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Yucatan Box Turtle

The Yucatan box turtle is a subspecies of the common box turtle that is sometimes considered to be an individual species (Terrapene yucatana).

In terms of appearance, all these turtles look similar. They have dome-shaped carapaces and hinged shells. This allows the chelonian to retract into its shell and close it off.

The shells of these chelonians have impressive regenerative capabilities, with badly burned specimens completely regenerating their damaged shell. This all adds up to make the species hardy and contribute to their long lifespans.

Yucatan Box Turtle Facts

  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina yucatana / Terrapene yucatana / Terrapene mexicana yucatana
  • Average Adult Size: 6 inches (152 mm)
  • Average Lifespan: 40 years in captivity, 100 years in the wild
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Physical Appearance

Yucatan Box Turtle (Terrapene yucatana)
Yucatan Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina yucatana) in indoor enclosure

T. c. yucatana looks very much like the common box turtle (T. c. carolina). The head of this turtle is light-colored. Similarly, the carapace of this turtle is light-colored with star-shaped patterns. Unlike some box turtles such as the three-toed box turtle, T. c. yucatana has four toes on every single foot.

The average carapace length of this turtle is 6 inches. Some males also have pigmented faces that resemble makeup.

As with all other box turtles, these species have dome-shaped carapaces and hinged shells. They are also able to fully encase themselves within their shells.

Natural Habitat & Geographic Range

These turtles primarily live on land. They lay eggs in summer and hibernate in the winter if temperatures are low enough. However, in their native Yucatan in Mexico, this rarely happens.

These turtles can be found on the Yucatan Peninsula. They live in tropical forests and are difficult to come across. Even the natives rarely ever encounter them.

They are rarely bred and near impossible to be found in captivity.

Lifespan

Top of a Yucatan Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina yucatana)
Top of a Yucatan Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina yucatana)

The exact lifespan of this species is unknown, but by using the lifespan of closely related species, the longevity of T. c. yucatana can be determined.

Likewise, T. c. yucatana is sometimes considered to be a subspecies of the common box turtle. A species that is known to have an average lifespan of 100 years in the wild and 40 years in captivity.

They are also known to reach the age of 138 according to AnAge.

Diet

This chelonian is omnivorous and feeds on a wide range of plants and animals. Juveniles and hatchlings are mostly carnivorous while adults are mostly herbivorous. This is because juveniles and hatchlings require more protein.

Between age 0 and age 5 to 6 years, this species is mostly carnivorous. After age 6, they tend to be mostly herbivores.

Animals that these box turtles feed on include fish, frogs, birds, salamanders, insects, snails, worms, and slugs. They have also been known to eat carrion including dead mammals, amphibians, and birds.

Plants that these box turtles feed on include roots, flowers, berries, and fruits. They have also been known to eat fungi (mushrooms).

The juveniles generally hunt and feed in ponds and streams. Adults on the other hand prefer to feed on land.

Predators

While juveniles, eggs, and hatchlings have several predators, adults have very few predators. Once this turtle reaches adulthood, the chances of it becoming prey to another wild animal is very low.

Reproduction/Box turtles Eggs

While the species mate in spring and summer, they lay eggs in summer. The gravid females of this species can store sperms up to four years after successful mating. This means that the females can lay eggs four years after mating.

Nesting begins in May and ends in July. The species can lay 3 to 8 eggs per clutch with an average of 4 eggs.

The eggs are 30 mm long and 20 mm wide. They are oval-shaped with thin flexible white shells. The eggs hatch about three months after being laid. The temperature influences the incubation length as well as the sex of the turtle.

Temperatures between 71.6 degrees and 80.6 degrees generally yield males, while temperatures above 82.4 degrees generally yield females.

Yucatán Box Turtle Care Guide

Yucatan Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina yucatana) being held in hand with eyes closed
Yucatan Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina yucatana) being held in hand with eyes closed

Caring for these turtles isn’t difficult as far as the enclosure is properly set up. Humidity levels need to be in the right range, so do temperature levels and UVA+UVB exposure. Also, the enclosure needs to be spacious enough.

