Eastern Box Turtle Care Sheet
The eastern box turtle is also known as the land turtle is a long-lived pond turtle that prefers to spend almost all their time on land. They are slow to mature and can live up to 138 years.
They are brightly colored which makes them popular pets. However, when not exposed to sunlight, their color fades. As such, they are best keep in a secure outdoor pen, if possible.
Quick Reference Section
- Experience Level: Beginner
- Family: Emydidae
- Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina
- Average Adult Size: 4.33 to 7 inches (110 to 180 mm)
- Lifespan: 40 years in captivity, 100 years in the wild
- Clutch Size: 4-5 eggs
- Egg Incubation Period: 50 to 70 days
- Food: Commercial turtle food, fruits, vegetables, crickets & mealworms
- Tank Size: 20 gallons
- Average Temperature: 80°H/75°L
- UVB Lighting: Needed
- Average Price Range: $120 to $400
- Conservation Status: Lower Risk – Near Threatened on IUCN Redlist
Facts and Information
The Terrapene carolina carolina (the scientific name of the eastern box turtle) is endemic to Eastern United States as evidential by the common name. They are land turtles, and even though they sometimes like to take a swim in shallow ponds or streams, they can drown if the water is too deep.
Both their carapace and limbs share a similar coloration, which is brownish or black with radiant yellow or orange patterns of streaks, blotches, spots, and lines. The males usually have red eyes and the females have brown eyes.
The upper part of the shell, which is also known as the carapace, is high and dome-shaped and is usually brown or black in color and marked by a contrasting pattern of yellow or orange lines, spots and patches. The skin color is varies but is usually brown or black accompanied with red, white, orange or yellow streaks and spots.
In some areas, the males may have blue spots on their skin. Their carapace is attached to a hinged plastron (under side of the shell). The hinged mechanism allows the Eastern Box turtle to close its shell completely when it is attacked or feels threatened.
Even if the shell is damaged, it has the capacity to grow back – just like a human nail! Male turtles have red eyes while the females have brown eyes.
Eastern box turtles are small in size – the length of their body ranges between 4.5 to 6 inches with the occasional individual growing up to 7 inches. However, despite their little stature, they can live up to an incredible 100 years in the wild!
These turtles can remain submerged in mud for many days and they do this if the weather gets too hot. They like moist, flat bottom forests and grasslands and usually don’t like steep hills or ridges. The Eastern Box Turtle is also the state reptile of North Carolina and Tennessee.
As the name implies, these turtles are found in the Eastern part of the USA.
Where is the Eastern Box Turtle Found?
They can be found along the east coast, from southern Maine to Florida, and west to the eastern portions of Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Eastern Box Turtle Habitat
Eastern box turtles can usually be found in deciduous forests with moderately moist forest floors. However, they can be found in open woodlands, marshy meadows, and pastures with easy access to ponds, streams and other drainage features.
The ideal enclosure is an outdoor enclosure. If temperatures are consistently about 60 F, and you have the space needed, consider housing them in an outdoor enclosure.
The enclosure doesn’t need to be large. An enclose that measures 4 ft. by 4 ft. should be large enough for the eastern box turtle. The fence should be about foot high and go about a foot into the ground since the turtle likes to dig. You can use cinder blocks to create the walls around the enclosure.
Just as with the fence, big a trench around the enclose, lay a single layer of bricks in the trench, cover it with soil before erecting the wall. The top of the enclosure should be covered with wire mesh to prevent house pets and other animals from accessing it.
If you wish to house them indoors, you can do that in a glass tank. The tank doesn’t need to be large, and an aquarium/terrarium with a capacity of 20 gallons should be large enough.
Although the box turtle belongs to the pond turtle family, they require a terrestrial setup. Ideally, the walls should be 12 inches high the length and width should be at least 36 inches by 12 inches.
If the terrarium is high enough (12 inches), it won’t need a lid. This allows for excellent ventilation. You can use an aquarium or a terrarium. Both work.
The eastern box turtles need a humid enclosure. To provide this, the bedding needs to be one that promotes high humidity such as eco earth or sphagnum moss. Aspen shaving is another good substrate for the enclosure. The bedding needs to be at least 2 inches deep. This allows the turtle to burrow.
Whether an outdoor enclosure or an indoor enclosure, avoid using soil, sand, gravel or anything gritty as substrate. These turtles are known to ingest such substrates. This can lead to intestinal impaction.
It is best to use a heat lamp to warm the enclosure. The lamp should be focused on about a third of the enclosure. The lamp can also provide light. However, a ceramic heat lamp is preferable.
Using sunlight as a heat source can be tricky as glass warms up pretty quickly, and the enclosure can become overheated. The OMAYKEY Sun Lamp and the Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit are both great choices.
Shade the other half of the enclosure. This way the enclosure has the temperature gradient needed for the turtle to regulate its body temperature.
A potted plant is a good choice. Similarly, you can position the heat lamp in such a way that the heat reaches only a portion of the enclosure. The cool end of the enclosure should have temperatures of around 70 F.
Monitor the temperatures of the enclosure by installing thermometers at either end.
The best source of light for this turtle is sunlight. A lot of sunlight ensures that the colors in the keratin layer don’t fade. As such it is best to place the glass tank in a room that has access to a lot of sunlight.
Direct sunlight can cause heat to build up within the enclosure so the enclosure needs to be out of the way of direct sunlight. An outdoor enclosure ensures the turtle gets all the UV needed. For an indoor enclosure, provide a UVB light in the enclosure.
A fluorescent light that doesn’t produce heat is best, although a mercury vapor light such as the Evergreen Pet Supplies 100 Watt UVA/UVB Mercury Vapor Bulb which produces both heat and light also works well. Other good choices include the Zoo Med Reptisun and Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit.
