It’s better to keep box turtles outside where they have plenty of space to roam around. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t provide a great home for your box turtle to live in inside your home. A large enough enclosure with proper heating elements and the right accessories will give your box turtle a lovely home.
A baby box turtle is a very small and cute creature. In the wild, these tiny hatchlings are born looking like their parents, but there’s no mother to protect them from day one. They’re on their own and have to provide for their needs. However, in captivity, you as its owner have to take care of them, but these tiny babies know how to take care of themselves more than you do. So unless you know how to raise hatchlings, it’s better to get an older box turtle as a pet instead. But if you decide to care for the baby box turtle, here are some things you need to know.
Before you can buy a baby box turtle, you need to know if it’s legal in your state because most pet stores don’t sell box turtles or any turtle that is less than 4 inches long unless it’s for educational purposes only. So you can only get a baby box turtle from a private breeder. You also need to know that all turtles carry salmonella that is dangerous to humans, especially the elderly, kids, and pregnant women. That’s why everyone in your household needs to understand the importance of washing and sanitizing their hands any time they handle the box turtle.
How to take care of your baby box turtle
The right housing and diet are very important factors you should consider when caring for your baby box turtle. You can keep your box turtle indoors or outdoors depending on the kind of space available and as long as the cage is 4 feet long, 8 inches tall, and 1 foot wide. Once you setup the habitat, you should get a healthy diet of leafy greens, fruits, veggies, animal protein, and other vegetation for your box turtle.
Keep your box baby turtle indoors in a simple plastic container or tub and fill it with a dampened substrate like loam compost or sphagnum moss. Set the ambient temperature between 82 and 85 degrees F. and the cool end of around 75 degrees F. Box turtles are diurnal so they’ll need UV lighting. Place full-spectrum fluorescent lights about 18 inches above the enclosure and set a timer for 12-14 hours a day. This will help balance the right temperature and humidity in the enclosure. You can also use a spray bottle to keep the substrate damp and use a small humidifier to raise the humidity levels.
It’s not advisable to keep your box baby turtle outside at first unless the climate in your area matches their needs and the enclose will be predator-proof and safe from the elements. However, if you still want to create an outside enclosure, you can use wood or concrete blocks around the enclosure and place a secure lid to prevent predators from getting into the enclosure. The enclosure should have access to a few hours of sunlight for the turtle to bask and provide plenty of shade too.
Place logs and leaves for burrowing, hunting, and sleeping, and place a large but shallow bowl with fresh water for drinking. The water bowl should be as close to the ground as possible to prevent the baby box turtle from climbing into the water, but you can also put a few stones in the dish to make it easier for your turtle to access the water. Make sure to spray the enclosure regularly to keep it damp throughout the day.
You should create an area in your turtle’s indoor tank where he can sit and bask. Sand, soil, or aquarium gravel will be the best substrate to use or arrange a few rocks to provide a flat and stable surface for your turtle to soak up the light and warmth from the heat lamp. However, you should avoid using tree bark or wood chips in your baby box turtle tank as he might ingest them and suffer from an intestinal blockage. Create an enclosure that is simple as a cluttered enclosure that can promote disease and bacterial growth.
Heat and light
Turtles need UVB light that will help to stimulate the production of vitamin D in their bodies or they will get sick. Provide a heat lamp or incandescent lights in your turtle’s tank and also make sure he soaks up some sunlight for a few hours every day. In the winter months, provide heat for your turtle during the night with something like a small ceramic heat emitter that will give out heat. However, be careful not to overheat the tank and a tank thermometer will help you keep the right temperatures in the tank.
Feeding your baby box turtle
Baby box turtles need a higher protein diet than adults so their diet should consist of 70% animal protein and 30% vegetation and fruits. Keep an eye on your baby turtle when feeding to make sure the food pieces are small enough to grasp and swallow easily or you might need to chop up the food to finer pieces if your baby turtle is struggling to eat. For the first 8-10 weeks, your baby box turtle will likely refuse to eat any plant matter, but keep offering it with each meal because your turtle will sense when their body needs the vegetation and will consume it.
