What Does a Box Turtle Look Like?

Eastern box turtles are one of the most commonly seen turtles in the wild. The reptiles carapace is dome-shaped and covers most of its body, and has ridges and furrows that develop with age. The upper part of the turtles mouth is slightly hooked, and its toes are slightly webbed. On average, an eastern box turtle is about five to six inches (13 to 15 centimeters) long.

Box turtles like warm weather, but if it gets too hot, they will seek some protection from the sun. If it is not too hot, then eastern box turtles can be found searching for their next meal or basking in the sun.

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. Box turtles mate from April to October, with nesting occurring from May through July.

However, some statesincluding Michigan, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticutlist the animal as a species of special concern, and Maine lists the turtle as endangered. Habitat loss , traffic incidents, and collection for the pet trade are all factors contributing to its decline.

Can you keep a box turtle as a pet?

Box turtles can make great pets if cared for properly. … With proper diet and housing, captive box turtles usually live up to 20 years of age, but some have been reported to live 30-40 years.

Do box turtles bite humans?

Yes, box turtles can bite. They do not have teeth but they have a beak that could easily inflict pain on the finger of a small child. But it is also important to understand that box turtles are generally harmless creatures that usually bite only if they feel like they are under attack.

What to do if you find a box turtle?

NEVER DISTURB, PICK UP , OR MOVE A BOX TURTLE UNLESS IT HAS A VISIBLE INJURY OR IS IN IMMINENT DANGER. If you find a turtle in the road, move it to the other side in the direction it was going. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RELOCATE IT. Turtles have small home territories and should be left where they are found.

Where do box turtles live naturally?

All Eastern box turtle subspecies live in temperate open woodlands. They prefer habitats such as marshes, meadows and pastures, and must always be near a freshwater source such as a swamp, pond or stream.

Box turtles primarily live on land, and they can be somewhat challenging pets. They are a long-term commitment, living for several decades, plus getting their environment right can be difficult.

It features a rather small head with a hooked upper jaw and tends to be an interesting pet with a distinctive personality. This is due to their complex care requirements, as well as their susceptibility to stress, which can greatly affect a turtle‘s health.

Once theyre comfortable in their environment, most box turtles will learn to recognize their keepers, even following a persons movements from inside their enclosure or begging for food. Box turtles do best in a turtle-safe outdoor pen that mimics their natural environment, as long as temperatures dont fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Many owners also turn plastic childrens pools, sandboxes, and other large tubs into indoor turtle housing.

An indoor setup will require considerable space and effort to create the appropriate environment for a box turtle. Plan to equip the enclosure with a heat source, UV lighting, places to hide, and a shallow water dish. That’s because bodily functions slow during hibernation, so box turtles that are sick will potentially be unable to fight the illness while in their deep sleep.

In addition, box turtles can contract a painful condition known as shell rot, which is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. The population decline is just one reason to get a captive-bred pet box turtle from a reputable breeder or rescue organization.

If you are in the eastern U.S. and find a turtle in your yard, theres a good chance that it is a common box turtle (Terrapene carolina). Box turtles are also the turtle that you are most likely to stumble across out in the woods, or even on a hike through a meadow. Because common box turtles are our only species of box turtle in the eastern U.S., you often hear them referred to as just box turtles. The generic name box turtle is also generally applied to each of the different subspecies, especially in areas where you only find one subspecies.

To keep things even more interesting, the subspecies can interbreed where their ranges meet or overlap, and the offspring can have a mixture of their parents physical characteristics. The hinged plastron allows the box turtle to pull its legs, tail, and head completely into its shell and clamp it shut.

The box turtle will spend its entire life moving through its home range in search of food, water, shelter, and mates. Unlike many animals which use scents and pheromones to help identify and track down their mates, box turtles rely completely on sight. The eggs will hatch after several months and the hatchlings will search for damp places, sometimes around water, where they can find lots of food.

In warmer weather, they may seek shelter from the heat of the day by burrowing under moist leaves or finding another cool shady spot to rest. Even though box turtles live for a long time, it takes them at least 5 to 10 years to reach sexual maturity. I started Backyard Ecology as a way to share my love of exploring nature and learning about different plants and animals.

Common Box Turtles can be found in dry regions occasionally, but they tend to thrive best in moist, forested areas with lots of brush. They are not aquatic, but will sometimes spend long durations of time in shallow water or mud.

Common box turtles are omnivores, meaning their bodies can each both other creatures and plant matter. Since they cover such large regions of eastern America, what they eat often depends simply on what is available in the area.

