Keeping Gulf Coast Box Turtles as Pets: A Guide

Gulf Coast Box Turtle

Gulf Coast box turtles are the biggest subspecies of the common box turtle, native to locations along the Gulf of Mexico. Their top shell is big and domed, usually dark brown or black with yellow stripes or spots. They aren't aquatic turtles, but they enjoy being near water. They can be found in marshes and swamps in the wild. Because these turtles have extensive housing and nutrition requirements as pets, prior turtle expertise is recommended.

Species Overview

Common Name: Gulf Coast box turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina major

Adult Size: Up to 8 inches long

Life Expectancy: 30 to 40 years in captivity; up to 100 years in the wild

Gulf Coast Box Turtle Behavior and Temperament

Young children and inexperienced pet owners should avoid Gulf Coast box turtles. This is owing to their unique care needs and vulnerability to stress, both of which can negatively effect their health. Box turtles from the Gulf Coast are timid and dislike being handled. To feel at ease in their surroundings, they require several hiding spots. Many pet turtles will learn to identify their caretakers and even beg for food once they've become accustomed to their surroundings.

Housing the Gulf Coast Box Turtle

While Gulf Coast box turtles (particularly hatchlings and juveniles) may be kept in a large indoor terrarium with a heat source, they thrive in outdoor cages with a pleasant environment. For a box turtle's enclosure, most experts recommend a minimum of 4 feet by 8 feet, especially if you have numerous turtles or it's a full-time residence. If room is limited, a smaller pen can serve, but don't go smaller than 4 feet by 4 feet. A turtle can become stressed in a small place. The enclosure should be in a sunny setting, with a shaded space available at all times.

Furthermore, because most box turtles burrow, make your pen escape-proof by burying walls deep into the earth. Digging can be discouraged by placing paving stones around the perimeter of the property. It's ideal to construct the enclosure out of solid material; if the turtle can't see what's outside, it'll be less likely to try to climb or dig out.


A terrarium with a heat light is the best method to keep your Gulf Coast box turtle indoors. Temperatures between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal, with a basking area about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures should not fall below 70 degrees at night. A hot rock should not be used since it might cause burns.


To metabolize calcium in their meals, Gulf Coast box turtles require UVB illumination, which can come from natural sunshine or a UVB lamp. They may get metabolic bone disease and perhaps die if they don't get it. Turn off the lamp at night if you're indoors to simulate a natural day-night cycle.


Because this species lives near water, it likes a high humidity level of around 60% to 90%. Maintain this through misting your turtle’s enclosure daily.


The substance used to line the bottom of your turtle's habitat is called substrate. It can not only replicate the animal's natural surroundings, but it can also assist regulate humidity and fulfill the turtle's digging impulse. Thus, for Gulf Coast box turtles, a substrate that keeps some moisture is excellent. 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 from the Gulf Coast are omnivores who require a diversified diet. Earthworms, slugs, snails, mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers, and tiny fish should make up around 40% of an adult's diet. Turtle hatchlings and juveniles are more carnivorous than adult turtles, so keep that in mind when planning your turtle's diet.

To avoid metabolic bone disease, it's very vital to make sure your Gulf Coast box turtle gets the correct calcium and phosphorus balance in its diet. Dark leafy greens like parsley, dandelion greens, spinach, and collard greens are all excellent vegetable choices. Fruits including blueberries, grapes, apples, and papaya are terrific options.

The finest protein sources for a box turtle are fresh prey insects from pet stores and bait shops. Because you have no method of assessing pesticide exposure, avoid feeding insects obtained outside to a captive Gulf Coast box turtle. Commercial box turtle diets are available, although they're usually only used as supplements in a well-balanced diet.

Feed your turtle every two to three days in general. However, based on your turtle's age, size, and health, check your veterinarian about the right quantity and timing of meals. You should also have a small pan of clean water readily available at all times. This is where the turtle will drink and soak, so be sure to replace the water frequently.

Common Health and Behavior Problems 

Gulf Coast box turtles are susceptible to respiratory infections in addition to metabolic bone disease, which can result in weakening bones and mortality. Insufficient humidity is generally the source of these illnesses, which manifest as wheezing and mucous around the mouth and nose passages. It might be a symptom of vitamin A deficiency if your turtle gets regular respiratory infections.

Another prevalent disease in turtles is parasitic infections. They don't usually display symptoms, but a veterinarian who specialized in reptiles can identify them. Box turtles, like other turtles, are prone to a painful illness called shell rot, which is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. The shell will seem cracked or dry, and an unpleasant odor may be present.

If your turtle is showing symptoms of any of these illnesses, don't try to treat them without consulting with your vet. 

Choosing Your Gulf Coast Box Turtle 

Gulf Coast box turtles aren't hardy animals and thus aren't suitable for beginner turtle keepers. They have very specific needs, are sensitive to stress, and are difficult to keep in captivity.

Choose a captive-bred specimen from a reputable breeder or go to a rescue group to get a Gulf Coast box turtle. This way, you're not encouraging the capture of wild turtles for the pet trade, which frequently ends in poor treatment and ill animals. On average, expect to pay between $100 and $400. Make sure the turtle's eyes are clean and there is no mucous around its mouth or nostrils. Its shell should also feel firm, with no lumps or swelling elsewhere on its body.

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