Box Turtle Caresheet (Terrapene carolina)by Colleen Boyd
There are six subspecies of box turtles. The four listed below can be found in the United States. The two that aren't listed can be found in Mexico.
Ornate Box Turtle:
Terrapene carolina ornata
Gulf Coast Box Turtle:
Terrapene carolina major
Three-Toed Box Turtle:
Terrapene carolina triunguis
Eastern Box Turtle:
Terrapene carolina carolina
The box turtles' natural niche is somewhere between aquatic water turtles and tortoises. American Box Turtles spend most of the their time in grassland areas with dry top soil that has humid earth below. They are always within easy access of shallow, fresh water.
There are four species of Box Turtle native to the United States that are available in the pet trade. There are the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina Carolina), the Three-Toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), the Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major) and the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina ornata).
Box Turtles can be found in the eastern, central, southern, and southwestern areas of the United States. These areas included the following states; Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona. Some varieties can be found in the northern area of Mexico. In many states, Box Turtle's are protected and cannot be owned without special permits. These permits can be obtained from the Department of Natural Resources in each state.
It is estimated that 90% of all box turtles purchased in the pet market die between the first 6 months and two years of captivity due to improper care. Box turtles have a life expectancy of 50-100 years in the wild and 50-60 years in captivity.
Box Turtles require a lot of room to roam. In the wild, they establish a territory that is 2-12 acres. In captivity, one must provide the largest possible space available. An outdoor enclosure, closest to the species natural environment, is recommended though indoor enclosures can be used.
The minimum enclosure size for a single adult box turtle should be a 30-gallon breeder or 30" X 12" aquarium. The minimum enclosure two box turtles can be housed in is a 40 gallon breeder or 36" x 18" aquarium. A 50 gallon Rubbermaid or Sterilite container can also be used. Remember, it's your job to provide adequate housing and larger is better for the box turtle. If a wooden enclosure is desired, make one comparable to the sizes stated above. The sides should be twice as high as the turtle is long to prevent it from climbing out. Waterproof the inside wood of the enclosure with several coats of epoxy or non-toxic based polyurethane. The enclosure needs to cure for several weeks before use. (Off gassing, the natural evaporation of toxic fumes from chemicals, is a process that should not be tampered with. if you used any type of base coat to protect the wood, you should await the allotted time to make certain that the off gassing has completed.)
When securing a location for your outdoor enclosure, you need to consider the availability of the sun. Placing an enclosure on the north or west side of the area will lessen the exposure to the sun. Enclosures should receive early morning sun for naturally warming the enclosure. Once a location has been selected, a 6-10" deep trench needs to be dug all around the enclosure with wire fencing placed in the trench and covered with dirt. This will help prevent the turtle from digging his way out.
Some keepers feel that there is the possibility that the turtle can still dig into the wire and cause harm to itself.
Another option is to place wooden boards, cinder blocks, or cement in the trench. If the enclosure is placed next to the house or a structure, then the wall can act as one side of the enclosure. This will prevent the box turtles from digging under the fence. The fence above ground should be at least twice as tall as the turtle and have a lip to prevent the turtle from climbing out. This should be made out of a solid sheet of material. Fencing with holes or spaces will allow the turtles to see out and will encourage them to try to escape. Fencing suggestions would be stockade fence, or thick vinyl siding. The suggested area is 5' X 5' for up to 4 box turtles. For more then 4 box turtles, the suggested size is 8' x 5'.
Having too many turtles in one enclosure can cause stress, so several smaller enclosures are recommended. The enclosure should be able to be covered to prevent unwanted intruders looking for an easy meal. The cover can be chicken wire on frame or garden netting. Remember to allow areas for both sun and shade when designing your enclosure. Include plenty of hiding spaces and an area that will remain relatively dry in case of a rainstorm. Plants can be added to the enclosure to make a more natural environment. Hostas can provide shade and are a good addition to the enclosure. Another option is using a large, plastic, child's wading pool. Make sure you place the pool where there is shade so that the turtles do not over heat in the sun.
For indoor enclosures, any of the following would be a good choice; orchid bark, sphagnum moss, peat moss, cypress mulch, or potting soil. Do not use mixtures that include perlite or vermiculite. The substrates should be 3 to 4" deep. Substrate for outdoor enclosures can be a mixture of the above or with the addition of leaf litter, composted hay and or peat moss. Substrate should be around 6" deep.
Heating and Lighting
For indoor enclosures, a combination of Under Tank Heating and a basking light is suggested as well as a full spectrum, UVB emitting light. UVB is required in almost all diurnal species of land turtle and tortoise so they can metabolize vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 aids in the proper absorption of dietary calcium. Without the proper lighting, your turtle could succumb to different calcium deficiency diseases such as "soft shell". Prolonged housing without adequate lighting could also result in death.