When they eat meat, they go for small insects such as beetles, slugs, earthworms, larva, grubs, and so forth. Their plant diet consists of things like berries, flowers, mushrooms, certain grasses, and fruit. Be wary that common box turtles are likely to eat almost anything they come across if it smells edible, even if it is actually bad for them.

The Common box turtle can sometimes live all the way up to an impressive 100 years of age. The Common box turtle has been officially recognized as vulnerable, and there are now some limitations as to their capture and trade. To keep a common box turtle as a pet, you will need a fairly large enclosure.

The turtle will need ample heat and lighting in a specific area of their living space. Even though turtles can retreat into their shell, they still appreciate being able to hide within something else, such as a piece of log or bedding that they can burrow into. Most pet stores sell crickets, but you can feed them all sorts of things such as worms, grubs, cockroaches, and so forth.

Also know that letting your turtle play outside, even under supervision, could result in the contraction of tiny unseen parasites. Dispersal, home range establishment, survival, and reproduction of translocated eastern box turtles , Terrapene c. carolina.

Common Box Turtle Behavior and Temperament

Box turtles aren’t considered suitable pets for young children or for new pet owners. This is due to their complex care requirements, as well as their susceptibility to stress, which can greatly affect a turtle‘s health. Expect to spend your time cleaning and maintaining their enclosure at least weekly, as well as feeding them every day or two.Box turtles like consistency in their surroundings, and most prefer not to be handled by people. They don’t typically bite, but anxiety from overhandling can lead some to nip a person. Moreover, they can carry salmonella, so it’s important to thoroughly wash your hands if you do handle your turtle or anything in its environment. Once they’re comfortable in their environment, most box turtles will learn to recognize their keepers, even following a person’s movements from inside their enclosure or begging for food.

Housing the Common Box Turtle

Box turtles do best in a turtle-safe outdoor pen that mimics their natural environment, as long as temperatures don’t fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The pen should have walls that are at least 18 inches tall with an overhang to prevent the turtle from climbing out. It should include sunny and shady areas, places to hide, and access to a shallow water dish. Plus, it should be protected from predators.If you can’t keep your turtle outdoors year-round in your climate, try to do so for at least part of the year. It’s difficult for indoor box turtles to thrive. If kept indoors, use a terrarium that’s at least 40 gallons. Many owners also turn plastic children’s pools, sandboxes, and other large tubs into indoor turtle housing. An indoor setup will require considerable space and effort to create the appropriate environment for a box turtle. Plan to equip the enclosure with a heat source, UV lighting, places to hide, and a shallow water dish.Box turtles might hibernate if their enclosure is allowed to drop in temperature or if they are housed outdoors. But before you allow your box turtle to hibernate, you must ensure it is in good health. If an unhealthy box turtle hibernates, it might not wake up. That’s because bodily functions slow during hibernation, so box turtles that are sick will potentially be unable to fight the illness while in their deep sleep.

Heat

Common box turtles require daytime temperatures of around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot that’s around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, the temperature can drop to between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Opt for a basking lamp, as well as ceramic heat emitters or other heat sources, to help regulate the temperature.

Light

UVB lighting is essential for box turtles to metabolize the calcium in their diets. Without it, they can develop metabolic bone disease and even die. Box turtles need around 12 hours of UVB lighting per day either via natural sunlight or a UVB lamp. When indoors, be sure to turn off the lamp at night to mimic a natural day-night cycle.

Humidity

Box turtles prefer a humidity level of around 60%. You can maintain this through daily misting, as well as by using a substrate that retains some moisture.

Substrate

Substrate is the material that lines the bottom of your box turtle’s enclosure. It helps to maintain humidity and satisfy the turtle’s desire to burrow. Plus, it can make the enclosure look and feel more natural. Thus, aim to use a substrate that mimics the turtle’s natural environment. Many owners opt for chemical-free topsoil, leaves, and moss. Layer it at least 4 inches deep to allow your turtle to burrow.

