If you are looking for a fancy pet to further amplify the beauty of your tank, then Eastern Box Turtles are the way to go.

This variety of Box Turtles is one of the most stunning among its relatives. Those bright colors really make them eye-catching for visitors.

Most turtle enthusiasts will surely have one for themselves. But what are the qualities that make them so appealing?

The reason behind that is they are really easy to care for. They are not picky about their food and their feed is also very cost-effective.

Moreover, they are widely available in most pet or aquarium shops, and the paperwork required for owning one isn’t a hassle either.

Alongside that, if you decide to go into full breeding mode after you get yourself a pair or two, this thorough guide will help you prepare for it.

A Brief Analysis of the Species

Quick Species Facts
Scientific Name Terrapenecarolinacarolina
Other Common Names Land Turtle, Box Turtle
Family Emydidae
Origin United States- eastern region
Lifespan 25 to 35 years in captivity in optimal conditions & care; up to 100 years in their natural habitat (recorded)
Adult Size 10 centimeters by 15 centimeters (4 inches by 6 inches)
Color Pattern Yellow or orange blotches and thick striations
Type Freshwater

Range & Habitat

 Range

The Eastern Box Turtles are mostly found in the eastern region of the United States. Their habitat stretches from Maine to Florida.

In addition to that, their range also includes the west region of the United States up to Texas and the Great Lakes. Some populations are also found in four regions of North Carolina, contained in 39 locations (reference) and Illinois.

Habitat

As they are land turtles, you will mostly see them dwell around freshwater locations. They prefer vegetation like grasslands, marshlands, woodlands, etc. They are mostly found near freshwater sources such as streams and ponds, or places filled with rainwater. (reference)

They like to stay around moist places, especially if it is hot outside. Alongside it, on hot summer days, they like to dig into the cool, soft soil.

Moreover, the Eastern Box Turtles do not wander off too far from their home. For most of their lives, they live in an area that does not extend beyond a 10-acre radius. (reference)

How Big Do Eastern Box Turtles Get?

Eastern Box Turtles achieve a size of around 10 cm by 15 cm (4 inch by 6 inch) when they fully mature into adults. These varieties are a bit larger compared to other varieties of Box Turtles. (reference)

What Do They Look Like?

As described before, the Eastern Box Turtle is one of the varieties of the Box Turtle. So, they share similar structural characteristics.

Morphological Features

Their carapace (shell) is highly curved with a strong dome shape. It is very strong and durable, especially on the upper side. The underside of the shell, known as the plastron, is softer compared to the top.

A feature of the Box Turtles that makes them stand out from other turtles is the presence of a bilobed plastron. This bilobed plastron enables them to completely close their shells, providing better protection from predators.

If you look at them from the top or bottom when they are completed tucked inside, they have a rectangular shape. Hence, the name ‘Box Turtles’.

Their jaws are highly hooked in the upright direction, forming a distinctive overbite. This helps them to strongly grab hold of their food.

Their legs are short and stubby and they have webbed feet. Their front webbed feet have five toes, and their back feet have four toes. However, some have been seen with three toes in the hind feet.

Color Patterns

The color patterns on Eastern Box Turtles are a lot different from their relatives. The shell has a dark shade of brown or black.

This dark shell has contrasting yellow or orange patches or blotches all over. The patches have no definite shape. Moreover, the size of the blotches is bigger and rounder on the top side and has thick striations on the sides of the shell.

Their shell pattern resembles dead leaves found on the forest floor, which act as a camouflage against hungry predators. They have a close resemblance to American tulip tree leaves when they fall and dry up, during winter.

Some individuals will receive a mutation in their genes that will make them go full pale. These variations are known as Albino Eastern Box Turtles and they are considered among the rarest of all turtle species.

This mutation makes their skin pinkish and their carapace becomes light brown. Patches and striations are not visible. The shell scales have a slight hue of dark brown in the central portion, which is barely noticeable. Another visible trait of albinos is that their eyes (iris) are red in color.

Interesting fact: These Box Turtles have a special ability; their shells are made up of special cells that can regenerate themselves when damaged. The shell is made up of scutes (scale-like parts) that continuously keep growing, whether damaged or not. An incident reported that a Box Turtle had completely healed and regenerated its shell after experiencing severe burn damage (reference).

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The Lifespan of Eastern Box Turtles

Eastern Box Turtles are said to live between 25 to 35 years of age in captivity and in the wild. If good conditions are met, it can stretch from 40 to 50 years.

However, it has been observed that they can even live up to 100 years in the wild. However, not all of them will be able to achieve that. Genes also play an important role in environmental conditions.

