Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)

The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is within a group of hinge-shelled turtles.

This box turtle is native to the eastern United States, from eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to the Atlantic Ocean.

They are found all the way from southern Florida to southern Main and the southern and eastern parts of the Michigan Upper Peninsula.

Adult individuals occupy “home ranges” of variable sizes (larger in less favorable habitats or in systems with relatively low population densities, smaller in more favorable or more densely populated habitats).

Box turtles are often found near to each other and can form range-overlapping, socially tolerant groups of three or four individuals.

Fighting and other types of aggressive behavior are rare with the exception of occasional “sparring” matches, especially between competing males.

In the southern parts of their range, eastern box turtles …                                                            are found up to 6,000 feet in elevation.
In the north where the climate is colder, they are limited…                                                                to regions below 1,000 feet.

The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is a subspecies within the species Terrapene carolina. The eastern box turtle is the official state reptile of both North Carolina and Tennessee.

Pennsylvania almost made the eastern box turtle their official state reptile. The suggestion made it through one house of the legislature but failed to win a final naming in 2009.

The Eastern box turtle is usually about 4 to 6 inches in length.

 Eastern box turtles have a high domed carapace (shell) that is usually a darker brown with bright yellow, orange and/or red markings.

On the plastron, there may be dark areas, especially on the margins of the scutes. The skin is brown with spots or splashes of yellow or red coloration, especially in males.

Eastern 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.

The claws on the hind feet are generally shorter and more curved than those on the females.

The eyes of mature males are usually red or reddish orange, but not always.

The female has brown eyes in comparison. It can be difficult to sex box turtles unless comparing males and females side by side.

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. They will mate between May and October.

Eggs are laid into flask-shaped holes that are three to four inches deep. The 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.

Did You Know?… They have four toes on their back feet.

Housing

While it is possible to keep Eastern 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.

Housing Tortoises Using Tortoise Tables and Yards

In this post below we share how we made safe caves as we built this enclosure.

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene c. carolina) 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.

Water

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.

Feeding

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 eastern 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.

This animal belongs to the Emydidae family.
 If you rescue a box turtle crossing a road ALWAYS put it over on the side to which it was heading!

Important Notes

  • 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 box turtles unless authorized by a permit.
  • In the wild, the 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.

Are Florida Box Turtles Eastern Box Turtles?

A Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) is found mainly in Florida and the keys. Though, it does sometimes wander as far north as southern Georgia.

Like Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) , the Florida box turtle is usually found in marshes, swamps or forests in areas of high humidity. Though it loves to lie in the water it rarely swims.

Unlike other box turtles, the Florida box turtle usually slows down during the winter months but does not hibernate.

This is probably due to the warmer climate in which it lives. Never take a Florida box turtle from the wild.

Not only is it illegal but It is hard for a turtle that grew up in the wild to adapt to living in captivity. Many do not survive being taken from captivity and made into pets.

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.

We have a group of Box Turtles here at Crazy Critters that consist of two males and three females. All were wild caught 15-30 years ago. These animals have found their way to us and have become one of our conservation groups. Offspring will be used strictly for education with the largest percentages being released to the wild.

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Crazy Critters Inc. is a Private Non-Profit, 501(c)3, Exotic Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. Our Wildlife Facility is located in Eustis, Florida. We provide permanent homes to over 200 animals including lizards, turtles, skinks, geckos, birds, and assorted wildlife. Crazy Critters Inc. was established to provide non-domestic, non-releasable animals with a safe and permanent home.

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