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The Complete Eastern Box Turtle Care Sheet

When browsing your local pet store it is all too easy to fall for an Eastern Box Turtle baby. Their stubby legs and beady eyes are hard to resist. And even when they are full grown, Box Turtles remain smaller than most turtles and simpler to house.

Terrapene carolina carolina
iNaturalist

So what is involved in caring for these chunky native reptiles? Eastern Box Turtle care is not very difficult. And as long-lived as they are, you will have a lifetime of enjoyment from your new turtle pet.

What is the Eastern Box Turtle?

Eastern Box Turtles are found throughout the Southeastern United States. They are found from East Texas and Arkansas all the way north to Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

Box Turtles get their name from their high-domed, blocky shells. Near the front and back of the belly shell (plastron) they have a hinge. This acts as a seal, allowing the Box Turtle to close up their shell when they retract inside.

While Box Turtles are native the USA they also bred in captivity. You will sometimes see color morphs like the Super Red Box Turtle for sale, with brighter colors than wild turtles.

You should never keep a wild Eastern Box Turtle pet. These animals don’t do well in captivity when taken from the wild. 

Plus they are threatened in much of their range from habitat loss and vehicle strikes. Taking a turtle from the wild makes it even harder for wild turtles to find mates. 

Last, collecting wild Eastern Box Turtles is illegal in several states since they are protected by law. Just keep captive-raised Box Turtles and allow wild ones to remain where they are. 

Eastern Box Turtle Lifespan

A solid Eastern Box Turtle lifespan is 40 to 50 years in captivity. But wild Box Turtles have been captured that are much older than this. The record for the oldest Box Turtle is almost 100 years of age. So choose a Box Turtle pet with care as they are a lifelong commitment.

  • Common Name: Eastern Box Turtle 
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina
  • Origin: Eastern United States
  • Length: Up to 7 inches long
  • Tank Size: 75+ gallons
  • Lifespan: 50 to 100 years
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Eastern Box Turtle Care

Since the Eastern Box Turtle lives mostly on land you will need to put a bit more thought in designing an enclosure for one. They also have specific needs for ultraviolet and infrared lighting.

Eastern Box Turtle Care

Eastern Box Turtle Aquarium Size

Eastern Box Turtles are medium-sized turtle species. The rule of thumb for choosing a turtle tank or aquarium is to give 10 gallons of space per inch of pet turtle. 

Adult box turtles will reach 5 to 7 inches in size. This makes a 75 gallon aquarium the appropriate size for a single turtle. If you have a baby box turtle you can keep them in smaller aquariums. Just be ready to upgrade over time.

Lighting for Eastern Box Turtles

One of the most important elements to Eastern Box Turtle care is a light system of the right spectrum. Lights that just output visible light are not enough for these animals. Reptiles need both UVb and infrared (heat) radiation. 

UVb helps the turtle create Vitamin D3 through skin and shell exposure. Humans do this too, by the way. But we also get Vitamin D3 from the food we eat. Some turtle food formulas are enriched with Vitamin D3 in case their enclosure does not have proper UVb bulbs. 

But there have been no conclusive studies showing that turtles get Vitamin D3 from the food they eat. So it’s best to provide it via good lighting.

The basking area needs to also have a heat bulb. How strong the heat bulb needs to be depends on the distance from the basking surface and the total area covered. Use a thermometer to gauge how hot the air and surface temperature get. 

The air temperature inside your Eastern Box Turtle tank should be 75-80°F. And the surface temperature of the basking area should not get any warmer than 90°F. Otherwise the turtle may get burns on its plastron.

Do Eastern Box Turtles Live in Water?

Eastern Box Turtles are in the true Pond Turtle family (family Emydidae), which are almost all aquatic or semi-aquatic. But most Box Turtles are more similar to true tortoises in their habits. 

Except for a few, like the Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila), Box Turtles spend most of their time on land. Even the Eastern Box Turtle will swim if it needs to. But they don’t swim well and can’t hold their breath for long. They may even drown if the water is too deep or fast moving.

So any water area you provide for your turtle needs to be both shallow and easy to get in and out of. The water should be no deeper than the height of their shell. Also add a ramp or other slope so the Box Turtle can climb in and out safely.

A Turtle Tank Filter will also help keep the bathing area clean and low in ammonia and pathogens. Turtles enjoy eating and pooping in their water as well. So even with a turtle tank filter, frequent water changes are necessary. 

What Do Eastern Box Turtles Eat

What Do Eastern Box Turtles Eat?

Despite their slow metabolisms Eastern Box Turtles have a hearty appetite. They are true omnivores, just like us humans, and need a varied diet. You will need to provide a blend of 50% animal and 50% plant material for them.

For protein, a variety of small animal based food is best. Food they will eat include earthworms, mealworms, chunks of seafood, cooked eggs, live snails, slugs, and insects. Supplementing these items with a vitamin dusting will ensure your Eastern Box Turtle gets enough calcium and other important nutrients.

And on the vegetable side, Box Turtles enjoy leafy greens like lettuce, kale, spinach, and chard. Small chunks of fruit like strawberries, melon, and grapes are relished by them. As are vegetables like squash, tomato, and carrot (grated).

A good quality prepared food formula will also supplement an Eastern Box Turtle diet. But it can’t replace fresh items entirely.

An Eastern Box Turtle baby should be fed every day since it is still growing. You don’t need to feed a pet turtle everyday. Three times per week first thing in the morning is enough for an adult black and yellow turtle.

Can I Pick Up an Eastern Box Turtle Pet?

Eastern Box Turtles are one of the more “handleable” types of pet turtles. If you get them used to being handled when they are very young they may lose the habit of retracting into their shells. Some reptile keepers also report that Eastern Box Turtle pets enjoy light rubs on their heads and necks.

That said, you should not make it a daily affair. Turtles tend to tolerate being handled more than truly enjoying it like a mammal does. Eastern Box Turtles aren’t social animals like we are and it’s easy to project feelings that aren’t there. 

You will need to handle your Box Turtle every so often when doing maintenance, however. So training your turtle not to be frightened, or worse, try to bite, is a good idea.

Biting is pretty rare, by the way. Eastern Box Turtles are mild mannered animals and will just retreat into their shells if they don’t want to be disturbed. An adult might give a good nip but they can’t compare to a Snapping Turtle for bite force. 

Your children will find a Box Turtle baby to be adorable. But you should prevent them from handling them too often as it will cause the turtle severe stress.

Eastern Box Turtle: Conclusion

Eastern Box Turtles are one of the easier terrestrial turtles to care for. They don’t need as large an area to swim in as Red Eared Sliders or Painted Turtles. And they are not aggressive and don’t bite when handled. These traits make them an ideal pet turtle for beginners

More Frequently Asked Questions about Eastern Box Turtles

This Eastern Box Turtle care guide covers all of the basics of these reptiles. But if you have a few more questions about them, here are the ones I most frequently receive.

How Much are Eastern Box Turtles?

A baby Box Turtle of the wild color variety will cost around $100. For color morphs that have brighter colors you may end up paying $250 or more. Box Turtles are not as common as Sliders and other pond turtles so they tend to cost more.

Are Eastern Box Turtles Poisonous?

Box Turtles are neither poisonous nor venomous. Their one defense is to retreat into their shell. They then seal the front and rear using hinges on the plastron.

Do Boxing Turtles Bite?

Box Turtles almost never bite as they don’t have much bite force. They prefer to just retreat into their shell when threatened. “Almost never” is not never, though. A Box Turtle might decide to bite if bothered too much. Children poking a turtle’s eyes or mouths might get bitten by one.

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.