Sexual Dimorphism

There are numerous factors that will help you differentiate between a male and a female Eastern Box Turtles when you have a pair or a group of them. Some of these defining features are as follows-

  1. Size– The size of the Male Eastern Box Turtles is relatively greater than its counterparts. Along with that, their tails are much thicker and stubbier than the females.
  1. Claws– The back claws of the female turtle are thinner, longer, and a tad bit straighter, in contrast to the male, which has much thicker and more curved claws in the back feet.
  1. Color of eyes– The female turtle has darker, brown-tinted eyes, more accurately: iris, while its counterpart generally possesses red-tinted eyes.
  1. Color of Patches– The male Eastern Box Turtle possesses patches of skin, especially on the cheeks, neck, and front legs, which have a blue hue to them.
  1. The shape of the plastron– The shape of the plastron is a very prominent feature that you will first notice if you are trying to figure out its gender. The plastron in the male is concave, i.e., has a depression at the center. Contrastingly, the plastron in females is much straighter.

Fact: The evolutionary reason behind the different shapes of the plastron is that during mating, the male can comfortably rest on the female’s back. As the shell is rounded, the concave shape seems to fit quite beautifully over the back end of the female during mating.

Availability & Price

If you are looking to purchase Eastern Box Turtles, you can buy them from local stores or even online. The price can vary depending on their color patterns.

Complete Care Guide Specifics

Quick Care Facts
Care Level Easy
Breeding East; Rearing of babies moderately difficult
Social Temperament Peaceful; Territorial around other males
Diet Omnivore
Hardiness Quite resilient

What Do Eastern Box Turtles Eat?

They are omnivorous, just like their relatives. So, you can feed a variety of food items that can easily be found in local stores.

The food that can be given includes-

  • Worms- earthworms, redworms, waxworms
  • Crickets & grasshoppers
  • Slugs & snails
  • Veggies- grated carrots, grated squash, pumpkin, zucchini, romaine lettuce, endive, etc.
  • Leafy vegetables- kale, dandelion leaves, etc.
  • Fruits- chopped watermelon, tomato, berries such as blackberries, strawberries, mulberries, blueberries, etc.
  • Vitamin & Mineral supplements (weekly or bi-weekly basis)

Pro tip– A good diet should include both animal and plant-based items. A good ratio is 3 parts worms, insects, and gastropods, and 2 parts of plant-based matter.

Social Temperament & Behavior

Their behavior and social temperament vary from individual to individual. It is quite a remarkable trait, just like us, humans, even though they are reptiles.

They are a substantially peaceful turtle species. Having said that, the males do like to fight with other males for territory, especially if they find the other one to be weaker or smaller.

This can be bad as it becomes quite bloody, resulting in mortal injuries. However, this is not the case with a female, and multiple female turtles will get along with each other quite peacefully (reference).

Additionally, they can be kept in groups, in a pair, or even a single one in an enclosure. However, it is not preferred to keep them in a group as it would lead to more fighting and aggression.

Quick Tip– It is recommended to keep a ratio of two females to one male. The reason behind this is if only one female is kept with one male, he will keep harassing the female. But, if two females are kept with one male turtle, the attention is divided between the two which is much more optimal.

Breeding

Breeding Eastern Box Turtles is not a difficult task, even if you are newly experienced with them. They do most of the work on their own. So, all you have to do is find a compatible breeding pair and then you are all set.

Mating of Eastern Box Turtles

Eastern Box Turtles finish developing their reproductive organs at an early age of 5 years. Even if they look small at that time, they will have achieved adulthood and will start producing gametes quite fast.

They like to breed during the time between spring and autumn, which is approximately between the months of February and October. Especially during the monsoon, you will see the most activity between the couple.

Now, if there is more than one female in the enclosure, the male Eastern Box Turtle will try to mate with all of them if he gets the chance.

However, if there is only one female, he will try to mate with her more than once. So, keep an eye on them if the situation gets a bit worse for the female.

Nesting & Egg laying

The female Eastern Box Turtle can store the male gametes inside her reproductive parts for about 4 years. If the conditions are hospitable, she will probably lay eggs multiple times over the course of 4 years without needing to mate anymore. But only if the mating was done correctly will this happen.

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Now, the nesting season takes place around May or June. The female will lay approximately 5 to 6 eggs, but this number is not fixed. She can sometimes lay only 1 and sometimes even double the normal number, like 10 or 11 at a time (reference).

The female turtle finds a suitable spot (usually sandy areas) and digs the nest on the ground using her back feet. The claws come into use during this time. Then she uses the hind claws again to cover them up and let them incubate for months inside the pit.

Feeding & Rearing of hatchlings

An interesting thing about the nature of the eggs is that the gender of the baby is determined by the temperature the eggs are incubated at.

If the temperature is between 22 and 27 degrees Celsius (70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit), the baby will be a boy. If the temperature rises above 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), the turtle will be a female.

