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Northern Box Turtle

The northern box turtle generally refers to the northern spotted box turtle. This turtle is a subspecies of the spotted box turtle. It is also called the Klauber’s spotted box turtle or the Klauber’s box turtle.

As with other box turtles, the T. n. klauberi turtle has a highly domed carapace and can completely encase itself within its shell. This offers the turtle a lot of protection from predators. 

The wild population of this turtle is limited to the Sierra Madre Occidental in montane regions. The northern spotted box turtle is most populous in the northern portion of the species geographic range.

Also, the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) has sometimes been referred to as the northern box turtle.

Northern Box Turtle Facts

Northern Spotted Box Turtle
Northern Spotted Box Turtle (Terrapene nelsoni klauberi) – source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene nelsoni klauberi
  • Other Names: Northern Spotted Box Turtle, Klauber’s Box Turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 6 inches (15 cm)
  • Average Lifespan: 27 years in captivity
  • Diet: Omnivorous

Physical Appearance

T. n. klauberi is a moderately sized turtle with an average carapace length of  6 inches. Their weight should be around 450 grams (16 oz).

T. n. klauberi has bright yellow patterns on both their carapace and their limbs. These spots give them their common name. The older the turtle, the fainter these spots are. The background color of the carapace is dark brown to black.

Although they possess a domed carapace, it isn’t as prominent as other box turtles.

Natural Habitat & Geographic Range

T. n. klauberi is a North American turtle that is endemic to northern Mexico. The subspecies can be found in Sonora Chihuahua and northern Sinaloa. However, they can also be found in southern Sinaloa, Jalisco, and Nayarit.

The turtle is endemic to the Sierra Madre Occidental. They can be found across states within which the Sierra Madre Occidental is found, in particular the montane regions of their geographic range.

They can be found at an elevation of  450 m (1476 ft) to 1640 m (5381 ft) above sea level.

This turtle isn’t known to live close to water bodies. However, they do rely on the monsoons of the Sierra Madre Occidental to provide them with the water and humidity needed to thrive.

Lifespan

The lifespan of these turtles is difficult to determine as little is known about the species. However, a living captive specimen cared for at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum was at least 27 years old in 2011.

However, these turtles most likely live to over 100 years in the wild just like other box turtles closely related to the species and subspecies.

Diet

All North American box turtles are omnivorous and eat a wide range of food. The Northern spotted box turtles should be no different. Since only one captive s[pecimen has been documented, the foods they eat in captivity aren’t well documented. They eat vegetation and other smaller animals and insects.

The wild spotted box turtle has been observed to eat organ pipe cactus.

Predators

Adult box turtles have few predators as their tough shells provide them with top-notch protection. Juveniles and hatchlings on the other hand are prone to attacks from birds of prey such as owls and crows, foxes, coyotes, snakes, chipmunks, raccoons, and many more. Their eggs are also preyed on.

If you decide to keep this turtle as a pet, know that many animals will try to attack and prey on it. Animals such as dogs and cats have been known to attack box turtles. Other animals such as raccoons and opossums will also attack the turtle.

As such, they need to be well protected.

Reproduction

These turtles mate when humidity levels are very high. They mate after heavy rains. Also, they lay eggs when there is heavy rain. As such expect them to mate and nest in the rainy season. Eggs are laid around June and July and eggs hatch in late summer.

The clutch size is small with an average of 2.7 eggs. They usually lay 1 to 4 eggs. Gravid box turtles can lay eggs several years after mating.

Northern Box Turtle Care Guide

Northern Spotted Box Turtle being held retracted in shell
Northern Spotted Box Turtle being held retracted in shell – source

These turtles have been successfully kept in captivity as such captive care is possible. However, because these turtles are rare, it is very uncommon to need the care guide of the subspecies and by extension the species.

Housing

Box turtles are best kept outside. This gives them more room as well as providing the turtle with natural warmth, and sunlight. Both of these elements are important for the survival of the turtle.

