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Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)

Florida Box Turtle Care Sheet

The Florida box turtle is among the most popular turtles kept as pets. Research data shows that in the wild, the average Florida box turtle lives to be over 100 years old.

In captivity, however, the typical lifespan of the Florida box turtle is just 40 years. Their diets need to be 60% animal matter. In fact, the Florida box turtle starts out carnivorous then gradually becomes omnivorous as it matures.

When caring for the Terrapene carolina bauri, one important thing to keep in mind is the humidity levels in the turtle’s enclosure. The Florida box turtle prefers an enclosure that is as humid as its namesake state – Florida.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae (pond turtles)
  • Binomial Name: Terrapene carolina bauri
  • Average Male Adult Size: 5 to 6.8 inches (128 – 173 mm)
  • Average Female Adult Size: 4.7 to 6.2 inches (121 – 158 mm)
  • Average Lifespan: 40 to 100 years
  • Clutch Size: 3 to 8 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: About three months (50 to 90 days)
  • Food: Commercial turtle food, plant matter (such as leafy greens), gastropod, crustaceans, & insects
  • Enclosure Size:  50-gallon terrarium or a 38 in. by 96 in. pen
  • Average Temperature: 85°H/70°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $225 – $399
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable on IUCN Red List
  • Recommended Book: Tortoises & Box Turtles (Complete Pet Owner’s Manual)

Facts and Information

florida box turtle shell pattern
florida box turtle shell pattern

The Florida box turtle is an exquisite chelonian thanks to its yellow markings on a dark brown carapace. These markings resemble that of the ornate box turtle although the ornate box turtle has fewer markings.

This box turtle is roughly 11cm by 8cm in size and has three toes on their hind feet similar to the three-toed box turtle.  Their small size makes them perfect pets for beginners, children, and enthusiasts alike.

The Florida box turtle is endemic to Florida and the most southeastern part of Georgia.

They are also similar to other box turtles such as the eastern box turtle, the three-toed box turtle, and the ornate box turtle.

Florida Box Turtle Habitat

florida box turtle in grass peeking its head out
florida box turtle in grass peeking its head out

Florida box turtles can be found in wetlands, swamps, and marshlands of Florida. They prefer environments with humidity levels between 70 and 90 percent, which should be replicated if you plan to keep one as a pet and want it to thrive.

Enclosure

The Florida box turtle thrives in outdoor enclosures. The enclosure must have an open section that receives sunlight throughout the day as well as a shaded area where the turtle can hide from the sun.

A 38 x 96 inches enclosure should be large enough to house up to four of these adult box turtles. The walls of the enclosure can be made of cinder blocks or wood. The first 24 inches of the wall should be opaque preventing the turtle from seeing what’s on the other side of the wall.

An underground barrier is also necessary if you don’t want the turtle to dig under the enclosure. You can use chicken wire to create a barrier that is 8 to 12 inches below ground. Alternatively, the inside floor of the enclosure can be about 8 inches above ground level.

The turtles need a watering hole. I recommend using a shallow plastic pan so that the turtle can enter and exit the pan effortlessly.

Lastly, you need to provide hide boxes. These provide not only shade but also, a dark secure place to the turtle to hide in when stressed. Clay pots turned on their sides and partially buried can be used as hides.

Indoor enclosures are also suitable if you don’t have enough outdoor space to build an outdoor enclosure. A 50-gallon plastic tub or a wooden terrarium (tortoise house) can be used.

Check out our box turtle setup guide for more info.

Substrate

Use substrates that help maintain high humidity levels. You can use orchid bark, cypress mulch, or a mix of peat moss and organic potting soil (with no additives). Cover the substrate with sphagnum moss to retain as much moisture as possible.

The substrate should be about 8 inches deep.

Temperature

The cool end of the enclosure should be about 70 to 75 F while the warm end of the enclosure should be about 85 F. The warm end has the basking spot and as such requires a basking lamp.

We recommend the Zoo Med Aquatic Heat Lighting Kit.

Having both a cool and warm end provides a temperature gradient. This ensures that the turtle can regulate their body temperature by moving between the warm and cool ends.

It’s a good idea for novices to regularly check the temperatures in the enclosure. Even the most experienced turtle keepers still need to check the temperature of the enclosure from time to time.

Lighting

UV lights ensures that the turtle gets the needed amount of vitamin D3. sunlight is actually the best source of vitamin D3, however, fluorescent lights and mercury vapor bulbs can be used to substitute sunlight if the enclosure is located indoors.

See our UVB bulb guide for turtles for more.

Humidity

The Florida box turtle requires humidity levels of 70 to 90 percent. There are several ways to maintain a humid enclosure. You can use a fogger such as the Coospider Reptile Fogger to maintain the high humidity levels of the enclosure.

You can also spray mist the enclosure two to three times a day. Make sure to spray the substrate and the walls of the enclosure and not necessarily the turtle. Foggers are really only necessary for large enclosures.

The water bowl should be about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. The turtle should be able to easily enter and exit the water bowl easily.

Accessories

Accessories brighten up the enclosure and give the turtle places to hide and objects to interact with. Some excellent objects to place in the enclosure include flat rocks and hollow tree trunks.

Live plants can be planted inside outdoor enclosures. Hostas, also known as plantain lilies, are a great plant to have in the enclosure.

