Keeping Common Box Turtles as Pets: A Guide

person holding a box turtle by the shell

Box turtles are mostly found on land and might be difficult to keep as pets. They are a long-term commitment, as they may live for decades, and finding the perfect environment for them can be challenging.

There are various kinds of box turtle, each with its own housing and nutritional requirements. Some species prefer more humid environments than others; some require greater temperatures; some enjoy basking; and one species even prefers brackish (slightly saline) water over fresh water.

The common box turtle is a North American native with a high-domed top shell that is predominantly brown with yellow or orange patterns. It has a tiny head with a hooked upper jaw and is a fun pet with a particular personality.

Species Overview

Common Name: Common box turtle 

Scientific Name: Terrapene Carolina

Adult Size: 4 to 7 inches

Life Expectancy: 20 to 40 years (or longer)

Common Box Turtle Behavior and Temperament 

Box turtles are not recommended as pets for young children or inexperienced pet owners. This is owing to their extensive care requirements and vulnerability to stress, both of which can negatively impact a turtle's health. You can expect to spend at least a week cleaning and maintaining their enclosure, as well as feeding them every day or two.

Box turtles enjoy constancy in their environment and avoid being touched by humans. They don't usually bite, however fear caused by overhandling can cause some to bite. Furthermore, they can contain salmonella, so wash your hands properly after handling your turtle or anything in its habitat. Most box turtles will know their caretakers once they've become accustomed to their surroundings, even following a person's motions from inside their enclosure or asking for food.

Housing the Common Box Turtle

As long as temperatures don't drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, box turtles thrive in a turtle-safe outdoor area that simulates their native environment. The pen's walls should be at least 18 inches tall and include an overhang to keep the turtle from climbing out. It should have both bright and shaded areas, hiding spots, and a small water dish. It should also be safe from predators.

If your climate prevents you from keeping your turtle outside all year, attempt to do so for at least part of the year. Indoor box turtles have a hard time thriving. If kept inside, a terrarium of at least 40 gallons is required. Indoor turtle housing is also made from plastic children's pools, sandboxes, and other big tubs. To provide a suitable environment for a box turtle, an indoor setup will necessitate a significant amount of room and work. Consider including a heat source, UV lights, hiding spots, and a shallow water dish in the cage.

If their cage is allowed to cool down or if they are kept outside, box turtles may hibernate. However, before allowing your box turtle to hibernate, be sure it is healthy. A sick box turtle could not wake up if it hibernates. Because biological systems slow down during hibernation, sick box turtles may be unable to combat the sickness while sleeping.


Daytime temperatures for common box turtles should be at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking place around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature might dip between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night. To assist manage the temperature, use a basking lamp, ceramic heat emitters, or other heat sources.


To digest the calcium in their meals, box turtles require UVB illumination. They may get metabolic bone disease and perhaps die if they don't get it. Box turtles require around 12 hours of UVB illumination every day, which may be obtained from natural sunshine or a UVB lamp. To simulate a natural day-night cycle indoors, switch off the lamp at night.


Box turtles prefer a humidity level of around 60%. You can maintain this through daily misting, as well as by using a substrate that retains some moisture.


The substance that lines the bottom of your box turtle's habitat is called substrate. It aids in the preservation of humidity and the turtle's drive to burrow. It can also improve the appearance and feel of the enclosure. As a result, choose a substrate that closely resembles the turtle's natural habitat. Chemical-free topsoil, leaves, and moss are popular among gardeners. To allow your turtle to burrow, layer it at least 4 inches thick.

Food and Water

Box turtles require a wide diet since they are omnivores. Keeping them outside helps them to augment their diet with what they find in nature. Some things that can be provided are fresh vegetables, fruits, insects, low-fat meats, and pinky mice. Commercial box turtle diets are also available, however you should complement them with fresh ingredients.

To keep the turtle from eating its substrate, place the food on a plate, paver, or other surface. The majority of baby turtles require feeding every 24 hours, although some adults may require feeding every other day. Consult your veterinarian for the proper quantities for your turtle. At all times, clean water in a small dish should be available.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Many turtles suffer from metabolic bone disease as a result of inadequate UVB exposure. This excruciating illness can result in weakening bones and even death.

Box turtles are prone to respiratory illnesses, which are caused by low humidity or cold temperatures. Wheezing, mucous around the mouth and nose, fatigue, and a lack of appetite are among symptoms. It might be a symptom of vitamin A deficiency if your turtle gets regular respiratory infections. If a turtle has a respiratory ailment, don't give it iceberg lettuce. It is loved by the animals, although it has practically little nutritional value.

Parasitic diseases are also common in box turtles. (Captive-bred kinds are substantially less vulnerable.) This form of illness doesn't often display symptoms, but a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles can identify it.

In addition, box turtles can have shell rot, which is a painful ailment caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. The shell will seem cracked or dry, and an unpleasant odor may be present.

All of these ailments should receive treatment by a veterinarian.

Choosing Your Common Box Turtle

Box turtle numbers are falling all across the world. As a result, many states have laws prohibiting the possession of wild box turtles as pets. One motivation to purchase a captive-bred pet box turtle from a reputable breeder or rescue group is the population fall. Another advantage is that you will be able to learn about the turtle's history as well as any health concerns. Furthermore, wild-caught turtles do not adapt well to confinement and frequently succumb to stress.

Know what to look for to guarantee a healthy turtle adoption. Any pimples or redness on the shell, mucus in the nasal region or mouth, or clouded eyes might be signs of a sick turtle. Also, check for a hard shell and no swelling on the turtle's body. Buying a box turtle in the fall or winter, when it should be hibernating, is likewise a bad idea. A new setting might be stressful at this time.

Different Species of Box Turtles

If you're interested in box turtles, check out:

Otherwise, check out that can be your new pet.

  • How often do box turtles eat?

    Young box turtles eat daily. Older box turtles eat every two to three days.

  • When do box turtles lay eggs?

    Box turtles lay their clutch of eggs from May to June.

  • How long can box turtles go without water?

    While they can go for months without food, box turtles can only go 12 to 24 hours without water.