How to care for an Eastern Box Turtle

How to care for an Eastern Box Turtle? Mistakes to avoid

Knowing how to care for an Eastern Box Turtle is important to ensure that your pet lives a long and healthy life.

These turtles adapt to different surroundings but some may have difficulty transitioning to a new environment, so good care of your new turtle is vital.

Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene Carolina) are found in the wild throughout the eastern United States, but their numbers are declining.

Factors contributing to its decline include habitat loss, traffic mishaps and collection for the pet trade.

They are seen in a broad range of environments, from wet forests to dry grassy areas. They will frequently wander into shallow water and hibernate when the weather turns cold.

Brown with brilliant yellow, orange, and red markings, these turtles have a high-domed shell.

How to care for an Eastern Box Turtle? Key facts at a glance

  • Level of care: Advanced
  • Temperament: Calm
  • Color: Brown or black with speckles of yellow, red, or orange
  • Typical lifespan: 30-40 years.
  • Size: 4-6 Inches in length
  • Diet: Omnivore 
  • Tank size: 75-gallon minimum 
  • Habitat: Outdoor enclosure or indoor paludarium tank setup
  • Compatibility: Limited to those of the same species.

Obtaining a turtle

Eastern box turtle or Terrapene Carolina originate in Canada and the US East Coast and live for up to 30 to 40 years. However, with proper care, they can live up to 100 years.


The trade of this native species is heavily regulated in many US states.

They can be obtained from reptile breeders for $12 to $20 in states where they are not restricted.

These turtles are categorized as endangered in some states and cannot be housed without a permit.

There are numerous state-based conservation schemes in place to protect wild populations.

Don’t buy online

It is not recommended to buy an Eastern Box Turtle or hatchling online or in the mail.

The shipping experience can be highly traumatic for them. It is always preferable to see the turtle in-person to ensure its health.

Locating one in the wild

The Eastern Box Turtle or Terrapene Carolina is a tricky species to keep compared to others and not recommended for a “first-time” turtle keeper.

It’s a lovely species, and you may feel like collecting one when walking through a field or woodland. However, you should just take a photo and leave the turtle where you found it.

Even under the best of circumstances, only around 1-2 out of every five animals caught and kept in captivity will do well. The rest will have difficulties (puffy eyes, refusing to feed, etc.).

Pet Store 

Sometimes it is possible to find Eastern Box Turtles in pet stores outside of their protected zone.

Many Eastern Box Turtles found in pet stores are underweight and malnourished. If you notice a lovely one, it may be worth the risk of purchasing to try and revive it back to health.

Make sure the shell is in good shape with no cracks or dents.

They should be in good health, with no nasal discharge, puffy eyes, or other disease symptoms.

Check to see whether it eats first

If you make up your mind to buy one, ensure that it eats first, as some pet store turtles may be too far gone to be recovered. It would be a waste of money to try.

You can get the turtle if they allow you to feed it while you’re there and if it eats. 

Look at the eyes to see whether they are bright and clear. Look for any evidence of recent injury, etc., before purchasing.

When handled, a healthy turtle is normally alert and active, feels “heavy,” and retracts its head and limbs within its shell.

This process of retraction is one of the indicators of a healthy turtle that you should look for if you are considering buying or adopting one.

Following your purchase

As the first step, you should aim to help the turtle regain weight by getting it to eat. Don’t mix your new pet with your other turtles because it could have an illness that quickly spreads over your entire collection.

Temperament and behavior of Eastern Box Turtles

Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtles are highly active and energetic when allowed to move around.

In a single day, they can travel up to 50 meters.

They are usually quite active in the early morning when their surroundings are damp and moist.

Hides when afraid

When they are afraid, they will hide in their shells, just like other turtles.

When they need to hide, their unusual hinged plastrons allow them to entirely close up.

Dislikes being handled

They are quiet and friendly creatures who dislike being handled.

They will not interact much if kept with other Box Turtles, except while mating.

Except in competition for mates, they do not show aggression toward each other.

They spend several hours on the terrestrial levels of a paludarium or enclosure, only using the water to cool down if it gets too hot.

Eastern Box Turtles like to hide behind logs, in the cover of plants, or burrow into the earth during the day. 

They’ll emerge just before daybreak in search of food.

Colors and patterns

These lovely Box Turtles come in a range of colors and patterns.

They are often black or dark brown, with yellow underbellies and yellow markings on their shells and legs. Orange, crimson, or dark brown markings are also possible.

Their shells are dome-shaped, with speckles in a “boxy” design. 

Difference between males and females

Males’ shells are rounder than females’.

Males are slightly larger than females and range in size from 4 to 6 inches. 

Female box turtles have brown eyes, while males have deep red eyes.

For swimming, juvenile turtles have flatter shells and more streamlined bodies. 

These turtles spend more time on land as adults, so their bodies are rounder, and their legs are ideal for walking.

They have hooked beaks that allow them to consume a variety of prey.