Food and Water

Because box turtles are omnivores, they need a varied diet. Keeping them outside allows them to supplement what you feed them with what’s in the environment. Fresh vegetables, fruits, insects, low-fat meats, and pinky mice are some foods that can be offered. There are also commercial diets available for box turtles, though you should supplement those with fresh foods.Place the food on a plate, paver, or another surface to prevent the turtle from ingesting its substrate. Most young turtles need feeding every 24 hours while some adults might eat every other day. Consult your vet on the correct proportions for your individual turtle. Clean water in a shallow dish should be provided at all times.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

The most serious ailment among many turtles is metabolic bone disease due to insufficient UVB exposure. This painful condition can lead to weakened bones and death.Respiratory infections, usually from insufficient humidity or low temperatures, are also common among box turtles. Symptoms include wheezing, mucus around the mouth and nose, lethargy, and a lack of appetite. If your turtle experiences frequent respiratory infections, it could be a sign of vitamin A deficiency. Avoid feeding iceberg lettuce to a turtle with a respiratory infection. The animals love it, but it has almost no nutritional value.Box turtles also are prone to parasitic infections. (Captive-bred varieties are at a much lower risk.) This type of infection doesn’t always show obvious signs but can be diagnosed by a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.In addition, box turtles can contract a painful condition known as shell rot, which is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. The shell will appear cracked or dry, and it might emit an unpleasant odor.All of these ailments should receive treatment by a veterinarian.

Choosing Your Common Box Turtle

Around the world, box turtle populations are declining. Because of this, many states have laws against keeping wild box turtles as pets. The population decline is just one reason to get a captive-bred pet box turtle from a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Another good reason is you’ll be able to learn about the turtle‘s history and any health issues. Plus, wild-caught turtles generally don’t adjust well to captivity and often die from stress.Know what to look for to ensure you’re adopting a healthy turtle. Any bumps or redness on the shell, mucus in the nasal area or mouth, or cloudy eyes can indicate a turtle with health problems. Plus, make sure the turtle has a firm shell and no swelling on its body. It’s also best to avoid purchasing a box turtle during the fall or winter when it should be hibernating. A new environment at this time can cause extra stress.

Where to Find Box Turtles

Box turtles are our most terrestrial turtle. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats from woods to moist meadows, although they tend to be more commonly found in moist woods. Adult box turtles are more terrestrial than young turtles. East of the Mississippi River, the eastern box turtle is the subspecies with the largest range.

What Do Box Turtles Look Like?

All box turtles have a highly domed upper shell, called a carapace. The shape of the carapace combined with finding the turtle away from water is often enough to identify a turtle in the eastern U.S. as a box turtle. Depending on the subspecies, the carapace can be kind of an olive brownish color to a darker green color, and in most subspecies, is often patterned with different yellow or orange splotches or patches. The neck, head, and legs can also have yellow or orange stripes and patterns depending on the subspecies. However, the coloration can be highly variable. To keep things even more interesting, the subspecies can interbreed where their ranges meet or overlap, and the offspring can have a mixture of their parent’s physical characteristics.Female box turtles typically have brownish eyes, while male box turtles typically have reddish eyes. Male box turtles also have a concave underpart of the shell, called a plastron. The plastron is relatively flat in females. Females also have long, straight, thin back claws and longer, thinner tails than males, which tend to have short, curved, thick back claws and short, thick tails.Box turtles are also our only turtle species that can completely close its shell. It can do this because its plastron is hinged. The hinged plastron allows the box turtle to pull its legs, tail, and head completely into its shell and clamp it shut. This classic “turtle defense” that is often mistakenly thought of as applying to all turtles, provides the box turtle with a very strong defense mechanism. Some other species can come close, but adult box turtles are our only turtles that can completely close or “box” itself into its shell. Even baby box turtles can’t completely close their shell – they are typically 3-5 years old before they can do it.

Diet

Box turtles are omnivores. Their diet includes slugs, insects, dead critters, small fish, small amphibians, mushrooms (including many that are poisonous to us), mayapples, blackberries and raspberries, other fruits, roots, grasses, flowers, and much more. The young turtles tend to have a more carnivorous diet than older box turtles, but even adult box turtles include some animal content in their diets.

Conservation Concerns

Box turtle numbers appear to be declining and several states protect box turtles. Two of the primary causes for those declines are habitat loss / fragmentation and collection for the pet trade.

Habitat loss and fragmentation

Because box turtles never leave their home range, new developments can easily take out large chunks of multiple turtles’ home ranges, if not entire home ranges. Roads cutting through a turtle’s range are also dangerous to the turtles because that means the turtles have to cross the roads as they travel through their home ranges. This becomes especially apparent in the spring when males are first seeking females and the females are seeking egg laying spots. That’s why we see so many turtles on the roads at that of year.