So, you can regulate the temperature according to your requirements. It will be better to keep the eggs in a different enclosure for proper development of the specified gender of your choice. It takes around 50 to 90 days of incubation time for the eggs to hatch (reference).

Once they are hatched, the hatchlings can safely be transferred to a separate enclosure with soft coco coir or shredded mulch beds. For the comfort of the baby turtles, spray some water on them to keep them moistened.

Maintain a day and light condition for them as they are diurnal and require proper cycles to stay healthy and active.

Install a UV lamp inside the enclosure along with a high-watt lamp for their basking purposes. They prefer basking temperatures between 85 and 88 °F.

Now, for feeding the babies, you can give them the following-

  1. Small insects- nightcrawlers, snails, slugs, worms, crickets, etc.
  2. Larvae of insects
  3. Fruits & vegetables- Tomato, apples, figs, melons, cabbage, carrots, okra, pumpkin, etc.
  4. Commercial baby turtle food
  5. Greens- Collard greens, endive, romaine lettuce, etc.
  6. Calcium supplements (once a week or two)

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that their diet should contain 50% non-vegetarian portion: proteins from insects, and 50% vegetarian portion: 25% fruits and 25% vegetable/greens.

Common Health Conditions

It is not uncommon for them to have a health issue, whether it be due to parasites or environmental conditions. However, there are a few prominent problems that are observed quite frequently among Eastern Box Turtles-

  • Intestinal parasites in their gut due to unhygienic feeding conditions are very common. Symptoms include bad appetite and peculiar excreta.
  • Respiratory tract infections are caused by extreme cold and dry conditions. Symptoms include difficulty breathing and foaming around the mouth and nose. Along with it, excessive mucus formation around the eyes and nose.
  • Rotting of shells and ulcers inside their shells are also quite common. These occur due to unhygienic conditions and poor diet. Symptoms include unusual-looking patches on their carapace accompanied by a rotten smell.

Precautions

Even though they face a lot of problems over their lifetime, there are a few precautions you could take to minimize these issues-

  1. Regular blood tests on a yearly basis to check for infections
  2. Stool tests to detect parasites and other worms
  3. Regular visits to a veterinarian for health check-ups

Tank Recommendations

Quick Tank Facts
Temperature recommendations Daytime Temperature:  75 – 85 °FBasking Temperature:  85 – 90 °FNighttime Temperature: not below 70 °F
Minimum Size 4 x 4 ft. / 18” tall
Light Cycle Diurnal
Humidity 70-80 %

Tank Size Requirements

Eastern Box Turtles are small, but they require quite some space to live happily. If you want to get a tank for them, make sure it is about 4 by 4 feet in an area with a height of at least 18 inches. However, this is only if you want to keep only one or a pair.

For a few babies and juveniles, a 20-gallon tank would be enough just for a few months till their size increases. Then they would have to be moved somewhere else.

The tank or enclosure should not be covered up. For the sake of the turtle, sunlight should be able to reach most areas of the tank. If it is covered up, adequate lighting must be provided.

What to Include While Setting Up a Tank

Heat

The Eastern Box Turtle likes sunny places as well as shady areas. They prefer to bask in bright warm spots with temperatures ranging from 85 to 90 °F, as well as to hide in shady areas with temperatures ranging from 74 to 80 °F.

Remember that the nighttime temperature should never drop below 70 °F, or they might go into shock.

Lighting

The tank or enclosure should have adequate lighting if it is closed. The turtle would require proper sunlight (UV-B) to produce vitamin D naturally in its body.

So, make sure the tank has enough open space to receive natural light. However, if it is closed, make sure to install a UV lamp or tube that will imitate the sun. You will have to replace them every few months as their power slowly diminishes with daily use.

You can also put in a few incandescent lights for heating effect, especially if you live in a cool climate. All these lights should be kept on for about 10-12 hours a day.

Humidity

In the wild, they live in a substantially humid environment. So, to simulate those conditions, you can spray water daily, as they need about 70 to 80 % humidity.

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Alternatively, you can also install a humidifier that will automatically release mists of water from time to time. However, these are a bit expensive, so it’s a personal preference.

Substrate

Their natural habitat has soft soil with a lot of dead leaves and plant matter. So, using mossy grass, mulch, dead leaves, etc. will help mimic their natural environment.

Keep in mind that the substrate should be soft enough for them as they do have a habit of digging. Additionally, these also retain moisture quite well, so it is a good choice as it will help maintain a humid environment.

Décor

In the case of decorations, you can use natural or artificial, whatever you prefer. However, it is advised to keep a few pieces of dead wood logs, and small plants to give it a natural feel.

It is also recommended to keep a bowl or a built-in area that could hold water. Be sure to change them every few days to keep the water clean and fresh.