When kept indoors, you need to artificially stimulate warmth and sunlight. You would need to provide UVB and UVA radiation and warmth. You may even need to produce vitamin D3 supplementation. This isn’t needed if the turtle is kept outdoors and is exposed to the sun.

For an outdoor pen, the enclosure should be at least 64 ft² in size. The walls of the pen should be about a foot tall. This should prevent the turtle from climbing out. The wall also needs to be 1 foot deep. This should prevent the chelonian from burrowing under the wall.

The walls can be constructed from untreated wood or cinder blocks. You can cover the enclosure with hardware cloth to protect the turtle from predators such as birds of prey and raccoons.

Temperatures

Reptiles are cold-blooded. This means that a lot of work needs to go into making sure that the temperatures within the enclosure are just right. You need to create a temperature gradient. This allows the turtle to regulate its body temperature by moving between the cool and warm ends of the enclosure.

The warm end of the enclosure should be above 90 degrees in temperature. The cool end of the enclosure should be below 75 degrees in temperature.

The air temperature should be 80 degrees to 85 degrees during the day and 70 degrees to 75 degrees during the night.

During the night, you can allow the temperature of the entire enclosure to fall to at least 70 degrees.

If nighttime temperatures fall below 70 degrees, you will need to provide a night heat lamp or a ceramic heat emitter. These are also effective at providing warmth during the day.

Heat Lamps

I recommend heat lamps that don’t produce light. These can also be used during the night if temperatures get too low. There are two choices available and these are the ceramic heat emitter and the night heat lamp.

Ceramic Heat Emitters

These effectively provide infrared heat in a uniform pattern. The heat penetrated the scales and kept the turtle active and warm. They produce zero visible light and as such can be on even at night if needed.

For large enclosures, I recommend 100 watts ceramic heat lamps. I also recommend using the ceramic heat emitter with a thermostat. This prevents the heat lamp from overheating the enclosure.

Night Heat Lamps

These are also excellent at providing warmth. They are called night heat lamps as they provide very little visible light. That way they do not interfere with the turtle’s day-night cycle.

These should also be used in conjunction with a thermostat to prevent overheating.

Thermostat and thermometer

It is very difficult to determine whether or not the temperature ranges created are right for the turtle or not. To help with this, you need a thermometer.

Additionally, since you aren’t going to be watching the enclosure/thermometer 24/7, you need a thermostat to regulate the heat being provided by the heat lamp.

Lighting

The enclosure needs to be well-light during the day and dark during the night. This is a must. Leaving the lights on longer than needed is detrimental to the health of the box turtle. A timer can be automated to turn the lights off when it is night.

The turtles also require UVA and UVB in adequate amounts.

If you must get light from your local pet shop or hardware shop, I advise that you get a fluorescent lamp. These do not produce heat and as such won’t influence the temperature gradient you establish within the enclosure.

A UV meter/tester such as REPTI-ZOO UV Tester can check if the lamp provides adequate UV radiation. These can be expensive so you can just change the bulb every 6 months.

Substrate

Box turtles like to burrow so a substrate is a must. A mix of topsoil and play sand is an excellent bedding choice for the chelonian. Other beddings you can provide are coco coir (such as Exo Terra Coco Husk) or bark bedding (such as Jurassic Fir Bark Bedding).

Make sure that any bedding used is sterile and void of fertilizer.

The substrates mentioned help maintain an adequate humidity level for the chelonians.

Humidity

Humidity levels need to be high when it comes to box turtles. A relative humidity of about 70% should be adequate.

If humidity levels are lower than 60%, you can use a spray bottle to mist the enclosure.

The turtle also needs clean drinking water which is free of chlorine. The water bowl needs to be sturdy and large enough for the turtle to enter.