These turtles can be housed indoors or outdoors. If you live in southern North America (places such as Florida where temperatures are usually above 60 degrees), then an outdoor enclosure is an excellent choice as temperature and humidity levels will be excellent for the subspecies.

Housing

A spacious enclosure is recommended. I recommend a 64 ft² (ideally 8 x 8 ft) enclosure or larger with cinder block or wooden (untreated wood) walls. Regardless, make sure the turtle can’t see through the walls. This prevents unneeded stress or injury. If the turtle can see through the wall (for example hardware cloth), the turtle may think it can go through the wall when it can’t.

To prevent the turtle from burrowing underneath the wall ensure that it is at least 12 inches deep.

Temperatures

You need to create a warm end and a cool end within the enclosure. This will encourage the turtle to move around the enclosure as well as regulate its body temperature. As you may know, turtles like other reptiles are cold-blooded.

This means that their body temperature solely depends on the temperature of their environment. The temperature gradient in the enclosure within the enclosure allows them to regulate their body temperature.

The ambient temperature within the enclosure should be around 80-85 degrees during the day and about 70-75 degrees during the night.

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

It is okay to turn off the heat lamp during the night as far as temperatures do not fall below 70 degrees.

To keep track of the temperatures in the enclosure, you’ll need a couple of thermometers and perhaps a thermostat for the heat lamp.

Heat Lamps

Heat lamps that don’t produce visible light are best. They can be dimmed or even turned off without affecting the amount of light within the enclosure. They can also remain on during cold nights supplementary heating is needed.

There are two types of heat lamps I recommend and these are ceramic heat lamps and night incandescent heat bulbs.

Ceramic heat lamps are also known as ceramic heat emitters and they produce no light. Night incandescent heat bulbs produce a negligible amount of light.

Lighting

Yucatan Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina yucatana) looking up at camera
Yucatan Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina yucatana) looking up at camera

The species require UVA and UVB light to be healthy. The UVB light is necessary for vitamin D3 production which in turn is necessary for calcium absorption. UVA helps keep the turtle active.

There is one UVA/UVB bulb brand I recommend above all others is the Zoo Med ReptiSun. There is the Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 UVB Mini and the Zoo Med ReptiSun T5. I prefer the fluorescent tube to the bulb as the fluorescent tube provides more UV light exposure.

If you get the T5 fluorescent tube, then you’d need a T5 hood or lamp holder. If you go with a bulb, then you’ll need a bulb holder such as the Fluker’s Repta-Clamp Lamp.

Substrates

Substrates are necessary for this turtle’s enclosure. Substrates offer a wide variety of advantages. For starters, a good substrate is one that can maintain humidity levels within the enclosure.

This is crucial as these turtles require high humidity levels. You can use coco coir, bark mix, or even potting mix.

A mix of topsoil and play sand is a simple and effective substrate choice.

Jurassic Fir Bark Bedding and Exo Terra Coco Husk are excellent substrates that can be used as bedding.

Ensure that the substrate used doesn’t contain fertilizer.

Water & Humidity

Humidity levels need to be high. A relative humidity level of 60% to 80% should work. Low humidity levels can lead to respiratory infections.

Keep humidity levels high by slightly damping the substrate. You want it to be damp but not soaking wet. Also, providing a cover over half of the enclosure will ensure humidity doesn’t dissipate too quickly.

A water dish is essential. They provide the turtle with a source of drinking water as well as a place to soak when they feel dry.

The water in the dish needs to be changed regularly. That is once a day. Use dechlorinated water. Achieve this by leaving tap water uncovered for 48 hours, or providing the turtle with mineral water.

Recommended Products

Feeding the Yucatán Box Turtle

These turtles love to feed. They eat a wide variety of foods so feeding them isn’t difficult.

What you feed them will depend in part on foods available to you. However, remember that the healthier their diet is the healthier the turtle will be.

The Yucatan box turtle is omnivorous. Below age 5 to 6 years, this species is mostly carnivorous. After age 6, they tend to be mostly herbivores.

Animal source foods to feed them include lean meat, pinkie mice, grubs, mealworms, silkworm, blood worms, sow worms, superworms, wax worms, crickets, roaches, and feeder fish.

