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Mexican Box Turtle

The Mexican box turtle is native to Mexico as evidenced by both the common and scientific name. Like most turtles endemic to Mexico, the Terrapene mexicana isn’t usually kept as pets. The Mexican box turtle hasn’t been successfully bred and as such isn’t available on the pet market.

The Mexican box turtle is sometimes considered a subspecies of the common box turtle. This is because they are very similar to other subspecies in this species and exhibit similar behaviors and patterns.

I don’t recommend keeping specimens of this species as pets as they aren’t captive-bred and little is known about the species.

Mexican Box Turtle Facts

  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene mexicana or Terrapene carolina mexicana
  • Common names: Mexican box turtle, Tamaulipan Box Turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 7 to 8 inches (177 to 200 mm)
  • Average Lifespan: 100 years in the wild
  • Diet: Omnivorous

Physical Appearance

Mexican Box Turtle in mulch with front legs out (Terrapene carolina mexicana)
Mexican Box Turtle in mulch with front legs out (Terrapene carolina mexicana)

T. mexicana is among the largest box turtles out there. In fact, their size is comparable to that of the Gulf Coast box turtle.

The Terrapene mexicana grows to an adult length of 7 to 8 inches.

The carapace of this turtle is dome-shaped. The coloration includes subtle bluish markings on the head and reddish markings on the front legs.

Natural Habitat & Geographical Range

T. mexicana is endemic to eastern Mexico and can be found in the states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas (Sierra de Tamaulipas), Potosi, and San Luis. While these turtles may be found outside Mexico, this is yet to be confirmed. The importation of these turtles is prohibited which means they are almost impossible to find on the pet trade market.

These turtles are found in marshes, swamps, and any area with high humidity levels. Heseturtles always built their nests near water bodies. These turtles spend a lot of time soaking in water. They also feed on insects attracted to the water bodies.

They can be found in tropical deciduous forests in altitudes of 500 m or lower.

Lifespan

Head of a Mexican Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina mexicana)
Head of a Mexican Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina mexicana)

While the lifespans of these turtles are difficult to establish as they aren’t kept as pets, their lifespans should be similar to that of the common box turtle.

These turtles are known to live to 100 years and even more.

Diet

In the wild, the Terrapene mexicana feeds on bugs and insects as well as worms, mollusks, carrion, fish eggs, reptiles, amphibians such as frogs & salamanders, and birds. These reptiles eat any animal smaller than they are. Younglings eat more protein as they grow the fastest at this stage of their life.

Adults are more herbivorous than juveniles and eat a wide range of vegetation, fruits, and fungus such as mushrooms.

Predators

There are several predators of box turtles endemic to Mexico. Predators include the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), foxes, minks, raccoons, snakes, coyotes, and birds of prey.

These turtles are surprisingly excellent at protecting themself from predation. The hinged lower shell of the species allows them to close themselves up in their shell.

These turtles can also fight off predators when needed.

Mexican Box Turtle Care Guide

Close up of Mexican box turtle with legs in shell (Terrapene carolina mexicana)
Close up of Mexican box turtle with legs in shell (Terrapene carolina mexicana)

Since these turtles are rare on the pet market, little is known about the husbandry of the species. Regardless of this, they can be cared for with the right expertise. It’s important to provide these chelonians with an adequate amount of UVA/UVB light, adequate amount of humidity, and warmth.

Housing

Because of the size of these turtles, they are best housed outside. However, if you live in a region where temperatures are consistently under 60 degrees, it would be advisable to house them inside. However, if you live in the Southern United States or Mexico, you can easily house these turtles outdoors with no problem.

The enclosure should be quite large. An 8 sqft pen should be large enough for the turtle. The walls can be constructed using cinder blocks or untreated wood. The walls should be opaque. This prevents the turtle from being stressed as they may try to get to the other side of the wall.

The foundation of the walls should be about a foot deep. This should prevent the turtle from digging underneath the wall. The wall should also be about a foot high.

Temperatures

Creating a temperature gradient within the turtle’s enclosure should allow the turtle to regulate its body temperature with ease. Since reptiles are cold-blooded, their body temperature is exclusively determined by the temperature of their environment. A temperature gradient allows the turtle to regulate their body temperature by moving between zones of different temperatures within the enclosure.

The warm end of the enclosure should have temperatures of 90 degrees and above. The cool end of the enclosure should have temperatures of about 75 degrees. The larger the enclosure is, the easier it is to create an enclosure with a wide variety of temperatures.

The air temperature within the enclosure should be in the 80s. Night temperatures can be as low as 70 degrees.

Use heat lamps to provide warmth for the turtle. Sunlight is also a viable option when it comes to keeping the enclosure warm enough.

A thermometer is a must. This tool will help you to track the temperatures within the enclosure.

Heat Lamps

Ceramic heart lamps are among the best heat lamps you can install within the enclosure. This heat lamp produces heat but no light. This means you can have it on even during the night when temperatures may be too long.

Night lamps are designed to keep reptiles’ enclosure during the night. These lamps produce very little light and don’t affect the turtle’s natural day-night cycle.

The last heat lamp we will look at is the incandescent heat lamp. These produce light and heat. They can also be used in place of UVA/UVB light lamps.

