Keeping Eastern Box Turtles as Pets: A Guide

Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern may be found in the wild across the eastern United States, but their numbers are declining. They may be found in a broad range of environments, from wet woods to dry grassy meadows, and will frequently wander into shallow water and hibernate when the weather turns cold. Brown with brilliant yellow, orange, and red patterns, these turtles have a high-domed shell. Their ability to adapt to different habitats makes them relatively easy to house as pets, but they do require some specific care.

Species Overview

Common Names: Eastern box turtle, land turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina

Adult Size: 5 to 7 inches long

Life Expectancy: 30 to 40 years in captivity with good care (and up to 100 years in the wild)

Eastern Box Turtle Behavior and Temperament

Eastern box turtles are most active during the day, when they are free to travel about looking for food. Frequent handling of pet box turtles is not recommended since it might create stress. When a turtle is stressed, it will retreat entirely within its shell. Still, it's critical to contact with them on a regular basis, including gentle handling, to help them become accustomed to your presence. When they need to be transferred for cage cleanings or veterinarian treatment, this also helps to reduce their stress.

Many owners report that their Eastern box turtles have individual personalities and are highly gregarious. They also seem to know their favorite humans' voice and look, and will beg for food when they see them coming. Some are known to engage in toy play, such as with a little ball.

Housing the Eastern Box Turtle

Most aquariums are too small for this turtle, although hatchlings and juveniles can be kept in a tank of at least 20 gallons. If you wish to keep your turtle indoors, a 4-square-foot cage with 18-inch-high walls will suffice, as long as you can fulfill the turtle's lighting and heat requirements.

If your climate is comparable to the turtle's original habitat, however, an outside cage is the best way to simulate how it would live in the wild. If you're making an outdoor enclosure, make sure it includes both sunny and shady regions and is safe from predators and the elements. Also, make sure that all plants and other items in the area are turtle-safe, including lawn herbicides.

The turtle should always have easy access to a shallow pan of water, both indoors and out. You should also give hiding places as well as loose litter for burrowing. Replace the water at least once a day, and clean the litter at least once a week.


Eastern box turtles enjoy a sunny spot in their cage with temperatures of 85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a shady spot with temperatures of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature should not go below 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night. If your outside habitat cannot match this requirement, you must bring them inside and provide a warming light for their enclosure.


The turtle's vitamin D production is optimal when it is exposed to natural sunshine. If you keep your turtle indoors, though, you may achieve the same effect using a UVB-emitting reptile lamp. These bulbs should be turned on for 10 to 12 hours each day, and they should be replaced every six to nine months as their UV output decreases. For optimal performance, follow the directions on your specific light.


The Eastern box turtle loves a humid habitat similar to that of a wet forest floor. With regular misting, maintain a humidity level of at least 70%. The small pool of water in the turtle's habitat also aids humidity control.


Use substrate, or bedding, that is similar to their natural environment for the bottom of their pen. Mulch, pelleted, or moss-type substrates are all acceptable, since they help to retain moisture and promote humidity in the environment. In the shaded section of the cage, make sure the substrate is deep enough for digging.

Food and Water

In the wild, eastern box turtles are omnivores who eat a range of foods. In captivity, their nutrition should be as near to their native diet as possible. Feed them every 24 hours or so. Vegetables, fruit, and hay or grasses should make up around half of their daily diet. Brightly colored fruit, such as tomatoes, carrots, and red bell peppers, appeal to them.

Low-fat protein sources should make up the rest of their regular diet. Earthworms, slugs, snails, mealworms, crickets, and grasshoppers are good whole live meals, although prepared lean meats and low-fat dog food can be provided as a supplement. For growth, young turtles require more protein than adults. Based on its age and size, see your physician for the precise amount your turtle should consume.

At all times, a small basin of fresh water should be available. They have a tendency to wade in their water dish, despite not being aquatic turtles. As a result, it's critical to keep an eye out for droppings in the water and to replenish it as needed throughout the day.

Common Health and Behavior Problems 

Eastern box turtles are a long-term investment, and regular veterinarian care is essential to maintaining their long-term survival in captivity. Even if your turtle looks to be in good condition, take it to an exotic animal veterinarian for a wellness check at least once a year. An yearly fecal check for parasites is typically suggested, especially if your turtle lives outside. Poor appetite and irregular feces are signs of gastrointestinal parasites, which are frequent in these animals.

Eastern box turtles are also prone to respiratory illnesses. Labored breathing and mucous around the eyes and nose are common symptoms. Infections are frequently caused by an atmosphere that is overly cold or dry.

Additionally, some box turtles acquire shell abnormalities such as shell rot or ulcers. Patches on the shell that are odd in appearance or scent are symptoms. This is frequently caused by a bad diet or an unhygienic environment.

Eastern box turtles are often more timid than aggressive until they become used to their surroundings. If you're patient with them, they'll grow to trust you and even love your presence.

Choosing Your Eastern Box Turtle

Although many states prohibit harvesting box turtles from the wild for the pet trade, many pet retailers nevertheless offer wild-caught turtles. Many of these wild-caught turtles do not adapt well to captivity and perish as a result of the stress. So you should either purchase a pet box turtle from a reputable breeder or go to a rescue organisation. In reality, rescue organizations frequently have a large number of animals to pick from since their owners were unable to care for them for the entirety of their lives. An Eastern box turtle can cost anywhere between $50 and $300, depending on its age.

When choosing a turtle, look for one that is active and aware, as well as one that is feeding appropriately. Its shell should be firm and free of defects, and its eyes should be brilliant and clear. The presence of fluid around the eyes, nose, or mouth, as well as lethargy and irregular feces, are all red signals.

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