Box turtles are popular pets, but what is a box turtle? There are several types of box turtles, but they all share two primary characteristics:
1. The Shape of Their Shell
Box turtle shells have a high dome shape.
2. Its Ability to Close
When threatened, box turtles can completely close their shells for protection, rather than just pulling inside the shell.
Baby Box Turtle
Baby box turtles can be appealing and are popular pets, but it is important to remember that these babies grow up. The average life span of a pet box turtle is 40 years, and anyone who considers adopting a baby turtle should be aware that it can be a very long-term commitment. Likewise, while they're adorable, baby box turtles are not great pets for children, as any turtle can carry bacteria like salmonella.
Box Turtle Closing Up Its Shell
When threatened, a box turtle can completely close its hinged shell to stay safe from predators. Never try to re-open your turtle's shell when they retreat.
The shell cannot be forced open without harming the turtle.
Box Turtles Love Safe Time Outdoors
Box turtles can be curious, and they enjoy activity time outdoors. Outdoor summer pens can be superb alternatives to indoor habitats, and box turtles can be kept outdoors year-round in the appropriate warmer climates.
When putting the turtle outside, always check for potential predators and be sure the turtle has easy access to water and food. They should also have some type of hideaway to escape from the sun or rain without being boxed in their shell.
Box turtles like to dig! If you're prepping an outdoor enclosure, be sure to plan for potential tunnels.
Box Turtles Like to Climb
Box turtles are tenacious and will figure out ways to go over or around obstacles in their path. Some folks even call them the "bulldozers" of the natural world because they'll reconfigure an enclosure to their liking. Adding low rocks to a box turtle's enclosure can provide them with some mental stimulation, but the rocks should not be so tall that the turtle risks tipping over if they try to climb them.
Box Turtle Brumation and Hybernation
Box turtles brumate in the fall and winter, and they will easily burrow down into the soil if they are outdoors. Turtle owners should always be careful to know where their turtle is so they do not inadvertently lose sight of it when the urge to brumate strikes.
Brumating is specific to reptiles and amphibians and is related to the temperature experienced since these animals are cold-blooded and cannot regulate their body temperature.
Brumation is similar to hibernation — they do undergo a type of deep sleep, but it is not as deep of a sleep as hibernation.
Feeding Your Box Turtle
Box turtles need a widely varied diet, including plenty of fresh fruits, leafy greens, and vegetables. Insects such as earthworms, crickets, and snails can also be a part of a box turtle's diet, but they should be offered in moderation. If the turtle is not eating well, a visit to the vet may be in order to be sure they aren't suffering from nutritional deficiencies.
Water for Box Turtles
Box turtles are not aquatic, but they do require access to water to stay hydrated. A small bowl of water in their pen, tank, or enclosure will be sufficient, but the water should always be kept clean and fresh. Generally, their water dishes should be cleaned daily to avoid biofilm from forming and to maintain freshness, but they may require additional cleaning if soiled throughout the day.
Water dishes should remain low enough so the turtle has the ability to crawl in and out. The water level should also be kept low enough to avoid the threat of drowning.
Box turtles enjoy a soak now and then. Consider adding a larger pool of water to their enclosures that they can climb into. Don't be surprised if your turtle decides to poop there.
Box Turtle Jaws
Box turtles do not have teeth, but their jaws have hard edges that can bite through food — and fingers! A turtle should never be poked or cajoled into biting, and since turtles can carry Salmonella, any bites should always be washed immediately with anti-bacterial soap to be disinfected.
According to the CDC, "pet turtles of any size can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean."
Aggressive Box Turtles
Turtles are not usually aggressive pets, but like all creatures, they have unique personalities. Always treat your box turtle with respect and avoid stressing or teasing them — an angry or distressed turtle can become an unhealthy one.
Quick Feeding Tip for Babies
If your baby box turtles seem hesitant to eat, consider relocating their food dish to a more private spot. Young turtles often have a shy nature when it comes to feeding. And cutting their food into smaller, more manageable pieces can help.
Large chunks may be overwhelming for them, so aim for pieces about the size of a pea. This can make the food less daunting and more appealing to your little turtles, encouraging them to eat more comfortably.
Outside the Box
Box turtles can be fun pets. Although they may not be the best turtle for anyone who has not owned a turtle before, they can be enjoyable additions to the right family. Be prepared to have your box turtle for their lifetime and be prepared for some special needs, like veterinary care, lighting, and diet. They can also have surprisingly big personalities — so get ready for some laughs.