Collection for the pet trade

Even though box turtles live for a long time, it takes them at least 5 to 10 years to reach sexual maturity. Once they reach sexual maturity, they don’t breed every year and the female only lays a handful of eggs each year. At the population level, most of the eggs laid each year are eaten or don’t hatch for one reason or another. Only a very small percentage of the eggs laid each year actually hatch and survive to adulthood.For a species such as the box turtle that takes a long time to mature and then only has a few individuals reach adulthood, removing additional individuals from the population can have devastating effects. Those effects are only compounded when the populations are already small or are greatly impacted by habitat loss and fragmentation. However, for a long time, box turtles were collected from the wild and sold as pets. Most states in the eastern U.S. have banned commercially collecting and selling box turtles because of the impacts it was having on the box turtle populations. Some states even have regulations banning the collection of wild box turtles for personal pets.

Common Box Turtle Distribution

This turtle is found primarily in the eastern regions of the United States.They prefer lightly moist regions in forested areas. They can be found as high north as Maine and as far south as Texas if the conditions are right.

Common Box Turtle Habitat

Common Box Turtles can be found in dry regions occasionally, but they tend to thrive best in moist, forested areas with lots of brush. They are not aquatic, but will sometimes spend long durations of time in shallow water or mud.

Body

Common Box Turtles have a tall dome shape on the upper portion of their shell. They have a hinged shell as is common with box turtles. Their beak is down-turned. They can grow up to eight inches long. The shell of a common box turtle often has dark colors such as dark brown with spots of much brighter contrast, such as yellow or orange patterns.

Sexing a Common Box Turtle

There are a few ways to sex a common box turtle. The easiest way is to look at their eyes. Males typically have red eyes, whereas a females eyes are usually brown or yellow.The male also has a concave plastron whereas the females is flat.

What Doe a Common Box Turtle Eat?

Common box turtles are omnivores, meaning their bodies can each both other creatures and plant matter. In the wild, their diets are extremely varied. Since they cover such large regions of eastern America, what they eat often depends simply on what is available in the area.When they eat meat, they go for small insects such as beetles, slugs, earthworms, larva, grubs, and so forth. Their plant diet consists of things like berries, flowers, mushrooms, certain grasses, and fruit.Be wary that common box turtles are likely to eat almost anything they come across if it smells edible, even if it is actually bad for them.You can often find acceptable food for common box turtles at a pet store. Look for things like bags of turtle feed and feeder insects such as crickets or grubs.

Keeping Common Box Turtles as Pets

The Common box turtle has been officially recognized as “vulnerable,” and there are now some limitations as to their capture and trade. The only state in which wild specimens can be captured for sale is South Carolina. However, while it is often illegal to capture a wild common box turtle for financial gain, the laws tend to be more relaxed about capturing them for personal ownership.Common box turtles have many needs, and it is extremely important for pet owners to be aware of these needs. These turtles can die within a matter of days when put into captivity if their needs are not met.Something to keep in mind is that the colorful shells of common box turtles tend to fade when they are kept in captivity. This occurs due to a lack of direct sunlight.

Housing a Common Box Turtle

To keep a common box turtle as a pet, you will need a fairly large enclosure. This should be tall enough that they cannot escape from it, and wide enough that there is ample room for all of their essentials. The enclosure should also be made from a material strong enough that the turtle cannot break out of it. A cardboard box should only ever be used as an enclosure for a very brief period of time, such as when cleaning their primary enclosure.The turtle will need ample heat and lighting in a specific area of their living space. This way they can move closer to the heat source or further away from it as needed. A good level of humidity is required for their environment. Using a spray that has a mist function can help with this, by lightly misting fresh water around the turtle’s living space every so often. This must be done multiple times, daily. They also need a large source of water for drinking, soaking, and bathing.Even though turtles can retreat into their shell, they still appreciate being able to hide within something else, such as a piece of log or bedding that they can burrow into.

Feeding a Common Box Turtle

Your turtle will want to be fed live insects that they can hunt. Most pet stores sell crickets, but you can feed them all sorts of things such as worms, grubs, cockroaches, and so forth. For greens, you can feed them romaine lettuce and dandelion greens (taken from a yard that does not use pesticides). They also enjoy fruits, berries, and mushrooms.Different common box turtles can have different tastes, since they are native to such wide regions. You should offer your turtle a variety of foods and see what they like. Just make sure they are getting enough nutrients, so beware of them just eating one thing all the time.

Parasites

A common box turtle that was taken from the wild could have parasites. These can get under scales and shells, and might be hard to notice. If your turtle was taken from the wild, be sure to take them to the vet first thing, so they can be checked for parasites.Also know that letting your turtle play outside, even under supervision, could result in the contraction of tiny unseen parasites. Because of this; it’s a good idea to have them checked by a vet periodically.