Box turtles inhabit woodlands, brushy grasslands, floodplains, pasture, meadows, and areas near the streams and ponds. Habitat destruction and excessive collecting of turtles from the wild (due to pet trade) negatively affect the number of remaining box turtles. Many of these animals are listed as vulnerable, which means that they may become endangered in the near future.
The box turtle is adequately named due to its ability to close its shell up when scared. Box turtles are very active during the day when it’s warm. They prefer the temperature between 84 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If it gets too hot in the summer, box turtles will relax during the sunny hours and be active in the early mornings or after a cool rain. To stay cool in the summer, they hide under decaying or dying logs and leaves. They also crawl into burrows or mud to cool themselves.
What Kind Of Box Turtles Are There?
- Asian Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis)
- Amboina Box Turtle, Cuora amboinensis
- Yellow-headed Box Turtle, Cuora aurocapitata
- Snake-eating Turtle, Cuora flavomarginata
- Indochinese Box Turtle, Cuora galbinifrons
- McCord’s Box Turtle, Cuora mccordi
- Pan’s Box Turtle, Cuora pani
- Three-banded Box Turtle, Cuora trifasciata
- Yunnan Box Turtle, Cuora yunnanensis
- Zhou’s Box Turtle, Cuora zhoui
- Keeled Box Turtle, Pyxidea mouhotii
- Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina
- Florida Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina bauri
- Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina
- Gulf Coast Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina major
- Three-toed Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina triunguis
- Mexican Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina mexicana
- Yucatán Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina yucatana
- Coahuilan Box Turtle, Terrapene coahuila
- Spotted Box Turtle, Terrapene nelsoni
- Western Box Turtle, Terrapene ornata
- Ornate Box Turtle, Terrapene ornata ornata (Agassiz, 1857)
- Desert Box Turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola (Smith & Ramsey, 1952)
Box turtles can be very long-lived… possibly up to 100 years.
Males tend to have longer, thicker tails than the females. In addition, the plastron is slightly concave in males and flatter in females, while the carapace tends to be more flattened in males (more domed in females). The males tend to have more colorful markings on the forelegs, and the claws on the hind feet are generally shorter and more curved than those on the females.
Female box turtles are callable of storing sperm in their oviducts for up to four years and are thus able to produce viable eggs for many years following a single mating. The female then digs a nest. Once holes are meticulously dug by the female into the soil of sunny, warm sites. Three to six elliptical, leathery eggs are laid and then covered to incubate and then hatch on their own. Several clutches can be laid per year. Incubation lasts two to three months. A clutch that hatches late in the season may over-winter in the nest hole and emerge the following spring.
While it is possible to keep box turtles in a large indoor terrarium (most aquariums are too small), they do much better in outdoor enclosures where the climate is agreeable. When using an outdoor enclosure it must be secured against predators such as dogs.
A UVB bulb should be used to provide heat for an inside enclosure. A large flat rock or slab of slate allows the turtle to “sun” itself under the bulb.
Glass enclosures are not recommended for box turtles. If you do choose to use glass it’s best to cover the outside with paper so the turtle will not be stressed by outside movements or make repeated attempts to walk through the glass. Building a tortoise table is recommended if you choose or need to raise your turtle indoors.
No matter your choice of enclosures, these turtles should have easy access to a shallow pan of water at all times. As well, they should have access to hiding spots, and loose litter for burrowing. High humidity is required for this turtle so you’ll need to spray once a day during the warmest months.
Box turtles like warm weather, but if it gets too hot, they will seek some protection from the sun. In the heat of the day, they will hide under logs or leaves or take a swim in a pond. If it is not too hot, then eastern box turtles can be found searching for their next meal or basking in the sun.
If kept in an outdoor pen, make sure there are both sunny and shady areas available (the turtle should be able to move from cooler to warmer areas as necessary). Indoors, a terrarium will need a heat source as well as a UVB emitting reptile light. Provide a basking spot with temperatures of 85 to 88 F, maintaining the terrarium with a gradient down to about 75 F. The nighttime temperature should not drop below 70 F.
If these reptiles don’t dig down deep enough in winter they will freeze, and if the springs rains come too late, the ground may not soften and they can be buried alive
When hot, they will often venture into shallow water. Box turtles hibernate when it gets cold.
While box turtles are not aquatic, it is not unusual for them to wade into shallow water to drink and have a soak. Make sure a shallow pan of water is readily accessible (and kept clean) at all times. On hot, dry days, run a sprinkler or mist their pen for added moisture.
Turtles will forage over an area the equivalent of two football fields over their lives. These turtles are omnivorous and will eat almost anything, including berries, insects, roots, flowers, eggs, and amphibians. Younger turtles tend to be more carnivorous than adults, hunting in ponds and streams for food. As adults, box turtles primarily feed on land.
Adult box turtles can be fed a variety of items. Approximately half of their diet should be made up of vegetables, fruit, and hay/grasses. The remainder should be made up of low-fat protein sources; whole live foods are ideal (earthworms, slugs, snails, mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers), but cooked lean meats and low-fat dog food can be added as a supplement. Hatchlings are more carnivorous.
Hatching Baby Box Turtles
If eggs are laid above ground or in water, they are most likely infertile. Not every clutch of eggs will hatch and young females will often deposit infertile eggs on the ground or dig shallow nests.
Hatching outside is a great idea. The mom always knows best. She will pick the perfect spot to make her nest. It is best to protect the in-ground nest sites with a wire mesh cover. Secure the wire cover to the ground so animals cannot get under it and destroy the eggs. This will also protect the site from other turtles and keeps the hatchlings from escaping. The hatchlings will emerge in 70-90 days depending on how quickly the embryos develop, which is dependent on the nest temperature. If the ground is hard you may want to water the area after the 75th day.
If you incubate the eggs yourself, a good method is to place the eggs in a small plastic margarine tub that has been filled with moist vermiculite or pearlite. Place each egg in a depression you make with your thumb. You don’t need to bury the eggs. Do not turn the eggs over as you remove them from the ground. Place them in the tub in the exact same orientation as you find them. Poke holes into the lid of the margarine tub and place it loosely on the tub. Place the tub in an egg incubator set at 84° F. Every 2-3 days mist the substrate around the eggs with distilled water. If you notice the vermiculite drying up add water. At 84° F, the eggs should hatch in 65-70 days.
If you rescue a box turtle crossing a road ALWAYS put it over on the side to which it was heading!
- Box turtle populations are declining, listed by CITES as threatened. Many states protect box turtle populations and have laws against collecting box turtles from the wild.
- Pet stores often carry wild-caught turtles.
- In Florida: No person shall possess more than two Eastern box turtles unless authorized by a permit.
- In the wild, hatchling mortality rate is very high and very few hatchlings live past their first winter.
- Tiny turtles are subjected to a lot of stress and are eaten by everything from birds, raccoons, rodents, and ants.
Purchase Captive Born Turtles ONLY!
Like most box turtles; if they are bred in captivity and kept properly they will probably remain free from parasites. A wild caught turtle should be examined by a vet to assure that is healthy and free from parasites such as larvae and parasitic flies.
It’s always a good idea to keep new pets quarantined from your current turtles until you’re sure they don’t carry a viral or bacterial infection. Consider taking them to a vet for a check-up before placing them in with your current pet turtles.