The eastern box turtle is most comfortable and healthy in a humid environment. As such, it is important to mist the enclosure about twice to thrice a day. The humidity level should be about 65%. The water used to mist the enclosure has to be free of chloride and treated.
A hydrometer situated in the enclosure can allow you to track the humidity level in the enclosure at all times. The ThermoPro TP50 Digital Hygrometer is a good humidity gauge with which to track the humidity level in the enclosure.
Decorations not only brighten up the enclosure, but they can also serve practical purposes. For instance, a hollow log or two can provide hiding spots for the turtle.
Placing flat rocks under the basking light gives the turtle a platform to bask on. The rocks must be arranged in ways that make it easy for the turtle to climb. Other acceptable decorations include plants. Plants improve the air quality and humidity level in the glass tank.
Feeding the Eastern Box Turtle
As omnivores, these turtles eat anything which they feel is edible. They are known to eat hamburgers, although it is much too fatty for them. Also, red meat doesn’t provide the needed nutritional value. They can be fed a mix of protein and plants.
A diet of about 60% insect protein and 40% plant matter is recommended. Animal protein to feed the turtle includes but not limited to mealworms, crickets, slugs, snails, grubs, caterpillars, roaches and earthworms. Feeder insects are quite easy to acquire.
These can be found online or at your local pet supply store. Vegetables and plant matter to feed the turtle include romaine lettuce, dandelions, collard greens, flowers, duckweed and such.
In addition to insects and vegetables, these turtles also enjoy fruits and berries. Since fruits are high in sugar, they should be offered at most once a week. Strawberries and apples are popular choices among eastern box turtle keepers.
Feed the turtle daily. Pick a time and stick to it; that way it becomes a routine. Feeding your turtle is a great way to bond with it and tame it. Feed the turtle as much as it can eat. As time goes on, you will learn just how much the turtle eats.
You can feed the turtle with your hands or you can place the food on a flat plate in front of it. In all, be sure to offer a varied diet so the turtle gets all the required nutrients. Also, supplement their diet with calcium. Sprinkle a pinch of calcium supplement over their meal about twice a week.
Also, provide a bowl of clean water at all times. The water needs to be changed daily as the turtle soaks in it. The water used should be free of chloride as chloride is harmful to the turtle.
You can use water conditioners to treat the water. Similarly, you can use bottled water. The dish for the water has to be shallow (about an inch deep), wide and sturdy.
Eastern Box Turtle’s Temperament & Handling
The eastern box turtles are docile pets that are easy to handle. They don’t bite and are very slow. They will even accept food from your hands. They eat whatever provided them so ensure you feed them healthy foods. As with any other turtle, wash your hands before and after handling them.
Eastern Box Turtle’s Lifespan
The eastern box turtle is one of the few species that live much longer in the wild than they do in captivity. I believe this is because they require ideal care for several decades – something most keepers cannot provide consistently for up to half a century. In captivity, they generally live to be 40 years. However, in the wild, they grow to be as old as 138.
Common Health Concerns
With good husbandry, you should be able to keep health issues to a minimal. Cleaning the enclosure regularly is essential. For starters, the drinking water has to be changed every day.
The turtle will soak and defecate in the water. After disposing of the dirty water, scrub the dish (using water and a brush only, soap can leave a residue which can harm the turtle) before pouring fresh water into it.
Also, remove excrement daily. Doing so ensures the turtle is healthier and happier. If the excrement dropped is whitish or greyish in color, the turtle may be ill.
Lastly, the tank needs to be cleaned once a month. This includes removing all content and washing the tank with water. After the tank dries, lay down fresh substrate, and return the decorations. Everything should be placed back as they were. This ensures the turtle doesn’t become confused and think it’s in a new tank.
On another note, the eastern box turtle hibernates if the temperatures drop enough. This is especially true of turtles that live outdoors. Even while the turtle hibernates, ensure it is safe and relatively warm by keeping an eye on it and providing a lot of substrates and leaves to burrow under.
Be sure to visit the herp vet before November (when they tend to hibernate). As the temperatures drop further in winter, add more dead leaves to the burrowing area. You can use white oak and hickory leaves for best results.
Be prepared to watch out for signs of illness including dry skin, watery eyes, frequent hydration, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, abscesses, diarrhea, swelling of the ears, tiredness, changes in routine and behavior, and weight loss.
As with any species, there are illnesses that eastern box turtles are more susceptible to. These include fungal & bacterial infection, metabolic bone disease, organ failure, swollen eyes, breathing disorder, and parasites.
Pricing and Availability
Eastern box turtles are common in the United States and can easily be acquired in many pet shops around the country. They are quite popular in Arizona where it is legal to capture and sell wild turtles.
In other parts of the United States and the world, the available eastern box turtles are captive bred. Reptile breeders have been captive bred eastern box turtles successfully and repeatedly. Generally, they will cost $150 to $400.
The Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is not considered endangered in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, although in some states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and, Michigan) they are considered to be of special concern.
In Maine, they are even considered endangered. The main threat to their wild populations includes collection for pet trade, road mortality (being run over by cars) and loss of habitat. On the IUCN Red List, the species is listed Lower Risk – Near Threatened.
Easter Box Turtle Overview Video
The popular eastern box turtle may just be the most popular land turtle species in the United States. They are relatively easy to care for, docile, and brightly colored.
However, if you wish to acquire a specimen, it is best to acquire a captive-bred. Also, give them access to ample sunlight, if you wish to keep their bright yellow coloration.
Lastly, since this turtle is extremely long-lived, ensure that you are ready to care for it, and commit to it before acquiring one. If you have any comments, kindly leave them.