked with yellow or orange as well. The plastron bears 2 hinges that allow it to be closed tightly when the head and legs are withdrawn. Adults measure 6-8 inches in length.
Well-cared-for Eastern Box Turtles are quite hardy, with captive longevities approaching 50 years (field records indicate that several wild individuals may have topped 100 years of age). Metabolic bone disease is common in animals that are not provided with ample calcium and/or UVB exposure. Females without access to a suitable nesting site may retain their eggs. Ear abscesses and respiratory tract infections are common in overly-dry captive habitats. Other possible problems to be aware of include swollen eyes (Vitamin A deficiency), overgrown beaks, and obesity.
Behavior / temperament:
Eastern Box Turtles take very well to captivity and quickly learn to “beg’ for food when their owners appear. They are alert and aware of their surroundings, and exhibit a surprising degree of curiosity and problem-solving abilities. Like most turtles, they dislike being handled and carried about.
Box Turtles are quite active and need spacious enclosures. Glass aquariums are unsuitable, except, perhaps, for hatchlings. Adults do best in custom-made enclosures measuring at least 4 x 4 feet, but preferably larger; outdoor maintenance is ideal. Plastic-based rabbit cages and cattle troughs can also be modified as turtle homes. A pool of water large enough for soaking must always be available.
The ideal substrate is a mix of slightly-moist topsoil, peat and sphagnum moss, topped by dead leaves. The substrate should be of a depth that allows the turtle to bury itself…animals kept without access to a moist retreat invariably develop ear abscesses and respiratory infections.
Eastern Box Turtles require exposure to UVB light. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances than do florescent models, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well. Temperatures should range from 70-80 F, with a basking site of 85-88 F. Provide your turtle with the largest home possible, so that a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) can be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow turtles to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas.
Females and youngsters often co-exist, but must be watched as dominance hierarchies develop. Males fight viciously, and usually harass females with near-constant mating attempts.
Young Box Turtles are largely carnivorous, consuming increasing amounts of plant material as they mature. Youngsters should be fed a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as earthworms, snails (including food market species), and slugs (collected from pesticide-free areas). Other useful foods include pre-killed pink mice (used sparingly), super mealworms, roaches, sow bugs, waxworms, grasshoppers, beetle grubs, and crickets. Commercial box turtle diets can be offered on occasion, but are not suitable as a mainstay.
Adults may be fed as above, but approximately 50% of the diet should be comprised of salads containing chopped berries, kale, dandelion, yams, apples, pears, squash, mushrooms, carrots and other produce.
Most meals provided to growing animals should be powdered with a calcium source. Vitamin/mineral supplements should be used 2-3 times each week. Both can be reduced to once weekly for well-nourished adults. A calcium block or cuttlebone may be left in the terrarium for “as needed” use (not all individuals will consume calcium in this form).
Captive Box Turtles become sexually mature when approximately 4-6 years old, but this varies widely with diet, temperature and other factors; wild individuals take much longer to mature. Mature males may be distinguished their red eyes (as compared to the brown of females), thicker tails, and deeply-concave plastrons. Breeding may occur year-round, but more typically is stimulated by a hibernation period of 2-3 months at 38-42 F (colder temperatures for the winter season, outdoors, also work well). Pairs must be watched closely, as males bite during courtship, and may injure non-receptive females.
Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. If the home enclosure is not suitable for nesting, they should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 8-10 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and may produce 3-5 clutches each year; a single mating may result infertile clutches 4 or more years later. The 1-8 eggs may be incubated in a mix of 1 part vermiculite to 1 part water (by weight) at 75-82 F for 60-90 days.
Written by Frank Indiviglio
outgoing creatures, beautiful turtles, personable little animals, Great Starter Pets
Smelly Pet, extensive set-up, good legal breeders, large outdoor enclosure, wild-caught eastern box
proper seasonal cooling, cooler climate species, hibernation prevents damage, proper hibernation
Days in the sun...
In my adult life, I've never been a pet person. I love dogs (and hate cats), but I'm very allergic to furry animals and being around them for even a few minutes makes my eyes water and my chest itch. But random chance changed my outlook on pets. A friend of mine found a turtle in an urban setting and set the fellow up inside of a small, plastic swimming pool. I took pity on the little guy (or girl; a turtle's sex organs are internal, and I never checked) and brought him home with me to my house in the woods. After all, a city is no place for a turtle! I found a free 50 gallon aquarium on an online listing, filled it with shredded coconut husks for bedding (cheap and easy), put some large rocks in it as hiding places, and put two lamps in it, one with a white bulb for day and another with a red bulb for night (I switched to blue later, as red was causing me difficulty in falling asleep). I named him Klaus, and we were best pals.
