The Eastern box turtle is a cool looking small turtle with very striking colors, orange-red eyes, and sharp-looking claws. This colorful turtle got its name from its ability to completely box itself inside its shell when it doesn’t feel safe.
The colors of the Eastern box turtle mostly remain the same on most turtles but each of their shells is unique and very striking with vibrant orange-yellow colors while others have mostly brown shells. The males are more colorful than the females with orange-red eyes while the females have brown eyes. Their skin also has different colors like brown, yellow, gray, and orange which helps them to blend in with their protective shell. Although this turtle species is considered to be small, the male Eastern box turtle is larger than the female with the largest turtle measuring up to 18 cm. These turtles have 5 toes on their front legs and 4 on the back legs with sharp claws that help them to move on the ground. However, instead of using the sharp claws for protection when facing a predator, they withdraw into their shell which makes it impossible to prey on.
This box turtle is a small creature that only reaches 6 inches in length and weighs less than a pound. Its upper shell or carapace resembles a box hence its name, and it has a brown color with different patterns of yellow and orange markings. The lower shell or plastron is hinged to the upper one which allows the turtle to hide its whole body inside providing complete protection. The lower shell usually has a dark brown color with no distinct markings. The box turtle has dark scaly skin with yellow markings.
The Eastern box turtle is mostly found along the eastern U.S from Maine to Florida while some can be found in other states. It can live in a variety of habitats from dry grassy fields to damp forests, and shallow waters, but will hibernate when it gets cold. Box turtles are very popular as pets because they have a great ability to adapt to environments easily which makes them easy to house, but they require more specialized care than other pet animals. Box turtles love warm weather but when it gets too hot, they retreat into their shell to protect themselves from the hot sun. To keep themselves cool, they take a swim in a pond or hide under leaves and logs, but when it’s not too hot, you’ll find it searching for food or basking in the sun.
Eastern box turtles don’t live very well with other animals in a captive setting. They will eat the fish, amphibians, and other freshwater animals you put in their tank, but don’t put frogs in the tank because they will expose your turtle to the fatal ranavirus. You should also not put them together with other turtle species or subspecies as they can spread and catch diseases very easily. It’s best to keep them on their own or with a small group of other Eastern box turtles.
How to care for the Eastern box turtle
The nesting season for box turtles is from May to July and they usually have one clutch yearly with 1-8 eggs in each clutch. The turtles will dig nests several inches in the soil and incubate the eggs for 3 months but this will somehow depend on the moisture and temperature in the soil. Just like other turtle species, the temperature in the nest will determine the sex of the hatchlings. A warmer nest will usually produce females, while a cooler nest will produce males. An Eastern box turtle matures at 10-20 years and can live for more than 100 years.
Housing the Eastern box turtle
The Eastern box turtle is a small and colorful creature that can make excellent lifelong pets. However, some of these turtles may have a hard time adjusting to their new home, so proper care for your new turtle is important so they can have long and healthy lives. Creating a comfortable enclosure and keeping it well fed and healthy will ensure your turtle is happy.
The Eastern box turtle may be small but it’s very active and energetic, and if it has enough space to move it can travel up to 50 m per day. It’s most active early in the morning when it’s moist and damp. An indoor tank isn’t the best habitat for this turtle. It’s better to keep in in an outdoor pond or enclosure where there’s lots of space to move around. The enclosure should be at least 4 sq. feet and 15 inches high to prevent the turtle from escaping. Although box turtles don’t climb, they can dig their way out. Also, ensure the enclosure has some sunny and shaded areas and is protected from predators and harsh climate.
If you want to keep your turtle in a tank, look for a long paludarium with fresh water with a pH of 6-7 and moist potting soil, and you must keep the tank moist and misted daily. Turtles are very messy so the tank will require constant cleaning and powerful filtration and a canister filter is the best filter to use in a box turtle tank. You should also maintain temperatures of between 75-80 degrees F. in the tank.
