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Vital Statistics

  • Body Length: 4-8in
  • Body Weight: 200-600g
  • Age of Sexual Maturity: 4-6yr (males); 5-7yr (females)
  • Life Span: 60-100yr
  • Average captive life span: 30-40yr

What to Expect from Your Box Turtle

Box turtles are quiet but active, and you can spend hours observing their daily activities. Each has its own distinctive personality. An individual turtle has a unique shell pattern by which it can be identified. Because the shell is living tissue, it is unacceptable to carve or drill holes in the shell for identification or other reasons.

When handling your box turtle, support its body with both hand and position your fingers beneath its feet so it feels secure. Because turtles can transmit disease organisms such as Salmonella to people, it is advisable to wash your hands following handling and to clean their enclosure away from food preparation areas.

What to feed your Box Turtle

The most important aspect of caring for your turtle is its diet. Box turtles are omnivorous: they eat both plants and insects. In nature, their diet consists primarily of insects, worms, slugs and grubs; as well as vegetable matter such as berries and some grasses. It would be recommend that less than 50% of their diet be made up of a commercial based food. Try to provide as much variety in their diet as possible. One-third to one-half of the diet should be plant based with the reminder being animal matter based.

Seventy to eighty percent (70% – 80%) of the plant based portion should be vegetable. Good vegetables to feed include dark leafy greens (collard greens, mustard, turnip, beet tops, kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, swiss chard and dandelions), sweet potatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, thawed frozen mixed vegetables, alfalfa, tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, broccoli, green beans and peas. Box turtles continuously need Vitamin A. Foods rich in Vitamin A are liver, yellow or orange colored vegetables and dark leafy greens. Feed spinach and beets in moderation because they tie up calcium. Rhubarb leaves are toxic and should not be fed. Some extra additions that are safe would include cantaloupe berries and some edible flowers – hibiscus, geraniums and nasturtiums.

Animal protein can be made available with pesticide-free earthworms, slugs, crickets (fed high-quality, preferably organic diet), grasshoppers and chopped pinkie mice. Commercial turtle foods can make up to 40% of the diet.

Is My Box Turtle a Male or Female?

Males are slightly larger and more colorful than females, and have thicker, longer tails. Some adult Carolina species can be sexed by eye color: males have bright red irises, females have light brown/dull red irises. Also, the vent position in males is further back and outside of the upper shell, whereas females are capable of laying fertile eggs month following a fall mating. Therefore, they should be provided an area for egg laying each spring/summer to prevent egg binding.

What Do Box Turtles Do All Day?

Turtles develop a regular schedule of sleeping, bathing, sunning and eating. If they aren’t housed outdoors, they need access to an area of soil in their enclosure so they can dig. Digging helps keep their nails shortened. Box turtles also like to bury themselves in leaves, so these can be provided in a corner of the pen.

Box turtles like to spend considerable time each day partially immersed in water; therefore, water should be provided to a depth of one-fourth to one-third of their shell height. The habitat should be constructed so the turtle can climb in and out of the water easily. The water must be kept scrupulously clean.

Are Box Turtles Tame?

Turtles do recognize their care provider, but signs of affection are difficult to determine. They almost never show aggression. Although they are relatively solitary animals in the wild, they can be housed together regardless of gender. If they are harassed or prodded, most will retreat into their shell. They may occasionally bite and “pinch” a finger.

How to Keep Your Box Turtle Healthy, Happy and Safe

  • Take your new turtle to an experienced reptile veterinarian to check for potential signs of stress, dehydration or disease.
  • Provide high-quality, pesticide-free vegetable and animal sources of food.
  • Feed young growing turtles every day. Adults are fed less often (every other day) as they grow older.
  • The level of protein in the diet is generally decreased as the turtle ages.
  • Low protein, low fat dog food can be part of the diet in small amounts.
  • If the turtle is housed outdoors the fence must be recessed into the ground at least 2 inches, and visual barriers and protection form predators must be provided.
  • A filtration system is highly recommended to keep the water clean.

Housing for your box turtle

  • Must offer an approximate temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (night) to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (day). To avoid potential burns, use a thermometer to monitor temperatures.
  • May be indoors in a large 40-gallon or bigger aquarium with land and water areas.
  • May include 2-3 inches of sterile potting soil mixed with finely shredded orchid bark for land area. This needs to be changed out regularly.
  • Must provide direct sun outdoors or full-spectrum lighting indoors on a timer (14-hour day, 10-hour night). There can be no glass or plexiglass filtering out UV lighting.
  • Should include a basking place that us heated from above with a radiant heat source or sun lamp.
  • Should include an enclosed sleeping/hiding area such as a three-sided box or flowerpot on its side.

Hygiene is the most important factor.

The availability in the enclosure of correct temperature ranges (warm for daytime, cool for night, and cooler still for hibernation) is also essential. Most box turtles will show a decreased appetite and activity in the fall. They should be allowed to hibernate only if healthy. Contact a reptile veterinarian for health examination and specific hibernation information.

It is important to prevent access of box turtles to:

  • Direct contact with heat or light sources.
  • Sand, aquarium or pea gravel.
  • Ground corncobs, walnut shell, artificial grasses
  • Cedar, pine or other pressure treated wood chips
  • Freedom to run loose in the home
  • Dogs, raccoons and other predators
  • Temperature extremes
  • Loud noises
  • Pesticides
  • Young children

Most Common Diseases of Box Turtles

  • Trauma (shell damage, fractures, wounds, burns)
  • Eye problems (vitamin A deficiency causes swelling of eyes)
  • Respiratory disease (bubbles from nose)
  • Fungal infection of shell (shell is soft, has odor, collapses, turns color)
  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Bacterial infection secondary to malnutrition
  • Parasites
  • Tumors
  • Middle ear infection (causes swelling behind the eyes)

The most common diseases in captive box turtles are the result of malnutrition. Visiting your veterinarian for routine health checks will help prevent many diseases and support you in having a long, satisfying relationship with you box turtle.