Box Turtle enclosure 

A reduced lifespan and health issues are caused by box turtles being kept in poor conditions. 

A 20-gallon tank or Rubbermaid tub will suffice as a home for hatchlings.

Indoor enclosure: A 75-gallon tank is a minimum size for an Eastern Box Turtle indoor enclosure. Each extra turtle will require an additional 40 to 60 gallons of tank space.

Outdoor enclosure: A 3-foot-by-2-foot outdoor enclosure/pond with a 15 to 30 inches depth is recommended.

Hibernation: If you reside in cold weather or expose your turtle to cold temperatures, it may seek to hibernate for 4 to 6 months.

Eastern Box Turtle indoor enclosures

Don’t worry if you don’t have access to an outdoor location. You can still keep an Eastern Box Turtle inside your home if you want to.

First, choose a quiet and well-ventilated space to keep the tank. 

A 75-gallon glass aquarium is usually required for an adult Eastern Box Turtle. 

A 20-gallon tank can work for a single hatchling or juvenile.

You can use a plastic container

You can also use a sturdy plastic container as an indoor enclosure for the Eastern Box Turtle. But the plastic container should be 36 inches long and 12 inches wide. The container’s walls must be 18 inches tall. Otherwise, your pet will be able to get out.

Provide a cover

Don’t forget to provide a cover for your Box Turtle enclosure. 

Humid environment

Eastern Box Turtles thrive in a humid environment, with a humidity of around 60%. To increase the ambient humidity to at least 50-60%, consider using a warm air humidifier in the room that holds the Box Turtle pen. Daily misting is also another way to maintain humid conditions. 

Respiratory infections are common if the environment is too dry.

Heat lamp

Place a heat lamp over one end of your indoor enclosure, or use the natural sunlight to keep one side of the tank around 80 F.

Eastern Box Turtle outdoor enclosures

When housing outdoors, make sure to provide a proper enclosure where the turtle has access to natural sunlight and edible plants. 

In warmer climes, you can keep them outside, where they can hibernate like they would in the wild.

Turtles entering hibernation should be healthy, so have yours examined by a veterinarian.


Make sure that outdoor cages are predator-proof and that they have appropriate drainage in case of rain.

Prepare to bring your turtle inside during inclement weather or if they become sick or injured.

Add plants

Outdoor enclosures benefit from the addition of live plants, large logs, and rocks. 

Before adding plants, make sure they’re “turtle-safe.”

Cold weather

Eastern Box Turtles can be kept in outdoor habitats if the weather isn’t too chilly.

Building an outdoor habitat 

The carapace of an Eastern box turtle grows to be around 4 to 6 inches long. As a result, simply supplying the pet with a limited environment will not be enough.

You require at least 4 square feet of area to construct an outside pen. 

Fencing should be 18 inches tall and 6 to 12 inches deep all around the area.

Fences or walls

Several different types of fences or walls can be used around the turtle’s enclosure. To enclose the space, people commonly use bricks, cylinder blocks, and chicken mesh wires.

Strengthening the fence

To strengthen the fence, make it deeper because Eastern Box Turtles may attempt to get out of their habitat. Burrowing is a favorite activity of Eastern Box Turtles. They will burrow out of the pen if the habitat walls are not well-built and deep enough. Bury some bricks beneath the fence to prevent this.

To achieve the perfect fencing, start by digging a trench around the boundary you want to use. A single layer of brick should be used to fill the tiny gap. Cover the lining with dirt and construct the fence on top of it.

In an outdoor setting, there are chances for attack from predators or escape. Hence, you must cover the upper portion of the pen with a chicken mesh wire to prevent any risk.

Right location

Choose a location for the enclosure that gives both sunlight and shade.

The best location is one that gets both morning and afternoon sun. Those are the two times when Eastern box turtles are most active. In simple terms, the species’ outdoor habitat should replicate its natural environment.

As they are cold-blooded, they use the sun to regulate their body temperature during the daytime.

They keep their body temperature low by burying into the soil when it gets hot.

Check out the below video tutorial on how to build a DIY outdoor enclosure.


Maintain high humidity for Eastern Box Turtles in an indoor cage by providing a moist substrate and misting daily.

Sand, compost soil, smooth river gravel, moss-type substrate and leaf litter are all suitable options.

Use compost soil with some leaf litter and moss to mimic a natural environment.

Eco-Earth is also an excellent choice because it retains moisture well.

Turtles may burrow and hide in sphagnum moss as well.


You can make it easier for your turtle to burrow by putting a layer of wood chips or dry leaves at the base of the enclosure that it can dig into.

Box turtles are reclusive creatures who prefer to stay hidden most of the time. Add logs, houses, and plants to their cage to give them a variety of hiding spots.

Box turtles might become bold and come out more frequently once they feel safe.


Clean water should always be available for your turtles. It should be changed daily to avoid algae or bacterial accumulation.

Use bottled water

Turtles can be harmed by chlorine found in most tap water. Use bottled water, or treat your tap water with a water conditioner to remove chlorine.

