The eastern box turtle, also known as the common box turtle, is a popular pet due to its timid nature and native range in the United States and Mexico. It is a member of the genus Terrapene and is similar to a tortoise in many ways.

One of the most distinctive features of the box turtle is its ability to completely enclose its head and limbs inside its shell, which gives it its name. This ability allows the turtle to protect itself from predators by hiding inside its shell and biting if necessary. The high-domed shape of the shell also makes it too large for many predators to eat whole and difficult to crack open, providing additional protection. Box turtles are terrestrial animals and live on land. The hinged bottom of their shells allows them to retract their head and legs and close the shell tightly for protection.

However, it is open to attack by surprise, continuous gnawing, or pecking. Box turtles can be killed by mammals such as skunks, minks, raccoons, dogs, rodents, etc. Birds like crows and ravens also attack it and so do snakes.

Distinctive Features of Box Turtle

Scientific nameVaries depending on species (e.g. Terrapene carolina, Cuora flavomarginata)
LifespanUp to 40 years (up to 100 years in some cases)
ColorVaries, but may include brown, black, olive green, yellow, orange, red, or tan
Size (in inches)Varies depending on species, but generally around 4-7 inches
WeightVaries depending on species, but generally around 1-2 pounds
Unique traitAbility to completely enclose head and legs in shell
TemperamentGenerally docile, but can be timid or defensive if frightened or threatened
MaintenanceMedium to high requires regular feeding and enclosure maintenance
AdaptabilityVaries depending on species, but some are more adaptable to different environments than others
With kidsGenerally docile and safe to handle, but supervision is always recommended
BehaviorGenerally active during the day and inactive at night
SocialVaries depending on species, but some are more social than others

Turtles living in the wild survive in a wide range of temperatures. During winter food is scarce they hibernate to stay alive for 3-5 months. In spring they come out of hibernation. The body functions become sluggish. Digestion stops, heart rate slows down and eye movement is suspended. This is the time many turtles die.

Box Turtle in One Hand

Box turtle's longevity is up to 40 years. There have been instances where turtles have lived till the age of 120 years.

The physical characteristics of the box turtle comprise:

  • Upper shell or carapace rounded and high
  • The bottom shell or plastron is flattened and dark brown
  • Hinge is transverse
  • The ligamentous link between plastron and carapace
  • Shell brown patterned with yellow or orange
  • Head is small
  • Upper jaw hooked
  • Four toes on hind feet
  • Feet are slightly webbed
  • The shell can be regenerated

The males are mostly bigger with short, thick tails comparatively. Males are with short thick curved rear claws but females' hind claws are long, straight, and thin. Males have bright red eyes while females are with brown eyes. An adult box turtle is 5-7 inches in diameter and females are a little smaller. If looked after well they attain adult size in 4-6 years. Those turtles not allowed to hibernate grow faster.

Sexual maturity is attained around the age of 5. The mating season begins in the spring and lasts till fall. Once rainfall is over males become extra active in seeking out females. Males are likely to mate with more than one female or the same female many times. Females can preserve fertile sperm for four years and thus do not mate every year.

Box Turtle HIding Inside the Shell

Females through the use of hind legs dig a nest in soil. She covers the eggs for incubation. The eggs are pliable, oblong, 2-4 cm long, and weighing 5-11 g. the regular clutch has 1-7 eggs. The incubation period is 70-90 days they hatch on their own. In captivity, box turtle has more than one clutch annually. Eggs incubated at 22-27 degrees C are likely to be males. Those incubated above 28 degrees C will be females.

How to Take Care of Pet Box Turtle?

Pet box turtles require a great amount of responsibility to provide them with adequate care. They are not ideal pets for children because they need a lot of attention and care to maintain their health.

What to Feed Pet Box Turtle?

Box turtles are omnivores with a diverse diet. Invertebrates like insects, earthworms, wax worms, moths, slugs, beetles, snails, and millipedes are the leading part. However, vegetation also forms a large part. Fruits like apples and berries are also part of the diet. For the first 5-6 years, box turtles are mostly carnivorous for needed energy but adults are herbivorous.

In captivity, the young turtles have to be fed daily while the adult can be fed on an alternate day. Vegetables served can be cooked or raw; raw vegetables are more nutritious. Tofu and hard-boiled also form part of the diet. 

Good quality, low-fat dog food can also be given. 50% mixed fresh vegetables along with fruits and 50% low-fat protein is the best combination. A weekly supplement diet is created by dusting phosphorus on ground cuttlebone.

To keep ingestion arising out of the cage substrate, all food should be served on a plate or brick paver. Fresh food and water are a daily requirement. Specific commercial diets are ready to use but these should be supplemented with fresh foods.

How to Setup Habitat For Pet Box Turtle?

Box turtles need an outdoor enclosure, regular openness to light, and a varied diet. In the absence of these, the growth will be retarded and the immune system unsteady. The outdoor pen should imitate the natural environment. The temperature should not go below 50 degrees F. The walls of the pen should reach a height of 18 inches with an overhang to stop the turtle from climbing out. The pen with the sunny and shady region, hides, and shallow water dish should suffice. Predators should not be able to attack the turtle.

