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 The plastron bears 2 hinges that allow it to be closed tightly when the head and legs are withdrawn.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
Mr. Smash Mouth
Mr. Smash Mouth is an education animal at my environmental education center. I received him four years ago from another wildlife rehabilitation center. He had been run over by a car and had permanent facial and vision damage. Thus, the name Smash! First, I do want to say you should never remove a box turtle from his habitat in the wild. It is illegal in many states and box turtles are actually considered a threatened species in some states in part due to the pet trade. Licensed domestic breeders can be found in many states. Smash is a bit unusual for a turtle and that he is very sociable and friendly. He rarely hides in his shell. OK - that may be because he is a bit plump! I take Smash to schools and presentations I make about local wildlife. He loves the attention and will actually follow children around. Turtles have a reputation for being slow and dumb. This is not true. The can actually move at a pretty moderate clip for an animal of their size. Box turtles learn to recognize people and the sounds of their favorite foods being prepared. Researchers have discovered that turtles have a "map" in their brain that lets them locate food. Box turtles can be a bit picky and Smash is no different. Turtles are very sensitive to their environment and may not eat if the temperature or humidity is not to their liking. Box turtles need about 60-70 % humidity which can be hard to achieve inside during the winter. There are several things you can do to increase the humidity. Moist , but not wet, bedding is one. Also it is important to have a water dish that your box turtle can get into and soak. My turtles love a good soak and I actually have multiple ramped water dishes so they do not fight! .
From Ame Vanorio Sep 2 2018 3:56PM
Cyprus mulch is a more natural substrate for reptiles. I use this for my land turtles and my corn snake. Cyprus is a soft and moist wood. Moisture is important for keeping optimum humidity levels. It also looks attractive and natural. Remember - never use cedar shavings with reptiles as it is toxic to them. .
From Ame Vanorio 24 days ago
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