Feeding the Northern spotted box turtle

If you manage to keep this chelonian as a pet, they should accept leafy greens such as kale, herbs such as cilantro and parsley, insects such as crickets. And nightcrawlers and of course pinkie mice. All of these foods have been successfully fed to the spotted box turtle.

Breeding and Availability

These turtles haven’t been successfully bred yet. Similarly, they are not available on the pet market.

That is not to say that they cannot be found, just that they are extremely difficult to be found. This can change in the future but since the demand for this chelonian is low, this is unlikely to happen.

Health Issues

This turtle faces the same health issues as other box turtles. Signs of health problems include diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, change in routine, swellings around the ear, excessive tiredness, and discharge from the ears, nose, mouth, or eyes. A soft shell in juveniles, subadults, and adults is also a bad sign.

Respiratory Infections. This is very common among captive box turtles. This is caused by dryness and a lack of vitamin A. Box turtles require high humidity levels. If it is too dry, they can develop respiratory infections. Likewise, if there isn’t enough vitamin A in the reptile’s diet, it can develop a respiratory infection. Symptoms include difficulty breathing and wheezing. An ill turtle may also refuse to eat and become lethargic.

Parasites. Parasitic infections are common among wild spotted box turtles. Almost every single wild box turtle has parasites such as flagellates. However,This this usually isn’t a problem as they are in low numbers. It is only an issue when the numbers are high.

Symptoms of an infection include diarrhea, presence of worms in stool, loss of body mass, and indigestion evident by the passing of undigested food.

Metabolic bone disease. We cannot talk about turtle health issues without mentioning MBD (Metabolic bone disease) in particular nutritional metabolic bone disease. This is caused by vitamin D and/or calcium deficiency. Symptoms include deformed body parts such as limbs and shells. If corrected early while the turtle is still a juvenile, the turtle may not suffer lasting damage. However, if the turtle is already an adult by the time it is treated, the disfigurement will be permanent.

Conservation/Threats

There is no information on the conservation status of this turtle as it is yet to be evaluated.

FAQs

How long can the northern spotted box turtle live?

Box turtles are long-lived and can grow to over 25 years. The oldest recorded member of the subspecies being discussed today is at least 27 years.

The subspecies can possibly live for over 100 years. However, little research has been done on this turtle, so this is unknown.

Can you keep the northern spotted box turtle as a pet?

These turtles are not pets. Very few have been documented as being kept in captivity, and most of them didn’t live beyond 6 years with just one living to be over 25 years.

The northern spotted box turtle is best not kept as a pet. It is advisable to find a different species. 

Where can these turtles be found?

The northern spotted box turtle is a north American turtle that is endemic to northern Mexico. The subspecies can be found in Sonora, Chihuahua, and northern Sinaloa. However, they can also be found in southern Sinaloa, Jalisco, and Nayarit.

The turtle is endemic to the Sierra Madre Occidental. They can be found across the states within which the Sierra Madre Occidental is found, in particular the montane regions of their geographic range.

They can be found at an elevation of  450 m (1476 ft) to 1640 m (5381 ft) above sea level.

How big does the northern spotted box turtle get?

These turtles are moderately sized turtles, do not expect one to reach 12 inches long in carapace length. They reach a moderate length of 6 inches. And they can reach weights of 500 grams (17.6 oz).

Are northern spotted box turtles dangerous?

These turtles aren’t aggressive and can be easily picked up and handled. I advise against doing this unless it is Thisnecessary as this can be stressful for the turtle.

Conclusion

The northern spotted box turtle is one of the rarest box turtles in North America. In fact, this is one of the rarest turtles in North America. Few have been discovered, and fewer have been kept as pets. While it is possible to come across them, this is unlikely.

If you wish to identify the species, look for the tiny yellow spots on their carapace and skin.

Caring for this turtle shouldn’t be more difficult than other box turtles, however, only one specimen has been documented to live over 25 years. The rest lived to be anywhere from  3 months to 6 years.

If you have any questions about this turtle, kindly leave a comment.

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