Lighting

Ultraviolet lighting is essential to the growth and health of the turtle. UVA keeps the turtle active while UVB is needed for the production of vitamin D which is needed for calcium absorption.

When it comes to lighting, there are several options.

The first option is natural sunlight. When housed outdoors, sunlight may be the only light needed. Sunlight produces an optimal level of UVA and UVB.

The second option is fluorescent lamps. These lamps are excellent for turtles housed indoors.

The last option is mercury vapor bulbs which are a type of incandescent lamp. These mercury vapor bulbs produce UV light as well as warmth.

Substrates

Substrates are needed to regulate humidity levels within the enclosure. When choosing substrate gets ones that increase humidity levels.

A mix of play sand and topsoil also makes for an excellent substrate.

Water & Humidity

As mentioned earlier, these turtles require a lot of moisture to thrive. Lack of humidity can aggravate conditions such as metabolic bone disease and respiratory disease.

The water bowl in the enclosure should be large enough for the turtle to lie in. The turtle should be able to easily enter and exit the water bowl.

The water level shouldn’t be high enough for the turtle to drown in.

Since chlorinated water isn’t suitable for small reptiles such as box turtles. As such, only dechlorinated water should be offered to the turtles.

Fill the water bowl with dechlorinated water. A simple way to remove chlorine from tap water is to allow it to sit for about 2 days.

Feeding the Mexican Box Turtle

Mexican Box turtle on forest floor (Terrapene carolina mexicana)
Mexican Box turtle on forest floor (Terrapene carolina mexicana)

The omnivorous Mexican box turtles are easy to feed. What to feed the turtle is dependent on the foods available to you.

These turtles will eat pinkie mice, grubs, cricket, mealworms, wax worms, fish, and a wide variety of animal foods. Juveniles eat more meat and insects than adults do.

Also offer lettuces, fruits, and mushrooms.

Juveniles should be fed daily while adults should be fed once every two days. It is essential to check with your vet to discuss feeding schedules.

Breeding and Availability

Very little is known about the breeding process of these turtles. Regardless, we can safely assume that these turtles mate mostly in spring.  Mating may even occur in summer. Females mate with several males and can hold onto fertilized eggs for several years.

These turtle species aren’t available on the pet market. However, captive-bred specimens still show up now and then.

Health Problems

Here are some signs that your turtle may be unwell – loss of appetite, diarrhea, nasal discharge, inactivity, change in routine, swellings around the ear and on the face, dry skin and shell, softening of the shell, and of course significant weight loss.

Parasites – Box turtles found in Mexico are known to harbor flagellates. These parasites are common among wild-caught turtles. While they aren’t usually harmful, they can cause problems in large numbers. These parasites are treated using metronidazole. A vet must prescribe this treatment, as the wrong dosage can seriously harm the turtle.

Nutrients deficiencies – These are caused by a lack of proper nutrition and an unbalanced diet. Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies are calcium and vitamin D deficiencies. These deficiencies are the leading causes of metabolic bone disease.

This is where a lack of calcium causes the turtle to have disfigured limbs and shells. The effects of this disease are permanent, although correcting the deficiency ensures that the abnormal growth is stopped.

Vitamin A deficiency is another you have to watch out for. This leads to respiratory infections. Symptoms include wheezing, difficulty breathing, inactivity, and refusal to eat.

As with any deficiency, supplementation and a balanced diet can help correct the negative effects. You may also want to visit your vet.

Conservation/Threats

According to the IUCN Red List, the Mexican box turtle is considered a subspecies of the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina). The wild population of this species is decreasing and the species has a conservation status of vulnerable.

This species faces a number of threats such as habitat loss caused by cattle grazing, sugarcane plantations, and fire impacts; collection for consumption, and road accidents. While these turtles can survive low-level changes to their habitat, large-scale changes can significantly affect their wild numbers.

Currently, the habitat of this reptile is quite stable although this can change.

FAQ’s

How big do Mexican box turtles get?

These turtles can get quite large, reaching lengths of 8 inches. On average, these turtles have an adult length of 7 to 8 inches (177 to 200 mm).

What does the Mexican box turtle eat?

As omnivorous species, these turtles meat both plants and animals. They eat what they can easily catch. These include crickets, bugs, beetles, snails, and slugs. These reptiles also feed on mushrooms (some of which are toxic to humans), fruits, berries such as mulberries, and vegetables.

Where is the Mexican box turtle found?

The species is endemic to eastern Mexico in the states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Potosi, and San Luis.

Are Mexican box turtles dangerous?

These turtles aren’t harmful or dangerous to humans.

How old do Mexican box turtles get?

While little is known about the lifespan of captive-bred Mexican box turtles as they are very rare in modern times, in the wild, these turtles can live to be 100 years old.

Conclusion

The Mexican box turtle can be found in eastern Mexico. Their geographic range includes Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Potosi, and San Luis. These turtles are very uncommon and almost important to find outside their geographic range.

The turtle has a domed and long carapace with lengths of five to eight inches. The carapace of this turtle often bears yellow markets which disappear as the turtle grows older. Access to direct sunlight can stop the markings on the spell from disappearing.

The limbs of this turtle also have red markings.

Since these turtles aren’t kept as pets, little is known about the lifespan of the species in captivity. However, in the wild, these turtles are known to live long very long lives.

If you want to know more about Mexican turtles, kindly leave a comment.

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