Feed your baby turtle around mid-morning daily once they’ve warmed up. Place the food on a flat bowl for your baby turtle to easily see the food or move the food to a secluded place as baby turtles tend to be shy about eating. Chop the food into tiny pieces to make it easier for the baby turtle to eat and provide a variety of foods from each group.
- For animal proteins, you have crickets, grasshoppers, snails, worms, nightcrawlers, slugs, canned tuna, or salmon and to supplement the protein commercial turtle pellets and low-fat cat food.
- Veggies include kale, carrots, bell peppers, squash, turnip, green beans, pumpkin, peas, okra, mustard, clover, and dandelion.
- Fruits include berries, melon, grapes, apples, mangoes, peaches, tomatoes, and figs.
- Leafy greens include collard greens, endive, and romaine seaweed.
- Also, sprinkle some calcium supplement and multivitamin powder on your turtle’s food at least once every week.
Water for your baby turtle
Even if sometimes your baby box turtle doesn’t seem to want to eat every day, it will need to drink water every day and most likely more than once a day. Make sure the water is safe which means don’t use distilled water only use filtered or spring water. If the water contains chlorine and heavy metals it can irritate your baby turtle’s eyes. Water is important for box turtles because they love to soak in water and also excrete in it so you’ll need to change the water out frequently. Since your baby turtle may not always know when it’s getting dehydrated, you can place your turtle in the shallow water bowl every day for about an hour to keep your turtle hydrated. Then change the water because your turtle might pee in it. Box turtles aren’t the best swimmers so the water bowl should be fairly shallow but large enough to fit your baby turtle.
Handling your baby box turtle
Turtles don’t like a lot of handling so you need to be gentle with your turtle and you can still build a relationship with your baby box turtle without having to cuddle it. Turtles will bite you if they’re unhappy which can be very painful. If you’re careful around your turtle and avoid making any sudden movements, he will learn to love and trust you. Feed him at the same time to create a routine and he will be waiting for you when it’s feeding time.
- If you want to pick your turtle, don’t let his legs hang in the air, place him on your open palm and make sure his feet touch your hand to make him feel more comfortable.
- If your turtle is an indoor turtle, take it outside and put it in an outdoor enclosure if the weather is conducive, and keep an eye on it. Unless the outdoor enclosure is predator-proof, stay with your turtle to protect it.
- Always lift your turtle from the back, not the front because turtles are unpredictable and they can bite you. Your turtle may also urinate on you, so you should wear gloves when handling them.
- Turtle shells aren’t invincible, some turtles have soft shells that can be easily damaged, scratched, or cracked leading to a fungal infection. Even hard shells can break or get damaged so handle with care.
- Avoid placing your turtle on the edge of high places, they can easily climb over the edge and injure themselves when they fall.
- It’s not a good idea to touch the claws or legs of your turtle.
- Remember to always wash your hands before and after handling your baby turtle or his dishes.
Baby box turtle’s medical needs
Apart from the initial wellness checkup done on your baby turtle before you brought it home, you should also watch your turtle closely to see if he gets sick. If your baby box turtle isn’t eating properly, its eyes are swollen shut, or its shell has deformed, you need to question your caring technique. A veterinarian can do very little for a tiny box turtle while some will try to force-feed or give it injections, but the best thing to do is to find out the care routine that is making your turtle sick and correct it. By giving your baby turtle nutritious foods, extra warmth, rest, and topical or oral medication, you can avoid some of the problems. You can avoid feeding your baby turtle with slugs and garden worms to avoid intestinal worms. Their tiny bodies may not handle the shots needed to kill the worms in their bodies. Instead, you can feed them farm-raised live foods you can buy online.
What do turtles like to play with?