Even though your turtle will not spend most of its time in the water, it should have access to a shallow pan of water (2-3 inches of water for adult turtles and less for the hatchlings) in the tank or pond to swim in. the water shouldn’t reach above the turtle’s shell. Turtles are cold-blooded so they can’t regulate their body temperature internally so they need to bask in the sun to warm themselves.
The natural sunlight will help your turtle produce vitamin D, but if you keep your turtle indoors you can use UVB lights or incandescent lights in the tank to provide your turtle with the heat it needs. You should keep the lights on for at least 10-12 hours a day and change them after every 6-9 months because their UV strength diminishes with time. Your box turtle will crawl up on logs and stones and sit under the sun to warm itself, but it doesn’t like direct sunlight so it will also need some shade.
Your Eastern box turtle will prefer a sunny place in its outdoor enclosure where it can bask in the sun with temperatures between 85-88 degrees F. and also a shaded area that is around 75 degrees F. at night the temps both indoor and outdoor shouldn’t drop to below70 degrees F., but if the outdoor temps are not conducive, you should move your turtle to the indoor tank with heat lamps to keep it warm.
You should keep the humidity in the tank high because Eastern box turtles thrive in very humid areas. Use a spray bottle to mist your turtle’s enclosure or tank 2-3 times daily to keep it very humid. A humidity gauge or hydrometer will help you know how humid the enclosure is and ensure that it stays at least 80% humid at all times.
Place beddings at the bottom of the enclosure that is similar to what can be found in the box turtle’s natural environment. You can use hay, carpeting, pellets, mulch, or moss-type beddings because they will help to retain moisture and increase the humidity in the enclosure. Place enough beddings in the shaded area and make sure it’s deep enough for your turtle to burrow. You should spot clean the substrate daily and change it out at least after every week or two. You can clean the tank after a week or two. Wood chips preferably alfalfa pellets are ideal for your turtle’s indoor tank because they will allow your turtle to burrow. However, avoid using sand, gravel, or soil because your turtle can ingest and cause intestinal blockage.
Food and water
Eastern box turtles are omnivores so they can eat different kinds of food in the wild so you should keep their diet as close to their natural one as possible. They can eat just about anything including leafy greens like plantain weeds, romaine lettuce, endives, veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, pumpkins, fruits like apples, papayas, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, fish, insects, amphibians, and even baby mice. Their diet should contain 60% animal protein and 40% plant matter. They tend to like eating bright-colored foods like carrots and tomatoes. Their daily diet should contain low-fat protein foods like earthworms, snails, grasshoppers, and crickets, but you can also supplement it with low-fat dog food or cooked lean meat.
You should take your turtle to the vet to get information on the exact amount of food your turtle should eat based on its size and age. You should also give it a calcium supplement to help keep its shell strong and healthy. Make sure that your turtle has fresh water throughout the day. You should feed your adult box turtle just before dawn between 4-6 in the morning and at least 3 times a week. Juveniles need food every day with more portions of meat than adults.
Young box turtles grow quickly and tend to be carnivorous at this stage because they need a lot of energy. This means they will spend most of their time in the water where it’s easier to hunt for food. After the turtle reaches 5-6 years, they move on land and shift to an herbivorous diet.
Make sure to wash the food properly and cut it into pieces before feeding your turtle and dust it with a calcium supplement. Also, feed your turtle food that is rich in vitamin A or use supplements to prevent a vitamin A deficiency that is very common in turtles. You can also add commercially prepared food to your turtle diet as a supplement, but it shouldn’t be the only source of food. Before you feed it to your turtle, soak it in warm water for about 30 minutes to make it soft.