A light cycle of 12 hours on and 12 hours off is suggested. Temperatures for American Box Turtles should have a daytime ambient temperature of 85-88 degrees. Night temperatures should be maintained between 70-75 degrees. It is important to provide temperature zones (micro-climates) so the turtle can thermo-regulate. For an outdoor enclosure, the sun should provide the needed requirements (UVB), but make sure that there is a shade area to allow the turtle an escape from the sun's heat.
Box turtles require humidity of 60-80%. To assist in maintaining this level, make one area of the enclosure a humid area, by using moist peat moss. The moss needs to be kept damp at all times. Also provide a large, flat (shallow), water bowl in the enclosure. Make sure that the bowl is large enough for the turtle to soak in, but shallow enough for it to climb in and out.
Box turtles are omnivorous, requiring both animal matter (protein) and vegetable matter. Younger box turtles will consume more animal matter than vegetable. Adults will consume more vegetable matter than animal matter.
Good sources for animal matter are as follows: crickets, mealworms, night crawlers, earthworms, superworms, small pinky mice, slugs, and snails. High quality, low-fat wet dog or cat food (NOT grocery store brands), finely chopped cooked chicken, or raw beef heart.
When feeding vegetable matter, it is wise to use a variety of vegetables. The vegetables can then be combined and made into a salad. 60-70% of the salad should be made up of dark green, high calcium greens. 20-30% should contain vegetables with 10-20% being fruits and flowers.
Box turtles like a variety in their food, so it is not recommended that you feed the same items every day. Food should be sprinkled with calcium (calcium carbonate or calcium lactate) weekly. Use a vitamin supplement monthly such as Superpreen or Reptovite.
Box Turtle Diet
You can view our Fruit - Vegetable - Greens Information
for data on the healthiest choices for your box turtle.
Dark, calcium rich greens: (60-70%)
Fruits and Flowers: (10-20%)
Melon or Cantaloupe
Berries (strawberries, raspberries, etc)
Prickly-pear cactus fruits and flowers
Animal Matter/Protein: (Periodically)
Wet Dog or Cat Food. (Low-Fat, High Quality.)
Finely Chopped, Cooked Chicken
Raw Beef Heart
Water should be available at all times. A shallow dish that the turtle can crawl in and out of is recommended.
Decorating the Enclosure
Try to simulate the natural environment that the box turtles live in. Provide plenty of hides for different temperature zones. Hides can be half hollow logs, flower pots, etc. Use your imagination. Remember to provide for shade when using an outdoor enclosure. Adding live plants can do this.
Eastern Box Turtle
Eastern Box Turtles can live in many diverse environments from wooded swamps to dry and grassy fields. Most will be found in the underbrush of moist forested areas however. Eastern Box Turtles live within a range of 2-12 acres and can usually be found in the same area yearly. In colder climates they will hibernate through winter, digging into the soil up to two feet. They will begin hibernating in October and re-emerge in April or May.
EBT's are considered to be a small to medium size turtle with an average adult size of 4.5-6". The largest reported was 7.8". Eastern Box Turtles can be identified by their bright colored markings on the carapace (top of shell). They have a high, dome shaped carapace with a hinged plastron (bottom part of shell). Their base color is dark brown to olive, with yellow and orange markings. Males usually have red eyes, while females have yellow/brown eyes. The beak of the Eastern Box Turtle is turned down.
The hinged plastron allows the turtle to completely shut itself in its' shell, thus protecting it from predators. The hinged plastron isn't completely developed until they reach 4 to 5 years old.
Box turtles can live a long time, but they develop very slowly. They reach sexual maturity by the age of 7 to 10 years, or 5 to 6". A female box turtle will lay hundreds of eggs in her lifetime, though only two or three will reach adulthood. Females can retain semen up to 4 years and still produce viable eggs. Hatchling box turtles are only 1 1/2" long and usually hide in the leaf dandruff. Hatchlings lack the bright colors of the adults. This helps with camouflage. It is unusual to see a box turtle that is smaller than 3 1/2 to 4".
Though the box turtle is common over much of its range, there are some areas where they are protected. This is due to decreased natural environment, especially with the encroachment of humans on their environment. As a suitable environment becomes less available, the future of the Eastern Box Turtle is uncertain. Other concerns include the inbreeding due to limited ranges, death by cars, trains, or other machinery. In many states, a permit is required to obtain an Eastern Box Turtle. Review your state's regulations with the Department of Natural Resources before buying or obtaining turtles.