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Box Turtle - Eastern

Alternative Name
Common Box Turtle, Common Eastern Box Turtle Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina

Basic Info

When full grown, Eastern Box Turtles are typically 4.5 to 6 inches long (11 to 15 centimeters), but they can grow to nearly 8 inches (20 centimeters). The Eastern Box Turtle has a high-domed, rounded, keeled carapace. The keel is much more pronounced in younger individuals. The plastron consists of an anterior and a posterior lobe, which are joined by a flexible hinge. The toes are clawed and somewhat webbed. Adult females tend to have very long, slightly curved rear claws. The males' rear claws are usually shorter, thicker, and more curved than the females'. Coloration and markings are highly variable. The ground color of the skin and carapace is usually a shade of olive or brown, but the carapace may be nearly black. The skin and carapace are decorated with yellow or orange lines, blotches, and spots. The markings on the carapace tend to fade in older box turtles. Males typically have brighter skin markings than females and red eyes, whereas the females usually have yellowish or brown eyes. The plastron is dull yellow with a darker central area and sometimes has dark lines or other markings. Adult males have a somewhat concave posterior lobe, while the female's is flat or may be slightly convex.


Ideally, Box Turtles should be housed outdoors when weather permits and can be allowed to brumate outdoors in suitable climates. Because box turtles dig burrows to brumate in and may dig at other times, the perimeter walls of the enclosure should extend about 2 feet below ground level to prevent escapes. Alternatively, the enclosure could be made with a solid or wire bottom that is then covered with soil or other substrate. The enclosure should be in an area that gets a lot of sun, but the box turtles should always have access to shade. It is a good idea to provide a box in the shade with a slightly moist sand and soil mixture that they can burrow into a bit, if it gets to dry or hot for them in their outdoor pen. When housed indoors it is very important to provide sufficient UVB exposure. Two full spectrum fluorescents with high UVB output are recommended. The bulbs should be positioned no more than12 inches (30.5 centimeters) above the turtles and should be on for 12 or 13 hours a day. The ambient daytime temperature should be 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 29 degrees Celsius) with a basking area about 98 degrees (37 degrees Celsius). Heat should be provided via an overhead source such as a ceramic heat emitter or incandescent bulb. Under-tank heaters and rock heaters are not appropriate for turtles. At night the temperature should drop to between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21 and 24 degrees Celsius). They are omnivores and should be fed a wide variety of foods such as worms, crickets, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, canned low-fat dog food (a premium brand), commercial box turtle foods, and primate biscuits softened in water. Adults can also be offered pinkie mice occasionally. Lettuce should not be offered because it is nutritionally very poor. High-oxalate vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and spinach should also be avoided, because oxalates bind calcium, preventing it from being utilized. Insects, fruits, mushrooms, and vegetables should be dusted with a calcium supplement. Calcium deficiencies are perhaps the biggest health concern with captive box turtles. They can be avoided by providing sufficient UVB exposure and a proper diet. Box turtles, particularly hatchlings, are sometimes reluctant to eat, and individuals can show definite preferences for certain food items, sometimes to the point of refusing all else. It can be very difficult to get such turtles to eat a more varied diet, but it is important that they do. Box Turtles sometimes become obese in captivity, sometimes to the point of being unable to pull their limbs inside their shell. This is usually the result of an improperly balanced diet that contains too much animal matter or feeding very fattening foods, such as pinkie mice and dog food, too frequently. An adult Eastern Box Turtle's diet should consist mostly of plant matter, with only about 35% being made up of animal matter. A diet too high in protein can cause shell deformities and renal problems. Eastern Box Turtles like to soak in water and should have a shallow pool that they can easily get into and out of. Their pool will need to be cleaned frequently, because they often defecate in the water. Breeding Adult Eastern Box Turtles are fairly easy to sex visually. Males of this species can be distinguished from females by their concave plastron in most cases. In addition, males usually have red eyes, and females usually have yellowish or brown eyes. The tail can also be a distinguishing characteristic. Male's tails tend to be thicker at the base, and the female's cloaca is often located under the carapace, while the male's is usually past the carapace. Eastern Box Turtles mate in the spring, summer, and early fall and nest from May to July. Females can store sperm and lay fertile eggs up to 4 years after a successful copulation. The male will circle the female, biting and ramming or pushing her before mounting her and copulating. The female will dig out a nest in the ground, lay her eggs, and then fill the nest back up with soil. Eastern Box Turtle females can lay a clutch of anywhere between 3 and 8 eggs, with 5 eggs per clutch being typical. The eggs can be incubated in damp vermiculite or perlite at between 72 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 30 degrees Celsius), and incubation takes 50 to 90 days, depending largely on the temperature. Eggs incubated at the lower temperatures generally take longer to hatch than those incubated at warmer temperatures. Like many reptiles, the incubation temperature determines the gender of the hatchlings. Clutches incubated at the lower end of the range will produce mostly male hatchlings, and those incubated above 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) will produce mostly females. In the wild, incubation typically takes between 60 and 99 days.

