Box Turtles
Box TurtleBox TurtleBox Turtle
What should you expect from your box turtle?

Box turtles are quiet but active, and you can spend hours observing their daily activities. Each has its own distinctive personality. An individual turtle has a unique shell pattern by which it can be identified. Because the shell is living tissue, it is unacceptable to carve or drill holes in the shell for identification or any other reason.

When handling your box turtle, support its body with both hands and position your fingers beneath its feet so it feels secure. Because turtles can transmit disease organisms such as Salmonella to people, it is advisable to wash your hands following handling and to clean the turtles enclosure away from food preparation areas.

How should you care for your box turtle?

The most important aspect of caring for your turtle is its diet. Box turtles are omnivorous, so they need both vegetable matter and animal protein in their diet. A grated salad of vitamin-rich vegetables and fruits such as sweet potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, berries and flowers (hibiscus, geraniums, nasturtiums) should be provided. Animal protein can be made available with pesticide free earth worms, slugs, crickets (fed a high-quality, preferably organic diet), grasshoppers and chopped pinkie mice.

The availability in the enclosure of correct temperature ranges (warm for daytime, cool for night, and cooler still for hibernation) is also essential. Most box turtles will show a decreased appetite and activity in the fall; they should be allowed to hibernate only if healthy. Contact a reptile veterinarian, such as the ones at Saukville Veterinary Clinic, for a health examination and specific hibernation information.

What do box turtles do all day?

Turtles develop a regular schedule of sleeping, bathing, sunning and eating. If they aren't housed outdoors, they need access to an area of soil in their enclosure so they can dig. Digging helps keep their nails shortened. Box turtles also like to bury themselves in leaves, so these can be provided in a corner of the pen.

Free-ranging North American Box Turtles are considered to be terrestrial and have varying degrees of exposure to water for swimming; Asian Box Turtles like to spend more time in water. In captivity, a flat container with water provided to a depth of one-fourth to one-third of the turtles shell height should be available. The water must be kept scrupulously clean. Filtration systems are less effective than using a container that is easily and readily cleaned.

Are box turtles tame?

Turtles do recognize their owners, but signs of affection are difficult to determine. They rarely show aggression, but may occasionally bite and pinch a finger. If they are prodded, most retreat into their shell. Although relatively solitary animals, they can be housed together regardless of gender.

How can you keep your box turtle healthy, happy and safe?
  • Take your new turtle to an experienced retile veterinarian, such as the ones at Saukville Veterinary Clinic, to check for potential signs of stress, dehydration, or disease.
  • Provide high quality, pesticide-free vegetable and animal sources of food. Avoid feeding foods that contain few nutrients, such as iceberg lettuce.
  • Feed young turtles everyday; adults are fed less often and less quantities of animal protein as they grow older.
  • Dog food is not recommended as part of a turtles diet, even if it is a low-protein, low-fat formula.
  • If the turtle is housed outdoors, the fence must be recessed into the ground at least 2 inches, and visual barriers and protection from predators must be provided.

Housing for your box turtle:
  • Must offer an approximate temperature around 65 degrees (night) to 80 degrees (day). To avoid potential burns, use a thermometer to monitor temperatures.
  • May be indoors in a large 40 gallon or larger aquarium with land and water areas.
  • May include 2-3 inches of sterile potting soil mixed with finely shredded orchid bark for land area.
  • Must provide direct sun outdoors or full-spectrum lighting (with UVB) indoors on a timer (14 hour day, 10 hour night).
  • Should include a basking place that is heated from above with a radiant heat source of sunlamp.
  • Should include an enclosed sleeping/hiding area such as a three-sided box or a flower pot on its side.

Things you must keep away from your box turtle:

  • Direct contact with heat or light sources
  • Sand, aquarium or pea gravel
  • Ground corncobs, walnut shells, artificial grasses
  • Cedar or other pressure treated wood chips
  • Running loose in the home
  • Dogs, raccoons and other predators
  • Temperature extremes
  • Loud noises
  • Pesticides
  • Young children


For more information: Association of Reptile & Amphibian Vets