Feeding the Florida Box Turtle

When Florida box turtles hatch, they are predominantly carnivorous but become more omnivorous as they age. Regardless of their age, they are still carnivorous and need about 60 percent of their diet to come from animal matter.

Foods such as earthworms, silkworms, wax worms, mealworms, crickets, roaches, crustaceans, pinkie mice, and gastropods are perfect.

In terms of veggies, you can feed the turtle a mix of turnip greens, dandelion, and mustard. Other acceptable plants include collard greens, romaine lettuce, duckweed, and grass (such as alfalfa hay).

Young turtles may refuse plant matter. To encourage them to eat more vegetables, sprinkle a minuscule amount of cod liver oil onto the plants. Plants should make around 40% of the chelonians diet.

You can occasionally give the turtle fruits. This should make up just 10 percent of the turtle’s diet. Some acceptable fruits include strawberries, apples, mulberries, cantaloupe, papaya, honeydew melon, raspberries, and blackberries.

Complement the fresh foods fed the turtle with commercial turtle diets such as Nutrafin Max Gammarus, Rep-Cal Box Turtle Food, Reptomin, and Mazuri Turtle Diet.

Finally, supplement the turtle’s food with vitamin powder once a week and calcium supplement two to three times a week.

Lightly dust the turtle’s food with the supplement powder. An excellent choice is Fluker’s Repta Calcium. This contains calcium, vitamin D3, and zero phosphorus.

Always have a bowl of water within the enclosure. This ensures that the turtle is hydrated at all times. Change the water in the enclosure daily.

Florida Box Turtle’s Temperament & Handling

florida box turtle closed inside its shell
florida box turtle closed inside its shell

Florida box turtles are very docile turtles and don’t normally bite or snap at their handlers. They also do well in community habitats. Males can be quite aggressive during mating season though. To prevent this aggression you can have two females for every male.

Florida Box Turtle Lifespan

Florida box turtles have a long lifespan and can easily outlive their owners. In the wild, the Florida box turtle has an average lifespan of 100 years. They can even live to be 138 years in the wild. In captivity, they have an average lifespan of 40 years.

Common Health Concerns

As long as you maintain a clean and proper enclosure, health issues can be kept to a minimum. Regardless of this, the turtle may still suffer from illness, injuries, and other health issues. Here are the more common health concerns.

Scratches and cuts – There is little you can do to prevent superficial cuts and scratches. You can help reduce the likelihood of superficial injuries by quarantining aggressive turtles and ensuring there are no sharp edges that can harm the turtle. Treat cuts and scratches with antibiotics such as betadine solution.

Serious injuries such as dog bites should be treated by a herp vet.

Insects and fly eggs on turtle’s skin – this can occur when food is kept in the turtle’s enclosure for too long. This attracts flies. Also, open wounds attract flies.

Treat any open wound as soon as possible. Also, remove any uneaten food item from the enclosure after an hour. If maggots and fly larvae are under the skin, then you should see a vet.

MBDMetabolic bone disease is usually down to calcium and vitamin D3 deficiency. Low humidity levels also aggravate the situation. If the shell looks lumpy or odd, this can be a sign of mbd.

Make sure you feed the turtle a well-balanced diet. Changes in husbandry and diet should stop nutritional metabolic bone disease in its tracks. With MBD, it’s essential to act fast before it gets too bad.

Lack of appetite or Fixation on one food- While Florida box turtles are not picky eaters, they may stop eating all of a sudden. Sometimes, they may become fixated on just one food such as lean meat, or banana. This is clearly not healthy since they need a wild variety of foods.

To prevent this, always feed the turtle different foods. Feed them a different protein, vegetable, and fruit every meal. If the turtle is fixated on just one food, try to mix new foods with their favorite food. This will help introduce them gradually to new food items.

Other health issues to watch out for include mouth rot, lumpy cheeks, paralysis, overgrown beak or nails, cloacal prolapse, and swollen eyes.

Pricing and Availability

Florida box turtles are quite pricey when compared to other North American turtles. Regardless of this, they are quite common. They can be found at herp shops, and are commonly bred.

A baby Florida box turtle cost about $250. When acquiring a Florida box turtle, make sure its captive-bred as the turtle is threatened in the wild. Wild Florida box turtles are also protected by law in their native Florida.

Specimens can also be acquired from reputable breeders through sites such as Tortoise Town & CB Reptiles.

Conservation/Threats

The Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) like other subspecies of Terrapene carolina is a threatened turtle with a conservation status of vulnerable. Major risks include predation of hatchlings and eggs, habitat destruction, pollution, and collection for the pet trade.

Seasonal wildfires in their native Florida also cause a lot of deaths among the wild populations. Surprisingly, wet season fires cause more deaths than dry season fires.

Conclusion

The Florida box turtle is a wonderful pet and an excellent addition to any family. While they may not be as easy to care for as other North American turtles such as map turtles and pond sliders, they are colorful and interesting.

New turtles need to be quarantined for 60 to 90 days before adding them to any community enclosure. This ensures that they do not infect the other turtles with any existing parasites, fungus, or other conditions.

At the start and the end of the quarantine period, have a herp vet inspect the turtle and its stool.

If you have any additional information or question, leave a comment.

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