Keep the water in a shallow paint pan or pool with a large opening to allow the turtle to enter and exit effortlessly.

Box turtles enjoy soaking in water and drinking. Most adults will benefit from a 2–3 inches depth, although hatchlings will require a lower depth.

Temperature and Humidity

The following are the ideal temperatures and humidity for Eastern Box Turtles:

  • Basking: 85–90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Air temperature: 75–85 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Ideal night temperature: 65 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit 
  • Humidity: 70%–80% 

Keeping more than one Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtles should be kept in groups of no more than 4 or 5 turtles.

Your group’s male-to-female ratio should be equal, or the females should outnumber the males. A large number of males will lead to aggression.

You may be limited in how many you can keep, so if you plan to maintain more than one, check your state’s regulations.

Box Turtle diet

Eastern Box Turtles like a wide variety of foods.

A good Box Turtle diet in captivity should include raw leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and animal protein.

They come out early in the morning to consume slugs and earthworms in the wild.

Fish, insects, amphibians, and even baby mice are all on their menu.

Wild strawberries and cranberries, for example, grow abundantly in their surroundings, and they enjoy them.

It is critical to provide your turtle with a variety of food to ensure that they receive all of the nutrients they would get in the wild.

From your own garden or backyard, you can give wild-caught worms, slugs, and snails. Just make sure you don’t provide them with anything from a chemically treated area.

Mealworms, crickets, and cockroaches are also excellent.

Turtles adore fruits and vegetables from the garden.

You can also give them strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, and carrots. These plants can even be grown near their outdoor enclosure.

To keep their shells healthy and strong, they should be given a calcium supplement.

When it comes to feeding them, it’s best to do so early, before sunrise.

They should be fed once every 24 hours between the hours of 4 and 6 a.m.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Are Eastern Box Turtles okay with other pets?

Other turtle species can coexist with these turtles. 

Apart from turtles, they’ll eat almost everything else, including amphibians and fish.

You can house them with other turtles as long as they have all of their needs addressed. You should avoid mixing them with turtles of various sizes since this can lead to serious rivalry issues.

It’s better to keep the Eastern Box Turtles apart, but if you’re cautious, you can keep them among other turtles.

How to identify the gender of an Eastern box turtle?

The gender of Box Turtles cannot be determined solely by looking at their genitals, unlike other animals. 

Other clues, however, can help you determine the gender of an Eastern Box Turtle. 

Males’ tails are often thicker and longer than females. 

Female have a flat plastron, but males have a concave plastron.

Males have a flattened carapace, while female turtles have a more domed carapace. 

Males have red irises, while females have brown irises. 

Males’ foreleg patterns are colorful, and their hindfoot claws are small and curved.

How to care for a Hatchling of the Eastern Box Turtle?

You can keep a single hatchling or juvenile in a 20-gallon tank.

The box turtles do best when housed in outdoor cages as they mature (at least if the weather permits), but when they are younger than a year old, it is better to keep them in an indoor enclosure. 

They will be safe from roaming pets, predatory birds, and other natural predators if they stay indoors. 

Plus, because they’ll be more sensitive to temperature changes when they’re young, you’ll be able to better control their indoor climate.

Another advantage of keeping them indoors when they’re young is that you can check on what they’re eating and ensure that they’re getting the proper nutrition.

What to feed your Eastern Box Turtle?

The diet of the Eastern Box Turtle includes a wide variety of foods in the wild. 

They are opportunistic eaters who consume anything that comes their way. 

Their diet should be as near as feasible to a healthy diet in captivity. They should eat every 24 hours or so.

Veggies, fruit, and leafy greens make up half of their diet. They are attracted to food items that are bright in color such as red bell peppers.

Everything else in their diet, such as earthworms, slugs, snails, and mealworms, should be low-fat protein sources. 

They can consume low-fat dog food and lean meats on occasion, but only in moderation. 

Because of their rapid growth, younger turtles require more protein. On the other hand, older turtles require much less protein since they don’t grow as fast as younger turtles.

Provide a water dish large enough for your turtle to wade in. 

They do, however, leave droppings in the water, so you’ll have to change the water daily. It is important to clean the water dish with only water and brush. 

How to choose an Eastern Box Turtle?

You should Purchase Eastern Box Turtles that have been bred in captivity. 

Many states have regulations prohibiting people from keeping wild-caught Eastern Box Turtles as pets.

Steer clear of black marketplaces and illegal pet retailers. Always get your pet turtle from a reputable pet retailer.

When purchasing a turtle, make sure to check its health and gender. 

The indicators of a sick pet include discharge from the eyes, nose, enlarged eyes, and being underweight. 

Active turtles will make excellent pets.

What size aquarium do they need?

A 75-gallon tank is a minimum size for an Eastern box Turtle. Each extra turtle will require an additional 40 to 60 gallons of tank space.

A 3-foot-by-2-foot outdoor enclosure/pond with a depth of 15 to 30 inches is recommended.