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The Eastern Box Turtle is not necessarily the best turtle to get for total beginners, but it certainly is one of the most popular. 

Overview

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The Eastern Box Turtle is incredibly easy to spot.

They are of medium size (4.5 to 6 inches) and they are often covered, both their shell and their skin, in yellow or orange blotches. 

They are an extremely popular pet for turtle enthusiasts, however they are not exactly the easiest pet to optimally maintain. ​

Fast Facts



Common Name

Eastern Box Turtle 

Scientific Name

Terrapene carolina carolina

Size & Weight

4.5 - 6 inches

Distribution

Eastern United States

Unique Features

High rounded shell, skin is covered with bright yellow or orange blotches

Physical Characteristics 

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The Eastern Box Turtle certainly is a unique looking turtle!

They are extremely easy to spot, in fact many people think they look more like monsters than turtles!

The aren't generally very big. Full grown they are usually between 4.5 to 6 inches (11 to 15 centimeters). 

Their shell is high domed and rounded, and they often have reddish, almost penetrating eyes. 

But what gives them away isn't their high dome or deep red eyes, but the enormous blotches of yellow or red that cover their shell and body.

Hatchlings and juveniles do not have these features just yet, as the beautiful patterns and blotches which cover them don't develop until they grow older. ​

Distribution, habitat & area

eastern box turtle distribution

Like their name suggests, Eastern Box Turtles are naturally found in the Eastern portion of the United States.

They are poor swimmers and they are not found in open bodies of water, but rather in densely covered forests and especially wetlands, often times foraging around among wet leaves.  

They will sometimes soak in shallow puddles or wet mud or dirt for hydration, or to hibernate or escape from the sun. 

Because they spend the majority of their time outside the water as opposed to in water (like the red eared slider), they are often at risk from human activity that intrudes into their environment.

Ever year, thousands and thousands of eastern box turtles are unfortunately killed and seriously maimed as they try to cross roads that cut through their native habitats. ​

Diet

eastern box turtle in florida

Eastern box turtles are omnivores, opportunistic omnivores at that.

When they are juveniles they prefer to eat meats and protein-packed food (along with a lot of other species) and as they grow older, they tend to eat more and more plants, greens, vegetables and even fruits.

However, if they get the opportunity, they will gladly chomp down on things such as; ​

  • earthworms
  • crickets and other insects
  • small fish (if they can catch them!) 
  • mushrooms 

Check out our article on the best turtle food brands

Care & conerns

Compared to other aquatic turtles such as red eared sliders, which absolutely love a good 55 gallon tank filled with water, eastern box turtles are a bit harder to manage. 

For starters they are poor swimmers, and are best not placed in with tanks full of water.

It's also a good idea to refrain from putting more than one male in the same tank or area, as they often times will fight and maim each other. The females generally seem to get along very well. ​

The best type of environment for these type of turtles would ideally be to have ​kind of outdoor enclosure for them. An area with a small pond, lots of wet leaves and dirt, plants and other vegetation as well as an area where they can burrow into the ground to hibernate during the winter months. 

As that is not possible for a lot of owners, the next best option would be recreate that environment inside a decent sized tub or two. You can do this by ensuring that the tub is of a big enough size and has access to; 

  • about a 50/50 split between water and land 
  • the water should not be too deep (enough for the turtle to sit in and eat food in) 
  • an area covered with soft dirt or mud 
  • an area for the turtle to retreat and hide 
  • wet leaves, moss, grass or other natural vegetation

If this is not possible, it might be a good idea to care for another species which is a bit more manageable. 

Lastly, this species tend to be a bit fragile, so even if you are able to provide an optimal environment with all of these things, it is still relatively common for a good number of them to die (around 3 out of every 10). They aren't the hardiest of turtle species, and do not like to be handled.

However, if you can provide all of these things, the eastern box turtle is certainly a turtle that is worth the effort! ​

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