Outdoor Habitat

If you want, you can also build them an outdoor habitat if you have enough space outside your home. It may seem like a lot of work, but it is a much better choice than a tank.

Plus, it will also give them a lot of space to move around in and will feel more like their natural environment.

Setup For the Habitat

The first thing you need to do in an outdoor habitat is to fence it, forming an enclosure. For the fence, you can use a wooden one or wires, whatever you prefer.

This fence should have a height of at least 13 to 15 inches. They are not climbers, but they are diggers. So, keep an eye out for it as they may dig underneath the fence and get out. For safety purposes, put another set of fences just outside the main one.

Now that we have secured our place, you can use all kinds of decorations such as rocks, boulders, algae-infested wooden logs, etc. which will give it a more natural feel.

You can dig up a small pond inside. This can take some time as the water and soil will take a few days for the soil particles to settle down.

After the water has been cleared up, you can put some aquatic plants inside it. All kinds of freshwater plants and moss will do.

The water inside the pond should be soft with a pH range of 7.0 to 8.0. This is an important parameter that should be monitored with a high priority. You can use buffers and pH meters to maintain it.

In addition to that, you can also plant terrestrial plants and shrubs such as strawberry, and blackberry plants to give them a feeling of natural shade. These, when matured, will also provide food for the turtles.

You can also use tall grass, such as prairie grass, to cover the places outside the pond. These grasses are big and will provide shade and a hiding spot for the turtle if he feels stressed.

Suitable Mates

Eastern Box Turtles can be kept with a variety of other invertebrates, as well as fishes. They get along quite peacefully with other turtles as well.

However, even if they are small, they do eat other small animals. So, keeping small fish species might not be a good idea. Here is a list of possible companions that can be kept with them-

  1. Other turtle species- Bog Turtles, Eastern Painted Turtles, etc.
  2. Other reptiles- salamanders, geckos, minnows, etc.
  3. Amphibians- Green frogs, Carpenter frogs, Leopard frogs, etc.
  4. Big Fish species- Cichlids, Oscars, Kois, Goldfish, etc.

Tip– Be careful while keeping those frogs as some of them carry a deadly virus known as Ranavirus. So, refrain from getting frogs from the wild. If you wish to keep a few with your turtle, buy them from pet stores.

Adopting an Eastern Box Turtle

Now that we have discussed everything about their care and habits, you can also opt to adopt one instead of buying one from the store.

There are many pet turtles that have been abandoned by their owners or even wild ones that have recently recovered from a bad disease or infection.

These abandoned pet turtles are not very habituated to the harsh wild environment. So, they do not survive for long unless they are saved by the rescue centers.

They take care of them until they can find them a new home. You can also choose to adopt one for yourself as it is completely free of cost. You will get a new friend and the turtle will get a new life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Eastern Box Turtles bite?

In general, they are quite peaceful and friendly in nature. But if they feel threatened or in danger, they may show a bit of aggression or maybe try to bite you.

However, these situations are quite rare, and they don’t really bite their owners in general. Moreover, due to their peaceful behavior, they are considered good pets.

Are Eastern Box Turtles dangerous?

No, Eastern Box Turtles are not dangerous at all. They are among the friendliest species of turtles. Therefore, they can easily be kept with other pets without any worries.

Are Eastern Box Turtles poisonous?

No, Eastern Box Turtles are not poisonous. They do not produce any kind of toxin or venom. However, they do harbor salmonella in their bodies, which can cause serious problems.

So, it is always recommended to wash your hands with soap after handling your Eastern Box Turtle. For this reason, children should be kept as far from them as possible.

Conclusion: Are They Considered Good Pets?

They are adorable, beautiful, and friendly. They are worth getting if you are into reptiles. Plus, taking care of them is easy as long as you maintain proper day & night rhythms, along with their basking requirements.

Alongside that, if you want to breed them, it could prove to be a bit challenging if you are new. But, if you follow the guide properly, caring for and feeding the hatchlings would not be an issue.

About the Author

Shelby Crosby

Shelby is a passionate fishkeeper who has been writing about fish for over 5 years. She is a pro aquarist and holds a BSc Honors Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries. She creates her own beautiful aquarium layouts and loves to share her knowledge of tropical fish with other hobbyists.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

  • BSc Honors in Wildlife and Fisheries in 2011 (University of Northern British Columbia)
  • Completed her undergraduate thesis on the effects of zoochlorella supplementation on the growth and health of fish.

Writing Experience

Miss Crosby is a Freelance blogger; many of her articles are posted online on various blogs. She has also written a few short articles for "Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine" in the past. She is a regular contributor to FishParenting.com. Her education, first-hand experience with fishkeeping, and in-depth knowledge in aquaculture make her one of the most competent writers in the industry.

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