Eastern Box Turtles

a close up of an Eastern Box Turtle crawling towards the camera

Eastern Box Turtles are native the eastern coast of North America near water. They love eating meat, vegetables and fruit. They only tend to be aggressive with other Eastern Box Turtles during mating season. If you keep multiple turtles you’ll want to feed them in different places to make sure all of your turtles get fed properly.

Eastern box turtles are very laid back, and will eat almost anything that they’re fed. They are very calm and relaxed, and won’t bite or attack unless provoked. They are very easy going, and will adapt to just about any environment.

They are relatively easy to care for, and don’t need too much attention once you have a good habitat for them. Even though they don’t need an aquatic habitat, they still need a habitat large enough that they can walk around in.  

Eastern box turtles are slow growing, it takes about 5 years for them to reach adulthood. It can be fun for kids to watch them grow up and be able to care for them with only minimal supervision. Another kid friendly part about them is that they’re active in the day unlike a number of other reptiles. Something to consider is that these turtles usually live for 25 to 40 years, making them a lengthy commitment for pet owners. They also don’t like being held or touched, making them good pets for watching, not playing with.

Eastern box turtles can be purchased as young adults, and while they’re fairly common they are somewhat expensive. Expect to pay between $150 and $250.

Eastern Box Turtle Information

  • Average Length: 4 – 6 inches
  • Average Weight: 2 pounds
  • Skin Appearance: Scaled
  • Skin Colors: Brown or Black with Yellow markings
  • Grooming Needs: Low Need
  • Shedding: Once every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No
  • Good Pet: Depends
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: No
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Respiratory Infections, Parasitic Infections and Shell Rot
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 30 to 40 years

Physical Appearance of Eastern Box Turtles

a close up of an Eastern Box Turtle pulling their head into their shell

Eastern Box Turtles are small turtles that have dome-shaped shells on their backs. Males have rounder shells compared to females.

The Box Turtles are named because they can completely hide within their shell, making them look like a box. The dome shape of their shell lets them pull in their head and limbs to hide. They have a hinged belly that lets them fully retreat inside. It’s said that even an ant cannot get inside once they close their shell!

These turtles can have several patterns and colors. Most are dark brown or black with yellow markings all over their body and legs. Some Box Turtles may have deep brown, red or orange markings. They have a yellow underbelly.

Eastern Box Turtles grow up to 6 inches long with males slightly longer than females. Males have deep red eyes while females have brown or gray eyes.

Baby Box Turtles are only ½ inch long and are brown or black when they are born. They grow a little more than ½ inch every year until they’re 5 when they become adults. Their shells are flat at birth but gradually become spotted as they grow.

Temperament of Eastern Box Turtles

Eastern Box Turtles are slow moving but active turtles. They are most active early in the morning when it’s humid. They will spend most of their day hiding within vegetation and decorations or burrowing in substrate.

an Eastern Box Turtle walking over sand mounds near a beach

Eastern Box Turtles are calm and peaceful but don’t like regular handling. Regular handling can stress them. If they feel stressed or scared, they will retreat within their shell.

They are not very social animals and generally won’t show aggression towards other Box Turtles. They only interact and compete when they mate.

Eastern Box Turtles can be kept in groups of 4 to 5. When keeping them in groups, make sure the male to female ratio is less than or equal to females. Housing several males together can lead to aggression between them.

When you first get them, keep them housed individually for the first 6 months. Young hatchlings may attack each other because they think of each other as food.

Their Compatibility with Children

Many children love the thought of owning a turtle, or being able to play or swim with them. The reality is that Eastern Box Turtles don’t really enjoy being held. Regular handling stresses them, and it could cause them to try and bite, or it could even cause a stress related illness.

Children should always wash their hands after handling your Box Turtles. This is because most reptiles are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should prevent your children from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses from your Box Turtles.

Living Space for Eastern Box Turtle

If the climate in your region is similar to their natural environment then Eastern Box Turtles should ideally be housed in an outdoor enclosure. The enclosure should have lots of decorations like plants and hiding spaces to mimic their natural living environment. 

If you don’t have the space to keep your Eastern Box Turtles outside then an indoor enclosure might be an option. It’s important to remember that these Turtles do like space, and having a place to swim or soak in the enclosure is very important for them. Most families won’t have the space they need for an indoor enclosure.

Outdoor Enclosure

If you live in a humid climate then it’s best to keep them in an outdoor enclosure. A pen or a large enclosure can be built by making a fence. Eastern Box Turtles love to dig under fences. Fences should be dug a few inches deep into the ground. The fence should have a height of 18 inches to make sure they can’t climb over. Bend the top of the fence slightly inward to keep your Eastern Box Turtles from escaping. 

an Eastern Box Turtle walking across black rocks near a beach

Make sure the outdoor enclosure is constructed in an area that doesn’t receive high winds and is safe from predators. Creating a pen in an open backyard can lead to your Eastern Box Turtle getting attacked by wild animals.

The minimum recommended size for the outdoor enclosure is 4’ x 4’. If a larger enclosure can be created then it’s better. For every additional turtle you want to add, at least an extra 3 ’x 3’ space should be added.

Their enclosure should have both open areas that get direct sunlight and shaded areas. Adding plants to their enclosure will help create shaded regions. Plants like short shrubs and prairie should be added in their enclosure. Plants will create a natural look and create shaded areas for them to hide.