Turtles don’t like to be handled that much so it’s better to let them play with toys instead of playing with them. You can buy or make some exciting toys for your turtle to play with like:
- Empty shells that can slide across the floor and your turtle can chase them. Also, small rafts on the tank and the turtle will push them along the water.
- You can buy or make an obstacle maze with sticks, plants, and other items then place a treat at the end of the maze, and your turtle will try and find a way to reach it.
- You can also hide your turtle’s favorite treat in its enclosure and your turtle will go crazy trying to find it. this is a great exercise to help sharpen your turtle’s brain.
- Turtles like to dig and by putting some gravel substrate in its enclosure, your turtle will have fun foraging as it’s one of the turtle’s instincts.
- You can also include other inhabitants in your turtle’s tank-like live feeder fish, tadpoles, shrimp, and insects. Your turtle will love chasing them around and they can also be a healthy turtle snack.
Hibernation of box turtles
In the wild, there are several months in each year that are difficult to survive when the temperatures drop causing plants to wilt and bugs to become less accessible. Since reptiles are incapable of generating their body heat, they hibernate and skip these harsh months and later wake up when food is in plenty and the sun is shining. For box turtles to hibernate, they need to be healthy so that they can go for long without food.
However, for the first few years of a young turtle’s life, it doesn’t need to hibernate, but this causes most of the wild box hatchlings to die since they can’t survive the winter. Underweight turtles are also at risk when hibernating since they use up their existing body weight to sustain themselves which may not be enough. Captive hatchlings will often stay active and continue to eat throughout the first winter. They will then start to fast during the fall in their second or third year which is a sign that they’re ready for hibernation.
If you want to hibernate your baby box turtle, make sure you first visit the veterinarian for a checkup, then set up a hibernation box in a cool room and regularly check on it to make sure he’s still alive.
A guide to setting up your baby box turtle’s indoor habitat
To keep your baby turtle happy, there are a few things you will require. This can be a bit overwhelming if you haven’t set up a habitat before, but once you get the supplies you need it will be easier to set them up. This is a quick overview of a few things, not all thatyou’ll need for a good aquatic turtle tank setup.
This is the first item that you’ll need for your turtle’s habitat. A baby turtle doesn’t need a very big tank but it should have enough space for your turtle to be comfortable. This is a 3-gallon turtle tank that is built with a platform and ramp that your baby turtle can use when basking. It’s designed with 5 areas including a feeding trough, basking platform, swimming area, and docking ramp area. The tank is made with a durable, non-toxic plastic material and a spacious environment for your baby box turtle to live in.
You can supplement your baby turtle food with commercial turtle food, but don’t use it as the only source of nutrition for your baby turtle. This food contains fish bone meal, dried carrots, soybean meal, apple, whole corn, cornmeal, and other ingredients that will add vitamins and minerals to your baby turtle’s body.
Turtles need to bask to warm themselves up and this will help increase their metabolism and allow them to be active. This heat lamp emits both UVA and UVB light that will provide heat for your baby turtle that will help regulate his mood, metabolism, and production of vitamin D that is good for his bones and organs. The lamp is designed with a clamp to hold it steady and can rotate at a 360-degree angle which makes it very convenient to use.
A water filter is very important in keeping your turtle healthy. A good filter will not only filter out solid waste from the water, it will also filter out the ammonia and nitrates your turtle excretes. A canister aquarium filter is quick and easy to use. You can easily customize it to suit the needs of your turtle’s tank. The floss pad will remove all the fine particles while the activated carbon media will remove the impurities and toxins in the water leaving the water crystal clear, clean, and healthy for your baby turtle.
Your baby box turtle needs a large but shallow food and water bowl to make it easier for him to eat and drink. These beautiful and smooth leaf-shaped bowls are light and easy to clean. They have shallow rims that will give easy access to your small turtle friend. You can fix them in a corner of your turtle’s tank with tape so that they don’t easily turn over.
Baby box turtles are a joy to have, but they require a lot of time and extra care. Although it will not be easy, it can be very rewarding and a chance to bond with your new pet.