box turtle care sheet

Box Turtle Care Sheet

Box turtle general care for multiple species. Additional research may apply.


box turtle care

Is a Box Turtle a Tortoise?

Box turtles sit in a weird in-between next to the conventional turtle and tortoise. These are primarily land-dwelling animals but are still considered semi-aquatic, which can sometimes prove to be a challenge. There is a vast variety of box turtle species throughout North America and Asia, with most unfortunately being endangered or threatened in the wild due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. Box turtles are a smaller sized animal, with the largest species, the Gulf Coast box turtle, maxing out at about 8 inches of shell length. Males tend to be slightly larger than females. The box turtle is known to be the only family of turtles able to completely enclose themselves within their shell. Their plastron (belly) has hinges on each end that fold upwards to encase the animal completely. This is how they earned the name “Box turtle”. They also come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Some Asian species and the Eastern box turtle of North America tend to have very ornate shells with bright yellows and oranges, making them highly sought after in the pet trade. 

caring for box turtles

Box Turtle Care

          Box turtles are omnivores, and can be fed a large variety of foods. Worms, insects, pellets, and veggies are all great sources of food. Having such a wide ranging diet, it is important to maintain a variety of food for the turtle to have well balanced nutrition. Babies feed mostly on protein, and older adults tend to eat more plant matter as they age. Everyday works just fine for these animals, but should be fed no less than three times a week. 

          There are two main families of box turtles. North Americans, and Asian box turtles. North American box turtles tend to inhabit temperate to arid scrubland climates, and do not need as much constant humidity. Asian box turtles on the other hand, are almost exclusively tropical animals, so it’s important to keep that in mind when building an enclosure. Baby box turtles of all species can be kept in 20 gallon tanks for their first year or two, with a thick substrate layer that holds humidity well. Usually a soil and mulch mix works best for this. Adult box turtles live a wanderer’s lifestyle, so offer as much space as possible when they reach adult size. A minimum sized adult enclosure should range at least 4ftx2ft. Always offer an array of obstacles and hiding places to keep their minds busy as they wander about. Box turtles are still considered semi-aquatic despite their terrestrial lifestyle, so offer a large water reservoir that the turtles can take a dip in if desired. Babies should be kept with relatively higher humidity at 70-85%. North American species as adults can tolerate a wider range of humidity, tolerating anything between 50-70%. Asian species should be kept with high humidity across all stages of life however. Spraying the enclosure every day with a mister works great to keep humidity up. Basking temperatures should remain around 92-95 degrees Fahrenheit, with all heat elements being set to one end of the enclosure to create a heat gradient. UVB lighting is a must with this species if kept indoors. 5.0 UVB works best for most species but 10.0 can be offered to drier species such as the desert box turtle. Baby box turtles tend to be extremely shy, but are quick to warm up after a few months. Box turtles are very bold once accustomed to their home and make very interactive pets. Box turtles as a whole make excellent outdoor pets, given that proper safety and enclosure parameters are met. Outdoor keeping allows box turtles to fully enrich themselves with their natural behaviors but is not necessary to allow them to live a fulfilling life. Box turtles are long lived just like every other turtle. 30 years tends to be the average but it is not unheard of for box turtles to surpass 70, so plan to keep these animals long term.

how to care for box turtles

Box Turtles in the Pet Trade

          Many box turtle species are at serious risk of extinction in the wild, and are one of the most poached animals on the planet. Due to this, they are normally a higher priced animal depending on the species. Luckily, most species are predominantly found captive bred, although some less threatened species can be found wild caught, usually already at adult size. It’s also worth checking the local animal laws in your area, as some places restrict keeping specific species due to their unfortunate conservation status. 

          The ethical collection and sustainability of species Imported and Exported are monitored by USFWS & CITES. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species. How does  CITES work?:




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