Create a shallow water area for your Eastern Box Turtles to soak and swim. If you have a large shallow pan then use it to store water or dig a pit at least 2 inches deep. 

Create a borrowing area by digging 12 inches in one corner of the pen and adding sphagnum peat moss and a few dead leaves. Your Eastern Box Turtles will use this place to hide or when they hibernate.

Use pellets, mulch or moss as substrate because these are good at retaining moisture and humidity.

Indoor Enclosure

Juveniles will do fine in a small 20-gallon tank but adults will need a larger enclosure. The minimum recommended size for indoor enclosures is 4’L x 4’W x 1.5’H. 

Similar to outdoor enclosures, your Eastern Box Turtles will need a shallow water pan to soak and swim. 

Best Climate for Eastern Box Turtle

an Eastern Box Turtle laying on some grass

While outdoor enclosures usually won’t need heating and lighting equipment, adding a few lights is recommended.

Indoor enclosures will need proper heating and lighting equipment to keep the climate in the recommended range. Add ceramic heat emitters and heat lamps on one side of their tank to create separate warm and hot areas. The temperature should be between 85°F to 88°F in the basking spot and around 75°F in the rest of the enclosure.

Indoor enclosures will also need UVA and UVB light bulbs. Replace these bulbs every 6 months because they lose their efficiency. Keep the lights turned on for 10 to 12 hours a day.

The humidity should be kept around 70%. Daily misting should help keep the enclosure humid.

The Attention an Eastern Box Turtle Needs

Check the temperature and humidity of their enclosure using thermometers and hygrometers regularly. Make changes if the readings are off.

If your Eastern Box Turtles are housed outdoors make sure the temperature is warm enough for them. Bring them inside if the temperature gets too low. Another option is to create an insulated home for them with heaters that they can stay in if the temperature drops below 75°F.

Eastern Box Turtles have high maintenance needs and can live for up to 40 years. Their long life and high maintenance needs make them difficult to care for by first-time pet owners. Only experienced pet owners who understand the care needs of Eastern Box Turtles should keep them as pets.

Their high maintenance needs make them susceptible to various health problems. Out of 5 hatchlings, only 2 to 4 will do well and the rest will have puffy eyes, refuse to eat or die.

Health Issues

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Parasitic Infections

Intestinal Parasites like roundworms, hookworms or pinworms can cause serious health issues in reptiles. In mild cases, the disease may not show symptoms but in severe cases it can result in:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioral issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Loose Stool
  • Throwing up food

Captive lizards generally contract parasitic infections from other infected reptiles, contaminated food or objects. Regular cleanings to their enclosure can reduce the chances your reptile will be infected from parasites in their environment. Take your pet to your vet if they have the above symptoms.

Parasitic infections have the potential to destroy the digestive tracts of your turtles and must be treated as soon as signs are noticed.

Mites

Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off the blood of your reptile, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times they will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another pet.

Symptoms of mites on your reptile:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your reptile or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your reptile

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets is key to not spreading mites from pet to pet.

Ticks

Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your lizard as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your reptile. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your reptile to die.

Symptoms of ticks on reptiles:

  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Long soaks
  • Weight loss
  • Red spots or deformities on their skin

Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their skin people will be suspicious of either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are and with a close inspection of your reptile you should be able to spot them pretty easily.

The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your lizard, rub it with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your reptile might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.

Metabolic Bone Disease

MBD is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Shell Rot

Shell Rot is a bacterial infection that can infect the blood vessels in the shell of your Tortoise. The disease will cause small holes or look like something has been chewing on their shell. Soft spots on their shell or bloody discharge are very common. In serious cases the scutes may entirely fall off which will expose the bones and nerves that were protected by the shell.

Poor living conditions are what generally cause the bacterial growth and lead to Shell Rot. The disease can take a long time to heal. Antibiotics and regular cleanings are usually the recommended treatments. The best way to prevent this disease is to keep their enclosure clean and maintain the temperature inside their enclosure.

Grooming and Care

Remove feces and clean their water pan every day.

Feeding A Eastern Box Turtle

mealworms make a great meal for Eastern Box Turtles

Eastern Box Turtles are omnivores and can be fed meat, vegetables and fruits. Giving them a variety of different foods is important to make sure they get all the vitamins and nutrients that they need.

Around 50% of their diet should be fruits and vegetables, and some type of meat for the rest.

Insects like slugs, snails, crickets, cockroaches or mealworms are all good foods for your turtle. Make sure not to feed them wild-caught insects because these could have been exposed to pesticides. Insects exposed to chemicals can be toxic for your Eastern Box Turtle.

For fruits and vegetables, they should be given blueberries, strawberries, carrots, or lettuce.

Add calcium and vitamin supplements to their food. These supplements are important for Turtles to have a healthy shell and prevent diseases like Metabolic Bone Disease.

Related Questions:

Are Eastern Box Turtles Legal to be Kept as Pets?

Different states have their own regulations when it comes to keeping Eastern Box Turtles as pets. In some US states they are listed as endangered and cannot be kept as pets. Some states have stringent regulations, like requiring a permit for keeping them as pets. Find out about your local pet laws before getting an Eastern Box Turtle.