Eastern Box Turtle

Save as favorite

Avg. Owner Satisfaction


(80 Reviews)

Species group:

Other common names: North American Box Turtle

Scientific name: Terrapene carolina carolina

The basics:
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 The plastron bears 2 hinges that allow it to be closed tightly when the head and legs are withdrawn.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

Helpful Eastern Box Turtle Review

Eastern Box Turtle

From Ame Vanorio Sep 2 2018 3:56PM


Member photos