In case, the outdoor climate does not permit keeping the turtle outdoors, attempt to keep it for part of the year, as indoors, they do not develop well. Use a 40 gallons terrarium. More effort goes into preparing an indoor space. There should be UV lighting, a heat source, a location to hide, and a shallow water dish.

Ensure that the box turtle is in good health before it hibernates in the outdoor enclosure. An ailing turtle may die in the hibernating months. It is so as bodily functions slow down and it may not be able to fight sickness in deep sleep.

  • Temperature- The box turtles need daytime temperature measuring 70-80 degrees F. The temperature of the basking region should be approximately 85-90 degrees F. The night temperature may touch 65-75 degrees F. For sustenance, the turtle will require a basking lamp, heat emitters, etc.
  • Illumination- UVB lighting or sunlight for 12 hours is necessary for the metabolism of calcium in the diet. Otherwise, a deficiency of calcium may lead to bone diseases which can be fatal. In the indoor pen, switch off the lamp at night.
  • Dampness- The need for the box turtle for humidity is approximately 60%. Daily misting will suffice this.
  • Substrate- This is the bottom lining of the pen or enclosure which is like a natural environment. It serves the function of humidity and burrow activity of the turtle. It can be made from topsoil, leaves as well as moss. The thickness of the layer should be 4 inches deep.

What are the Health Concerns of Pet Box Turtles?

There are many health problems that can happen to pet box turtles that are due to incorrect care. They require an ample amount of clean water, proper heating, and access to fresh air in order for them to stay healthy and active. Some of the health issues that arise in pet box turtles are:

  • Metabolic bone disease because of less exposure to UVB and vitamin D and calcium deficiency. Misshapes of limbs and shells occur leading to death.
  • Breathing infections take place because of less humidity. Wheezing mucus within the circumference of the mouth and nose, laziness, and lack of appetite.
  • Parasitic infection is more common in the wild. A vet is competent enough to detect it.
  • Shell rot is a very painful condition induced by bacteria or fungus. The shell is visibly cracked or dry and smells bad.
  • Other medical conditions- Pneumonia, swollen eyes, ear abscesses, parasites, skin problems, retained eggs, trauma (vehicle, predator)

What it's Like to Keep Box Turtle as a Pet?

Box turtles can make interesting and rewarding pets for the right owner. Here are some things to consider if you are thinking about keeping a box turtle as a pet:

  • Handling: Box turtles can be timid and may be shy or defensive when first introduced to a new environment or handler. It's important to approach them gently and give them time to acclimate to their new surroundings. Once they become more comfortable, they can be handled gently and with supervision.
  • Socialization: Box turtles are generally solitary animals and may not need or want a lot of social interaction. However, some species may be more social than others, and providing opportunities for them to interact with their own kind can be beneficial.
  • Interaction with children: Box turtles can be a good choice for families with children, as long as the children are supervised and taught how to handle the turtle gently and with respect. It's important to teach children not to chase or tease the turtle, and to wash their hands after handling the turtle to prevent the spread of disease.

Frequently Asked Questions Related to Pet Box Turtle

Since pet turtles have become more popular in recent years, a lot of people have started to ask a lot of questions. We have answered some below:

Can you Keep a Box Turtle as a Pet?

Box turtles are demanding pets wanting stringent commitment, the longevity of decades, and survival only if the environment is right. That is why they are not considered suitable pets for children. Even stress can adversely affect the pet. The enclosure needs to be cleaned weekly and maintained. Feeding them is a big responsibility.

Box turtles like regularity in their surroundings. Generally, they prefer not to be handled. They may even nip. Turtles are a carrier of salmonella. After each handling thoroughly washes your hands. When the turtle feels good in their surroundings it will learn to recognize the owner. It will also follow the owner's movements inside the enclosure and may even demand food.

How Long Does a Box Turtle Live? Do box Turtles Die if you Move Them?

Box turtles get stressed when shifted into fresh surroundings. Some may wander around until they die attempting to discover their original home. Box turtles live till the age of 40 years. There are reports that some live till the age of 100.

How big do box turtles get?

The size of a box turtle can vary depending on the species, but most individuals range from 4-7 inches in length.

Do box turtles make good pets for children?

Box turtles can be suitable pets for families with children, but it's important for the children to be supervised and taught how to handle the turtle gently and responsibly. Children should be taught not to chase or tease the turtle, and to wash their hands after handling the turtle in order to prevent the spread of disease. It's important for children to understand that box turtles are living animals that deserve to be treated with care and respect.

How much maintenance do box turtles require?

Box turtles require regular feeding and enclosure maintenance, as well as proper lighting and temperature to maintain their health. They also require clean water and a clean enclosure to prevent the buildup of bacteria and parasites. Overall, box turtles generally require medium to high maintenance.

Are box turtles easy to care for?

Box turtles can be a good choice for experienced reptile owners, but they do require a certain level of care and attention. It's important to research the specific needs of the species you are considering as a pet.