Box Turtle - Eastern picture

Found near bodies of freshwater


Eastern box turtles are widespread, inhabiting much of the eastern and central United States. The Eastern Box Turtle is and one of the most common box turtles both in the wild and in captivity. It is often a preferred choice for a pet box turtle because it is one of the easiest box turtles to maintain successfully and because it is a colorful species. Box turtles are often touted as good pet turtles for children, because they are usually docile, do not grow as large as most other turtles, and do not require an aquatic set-up; however, they can be difficult to acclimate and have specific care requirements that must be met in order to ensure their long-term health and well being. While most box turtles can swim and are found near bodies of freshwater, they are not amphibious like the typical turtle; rather they are land turtles that resemble tortoises in both their physical appearance and mode of life. Because of this, they are sometimes erroneously referred to as "box tortoises," but they are, in fact, more closely related to the amphibious turtles and are classified with them as members of the family Emydidae - the freshwater turtles. The box turtle's plastron is hinged, allowing the turtle to "box" its tail, legs, and head inside its shell when threatened. The shell closes surprisingly tightly, and only those predators that can bite through the shell pose a serious threat. Young box turtles lack this ability and are much easier prey. Unlike many reptiles, Eastern Box Turtles do not exhibit territorial behavior. Home ranges often overlap, and when the box turtles come into contact with one another, they show no apparent signs of aggression. Box turtles are omnivores. The make-up of the diet changes as they age and according to the seasonal availability of foods. Juveniles are mostly or entirely carnivorous, but as they age, plant matter will make up a greater portion of their diet. The meaty portion of the Eastern Box Turtle's diet consists of invertebrates such as insects, snails, and worms and small vertebrates including birds, snakes, and amphibians. They also eat the eggs of ground nesting birds and have been observed eating carrion. The diet of adult Eastern Box Turtles consists largely of fungi and plant material such as flowers and berries, and typically only about 35% of the diet consists of animal matter. Eastern Box Turtles inhabit open woodland areas, grasslands, and thickets, often keeping within a home range that has a body of freshwater. Eastern Box turtles are diurnal; and during the day, when the weather is suitable, they will be out foraging for food, basking, or soaking in mud or shallow water. In the evening they will find a secure spot and dig a shallow depression in the ground to sleep in. When days become particularly hot or dry, box turtles will limit their activities to mornings and otherwise are inactive, except after a rain. To avoid the sun and heat, they will hide under logs or leaf litter, often digging out shallow depressions in the dirt to sit in, or they may soak in shaded shallow water or mud. During the winter months box turtles brumate underground. They will dig burrows up to 2 feet deep, or may use pre-existing burrows of mammals or other box turtles to over-winter in. Eastern Box Turtles from different regions brumate at different times, usually beginning between October and December, depending on temperatures in their region. Those in the northern part of their range begin brumating earlier than those in southern regions, where fall and winter temperatures are higher. It is usually sometime in April when they come out of brumation and begin mating, which may continue through summer. Eggs are laid between May and July.


United States


The Eastern Box Turtle ranges from southeastern New Hampshire south to northern parts of Florida and west to Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and northeastern Mississippi. The Eastern Box Turtle intergrades with the Florida Box Turtle (T. c. bauri) and the Gulf Coast Box Turtle (T. c. major) in the southernmost parts of its range and the Three-toed Box Turtle (T. c. triunguis) along the western edge of its range. Eastern Box Turtles are relatively common in the wild, but it is believed that this may change due to habitat destruction and over-collection, and most states in their range now prohibit their collection from the wild.

Common Foods

hey are omnivores and should be fed a wide variety of foods such as worms, crickets, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, canned low-fat dog food (a premium brand), commercial box turtle foods, and primate biscuits softened in water. Adults can also be offered


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