Reproduction and development
Eastern box turtles don’t form pair-bonds but have either a male with many females or both sexes have multiple partners when mating. Both male and female turtles reach sexual maturity at 5 years. They will mate at any time from late spring to early fall, but egg-laying will happen in May and June when it starts to rain. The females can store the sperms up to 4 years so they don’t have to mate every year which means after a successful mating, a female can lay fertile eggs for 4 years. After mating the female will find the right nesting site and dig using her hind legs in the sand then lay 4 or 5 eggs normally, but it can also lay even 1-11 eggs. She will then cover the eggs and allow them to incubate and hatch on their own. If the eggs are incubated in temps of between 22-27 degrees F., they will most likely be males, but if the temps are above 28 degrees F. they will most likely be females. The incubation will last between 50-70 days but will depend on the temps. The hatchlings are well developed at birth.
For the Eastern box turtles to maintain their body temps, they change their activities to suit the weather conditions. During summer, the turtles are more active early in the morning or after it rains. However, when it gets too hot, the turtles find a shaded area to rest like under a pile of leaves, logs, or mud. During spring and fall, the box turtles will be active throughout the day and even bask in the sun when they need to get warm.
In the Southern part, the Eastern box turtle will still be active even during winter, but in the Northern parts, they will find a comfortable place and hibernate because it gets very cold from October or November through to April when they stop hibernating.
Domestication of the Eastern box turtle
Many box turtles are collected in the wild for the domestic pet trade mostly in South Carolina. Turtles in captivity have a shorter lifespan which can be as short as 3 days if they’re not provided with the right food, water, and the correct housing. The bright-colored shell of the Eastern box turtle will begin to fade once it’s brought into captivity, but people believe that it’s because of age. Even though box turtles make great captives that you can keep as pets, they’re not very easy turtles to keep because of their many specific needs.
Common health and behavior problems
When you decide to get an Eastern box turtle, it requires a long-term commitment to proper food and care, and veterinary care is very important to ensure that your turtle has a long lifespan in captivity. You should take your turtle to see the veterinary at least once a year even if he/she isn’t sick. Its also important that your turtle gets an annual fecal exam to check for parasites, especially if you keep your box turtle outdoors.
- One of the most common issues that the Eastern box turtle faces is gastrointestinal parasites and some of the symptoms include abnormal feces and poor appetite.
- These turtles also get respiratory infections frequently with symptoms like mucus in the nose and eyes and difficulty in breathing. Most of these respiratory problems are caused by an environment that is either too dry or too cold.
- Box turtles can also develop problems with their shell in form of ulcers or the shell starts to rot. If you notice a foul smell from some of the shell patches or the shell having an abnormal look, it could be caused by poor diet or an unhygienic habitat.
- When it comes to behavior, the Eastern box turtle is more shy than aggressive. They are secretive by nature and like to hide most of the time, but once they feel secure, they can become bold and come out of their shell more often. They’re alert and inquisitive and can recognize their owner and aren’t shy when demanding food. They like routine and they take time before they can adapt to changes. Be gentle with them and once they get comfortable in their environment, they will learn to trust you and even enjoy your company.
How do you know your turtle is happy?
Turtles aren’t the most expressive pets so it can be hard to know if your turtle is happy. But once you have a better understanding of the normal turtle behavior and its health, you can look for indicators of your box turtle’s mental state.
A happy turtle will;
- Be eager to eat when it’s feeding time and once it gets comfortable with you, it will beg for food when it sees you.
- Chase and hunt it live food like insects and fish which is good for its mental and physical needs.
- Engage in splashing behavior when excited like when you enter the room or even when begging for food.
- Bask under their heat lamps.
- Pass normal-looking feces regularly and have normal bodily functions.
- Dig the gravel at the bottom of the tank and explore its environment.
- Have clear eyes with no discharge or no difficulty in breathing.
- Move around in his/her tank or enclosure, basking, and exploring.
The Eastern box turtle is a small and unique reptile that you can keep as a pet, but you shouldmake this decision after serious thought. This box turtle requires special care and treatment also lots of space, time, and energy to take care of it.