Plant-based foods can be offered often as well. These include leafy greens such as collard greens, romaine lettuce, turnip greens, mustard greens, wheatgrass, red leaf lettuce, kale, parsley, and swiss chard. These vegetables can be offered frequently – okra, green beans, peas in the pod, squashes, and wax beans.

Other vegetables to offer from time to time include broccoli, cabbage, beets, bean sprouts, mushrooms (fungus, technically not a vegetable or plant), and tomatoes.

Some fruits to offer them include strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, blueberries, blackberries, apples, persimmons, cantaloupes, pears, cherries, crabapples, kiwis, grapes, and fresh figs.

These turtles accept many other foods. However, avoid feeding them foods with refined sugar like candy, dairy products (lacticinia), processed human food like canned meat, and sausage, fatty meat, tobacco leaves, rhubarb leaves, potato leaves, tomato leaves and vines, and avocado leaves, seeds, and peels.

Feed hatchlings every day, juveniles every day, subadults every other day, and adults every 2 to 3 days.

Breeding and Availability

Neither are these turtles present on the pet trade nor are they bred. Even the locals barely come across specimens of the species.

You would be hard-pressed to find a specimen for sale. However, you may find pet Yucatan box turtles every so often.

Health Problems

These turtles face the health problems faced by other box turtles. These include parasites, infections, and nutrient deficiency.

Nutritional Metabolic Bone Disease – This is caused by vitamin D and/or calcium deficiency. Symptoms include a soft shell, disfigured or pyramided shell, and disfigured limbs. When corrected early, permanent damage done isn’t noticed. However, when corrected late, the damage is permanent although you can stop this damage from worsening.

This disease can be prevented by ensuring that the turtle receives an adequate amount of vitamin D3 (through exposure to UVB light) and adequate amounts of calcium.

Parasites – Parasites such as flagellates are common among wild-caught turtles in Mexico. This is treated by a herp vet using metronidazole.

Respiratory infection – Symptoms of this include loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and wheezing. This is usually caused by low humidity levels as well as vitamin A deficiency. This health issue is best solved by a vet.

Conservation/Threats

Little is known about the threats that these turtles face.

FAQ’s

How long do Yucatán box turtles live?

As with other box turtles, this is a long-lived turtle with individuals growing to over 100 years. This chelonian is considered a subspecies common box turtle and these turtles can grow to be 138 years.

Are Yucatán box turtles good pets?

Since these turtles are very rare, they can’t be considered good pets. It is better to consider other types of box turtles such as three-toed box turtles, eastern box turtles, and the Florida box turtle.

Where is the Yucatán box turtle found?

These turtles are found on the Yucatan Peninsula. They get their common name from this locality. Even within their geographic range, they are quite rare.

What eats the Yucatán box turtle?

These turtles are omnivores and as such eat many different foods. They eat fish, frogs, birds, salamanders, insects, snails, worms, slugs, and carrion in the wild. Plants they eat in the wild include roots, flowers, berries, and fruits.

In captivity, they accept lean meat, fish, pinkie mice, insects, worms, flowers, leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and berries.

How large do Yucatán box turtles get?

These chelonians aren’t huge. The average carapace length is six inches.

Conclusion

Yucatán box turtles are very rare. As such, they aren’t commonly kept as pets. These turtles are endemic to Mexico, particularly the Yucatan Peninsula. Their geographic range gives these subspecies their common name. 

These turtles are generally considered a subspecies of Terrapene carolina (commonly known as the common box turtle, eastern box turtle, or Florida box turtle), which is evident by their IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG) page (https://iucn-tftsg.org/terrapene-carolina-085) as well as information provided by Animal Diversity Web (ADW: Terrapene carolina yucatana: CLASSIFICATION). 

The subspecies are sometimes considered subspecies of the Mexican box turtles (Terrapene mexicana yucatana) or a separate species (Terrapene mexicana yucatana).

As a subspecies of the eastern box turtle, the care sheet is similar to that of the eastern box turtle.

If you want any questions or additional information, kindly leave a comment.

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