You'll might have noticed I'm speaking in the past tense... well, I'll get to that. Klaus is an Eastern Box Turtle, and for two years he banged around the glass of his aquarium at night when he was hungry and wanted pellets, sunned himself during warm days on the rock island of his outside summer home (a ceramic planter filled with water and a fountain), and tried to escape for the tree line every time we turned over logs while searching for worms. One day, Klaus did indeed escape. Turtles are not fast creatures, but they aren't entirely slow, and they definitely aren't domesticated. A momentarily lapse in my attention allowed him to escape to the tall grasses. It was what he always wanted, but I was devastated. Turtles don't exactly like being played with and aren't social creatures... I only took Klaus in because he was already removed from his natural environment and I wanted to give him a cushy lifestyle. I still believe he made it to the creek near my house and is happily hunting worms to this day (or he floated down to the Gulf of Mexico and is drinking a daiquiri with an umbrella on some sandy beach with his aquatic cousins).
Klaus was extremely easy to care for. Honestly, all he did was sleep, look around, eat, sun himself, and swim a bit. And I was fine with that. I did not want a high maintenance pet, and Klaus was the opposite of high maintenance. I changed his bedding every six or so months, gave him a "bath" by rinsing him in the shower if he hadn't been in water for a while, and took him outside to peruse the yard for exercise, daily if possible. He loved eating sliced turkey and worms, and he tolerated pet food from a can. During winter months, he'd dig into the coconut and sleep for weeks at a time, waking up and looking worryingly emaciated and dried out. Then he'd gorge himself on food and water and slowly regain his healthy appearance. I treated him like he was a caesar, giving him grapes, watermelon, strawberries, lettuce... but he never ate any of those. It was always turkey and worms, turkey and worms. He also enjoyed the orange, gelatinous "reptile bites" you can find in pet stores. I couldn't eat the same foods every day, but he hated variety, I guess.
I haven't had another pet since Klaus, but I would love to have another Eastern Box Turtle. I would say something sentimental like, "Klaus was irreplaceable," but, honestly, he was a simple country turtle... he didn't exactly have a personality, but boy, did I sure love and care for him. I still miss him and think about him every day. Typing this makes me want to adopt another unfortunate creature stuck in a kiddie pool and let them live in the lap of luxury... so long as they aren't furry!.
From Atruejedi Aug 22 2015 5:28PM
My Box Turtle
I've had my Box Turtle for 33 years now. We found her in a pet store while travelling in the 1980's and decided to bring her with us on our journey. As turtles go, she's pretty laid back and a bit shy, preferring to hide unless she's hungry or there's a bit of sun shining through the window she wants to bask in. We keep her in a home-made boxed in area of the living room where she has a shallow bath to soak in, a few rocks to climb around, a hutch to hide in and her bedding. She's pretty self sufficient, eating canned dog-food for most of her time with us, which we portion out and freeze to keep from going bad. We give her new food every few days in the Summer, and maybe once a week in the Winter when she becomes very inactive (even though she's in the house where it's warm). As pets go, she's not very interactive, but pretty to look at and a good listener..
From TeacherRob Oct 4 2014 8:18PM
A Turtle is Not a Hermit Crab
When I was in elementary school, my friend brought in his pet hermit crab for show and tell. I thought it was way cool, so naturally I asked my parents for a hermit crab. They got me a turtle.
At first, I thought it was way cool just like my friend's hermit crab. Then, I learned I had to clean up after him. And he didn't like to be handled. And I was young and just didn't really care because I asked for a hermit crab. Despite my poor care, he always seemed to be in good health. We ended up giving him away.
In hindsight, my turtle wasn't all that difficult to take care of. His food was easy to buy and his habit was fairly small and simple. His home only needed to be cleaned once a week. He wasn't aggressive and didn't mind being held (though he didn't seem to love it either). I probably wouldn't mind having him now, though a turtle still wouldn't be my first choice of pet (nor a hermit crab!)..
From MikeyC Mar 3 2016 7:09AM