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Box Turtle

Natural History

Found in North America and Mexico, box turtles can be found in a variety of habitats, including thick woodlands, dry prairies, and deserts. However, they will never be far from water. They are not especially good swimmers, but they need water for drinking and for cooling off on hot days.
Box turtles are easily identified by their high-domed shell and stumpy feet. They also have the ability to completely close up within their shell, a superb defense mechanism that not all turtles possess. They are omnivorous, but usually tend to eat meat until their later years when they will eat fruits and vegetables almost exclusively. It is not unusual for a box turtle to live 30 or even 50 years.


Box turtles are known to be picky eaters. This is not only a matter of them being partial to certain foods, but more that they are very particular about their living conditions. If a box turtle is unhappy with his captive surroundings, he is likely to stop eating. Most box turtles would rather die of starvation than live in a situation that is not appealing to them. Therefore, it is very important for an owner to carefully observe the eating habits of the box turtle and to consider adjusting more than the food offered if he is not eating.
They can also be rather picky about the foods they accept. Thankfully, there is a wide variety of foods that are suitable for box turtles. If your turtle seems comfortable in his surroundings but still ignores the food your offer him, try a different type of food. Keep trying until you find one that he thoroughly enjoys.
Earthworms are a popular food choice for most turtles. Of all the foods offered in captivity, earthworms are probably the one most often accepted. They are usually one of the first foods a turtle is fed, and they can jumpstart a turtle's appetite for other foods. You can catch your own earthworms or purchase them from a pet store or bait shop.
Many insects are also suitable for feeding to your box turtle. Crickets, flies, grasshoppers, and spiders are just some examples of insects that he will eagerly consume. Crickets can be purchased at any pet store that sells herps, while most other insects are difficult to find for sale and will likely have to be caught.
Box turtles are mainly herbivorous and will generally accept a variety of fruits and vegetables. Some popular choices are apples, cantelope, strawberries, bananas, cucumbers, carrots, and beets. Some turtles will only accept one or two fruits or vegetables, but most will enjoy a variety. Some box turtle owners will even make a fruit salad for their pet, storing it in the refrigerator and spooning out just a helping now and then.


Box turtles are fairly easy to keep, as they have fewer housing needs than some other turtles. They don't care much for the confines of captivity and prefer to be kept outside. They should be given as much room as possible, which means a turtle pen may be the best housing option. However, if your box turtle must be kept inside, a large glass aquarium can be a suitable home.
If you decide to build an outside turtle pen, an enclosure that is 4 feet by 4 feet is a perfect size. Build a simple frame with walls that are about 2 feet off the ground and extend at least a foot under the ground, as box turtles are great diggers and could possibly dig their way to freedom. A cover is optional but will provide good security if the pen is ever approached by another animal, such as a dog or a raccoon.
Natural plants are a nice addition to any turtle home. Using perennials is a great idea and will save you the hassle of worrying about replacement plants. The housing should also include a water bowl. Make sure the bowl you choose is sturdy or else your box turtle will constantly be knocking it over and be left without water for a time. Finally, a hide area is a necessary component, which can be easily created using some large rocks that have been cemented together.

Health Care

Box turtles are susceptible to a variety of diseases and conditions, but many health problems can be avoided by taking preventative measures. First of all, your turtle's living quarters should be cleaned on a regular basis. Many bacteria will thrive in an unclean enclosure, leaving your turtle susceptible to a variety of health issues.


An intestinal infection, salmonellosis affects most animals, including turtles. They generally contract it from infected food sources or from contact with other infected turtles. It is passed on to humans via bacteria in unclean surroundings, such as dirty water and feces, or by direct contact with an infected turtle.
Salmonellosis can usually be avoided by taking proper precautions. Your box turtle's water must be changed frequently, whether is appears to be dirty or not. It is also very important to keep the tank clean, sticking to a regular cleaning schedule, if at all possible. In addition, be vigilant about scrubbing your hands and arms after touching your turtle.

Soft Shell

This condition is encountered by many captive turtles and can be a very serious problem. It is caused by a calcium deficiency along with a lack of vitamin D3 and sunlight. Its obvious symptom is a softness and flexibility of the edges of the turtle's shell. It is more difficult to diagnose in young turtles because their shells tend to be soft already, but there may also be some discoloration of the shell, turning it a bleached white color.
To avoid soft shell or to cure it in its early stages, make sure your turtle is getting the amount of full-spectrum lighting he needs. In addition, alter his diet to include more calcium. You can also purchase calcium powder to mix in with your box turtle's food once a week.

Getting Started

One of the easiest ways to keep your box turtle happy and healthy is to provide him with all the things that he needs. The following is a list of some suggested items:

Cage (preferably an outdoor pen)
Heat Source (basking light)
Lighting (UVB source)
Hide Box
Water Bowl
Food (insects, earthworms, fruits, vegetables)

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