Wondering about Eastern Box Turtle care?
In this expert guide from Petful, we’ll cover all the essentials and more.
First, a little background. The Eastern Box Turtle is one of North America’s most iconic turtle species.
It’s also one of the most brightly colored reptiles on the continent. Its domed shell sports starburst patterns in varying shades of yellow, orange, gold and brown. Their eyes can range from light brown to blood red.
For many decades, these box turtles have been kept as pets, with some even living with families for generations. A well-known species in the reptile hobby, Eastern Box Turtles are touted for their striking beauty and personable nature.
Alert and inquisitive, Eastern Box Turtles recognize their keepers and aren’t shy about demanding food. They like routine, and any change is quickly noted and investigated.
Watching them explore and exhibit natural behaviors is one of the joys of keeping these turtles.
Eastern Box Turtle Care: First, Set Up a Proper Enclosure
- For hatchlings, a 20-gallon tank or Rubbermaid tub will do for a while.
- For adults, a minimum 4-foot-by-4-foot space is adequate for 1 turtle, larger for more.
Indoor Enclosures for Eastern Box Turtles
For indoor enclosures, look for “Turtle Table” plans online. Indoor housing is an option for people living in apartments or lacking yards.
As long as lighting, heating, space and dietary needs are met, indoor box turtles will do well.
Outdoor Enclosures for Eastern Box Turtles
When housed outdoors in a proper enclosure, these turtles do great with natural sun and lush edible plants.
You can house them outdoors in warmer climates, where they can hibernate as well as they would in the wild. Turtles entering hibernation should be free of any health issues, so get the vet to check yours out beforehand.
Make sure to predator-proof outdoor enclosures, and build with adequate drainage in mind for rainy conditions. Be prepared to bring turtles indoors for harsh weather conditions or if sick or injured.
Adding live plants, big logs and rocks is great for outdoor enclosures. Always check that plants are “turtle-safe” before adding them. Use this list as a guide, and ask other keepers what they use.
In an indoor enclosure, maintain high humidity for Eastern Box Turtles by having moist substrate and mist daily.
Box turtles are secretive by nature and want to hide most of the time. Provide several hiding options by adding logs, huts and plants to their enclosure.
Once they feel secure, box turtles can become bold and come out more often.
Water for an Eastern Box Turtle
Always have fresh water available for your turtles, and change it daily to prevent algae or bacterial buildup.
Use a wide shallow paint pan or pool that the turtle can get in and out of easily.
Box turtles like to soak themselves and drink. A depth of 2–3 inches will be good for most adults, much lower for hatchlings.
Temperature and Humidity for an Eastern Box Turtle
I recommend using the AcuRite digital temperature and hygrometer gauge for keeping track of your readings inside the enclosure.
The gauges sold at pet stores are usually way off on their readings, so better to be safe than sorry.
Here are the best temperatures for Eastern Box Turtle care:
- Basking: 85–90 F
- Air temperature: 75–85 F
- Humidity: 70–80%
Proper Lighting for an Eastern Box Turtle
Incandescent 40 or 60 watts will give the heat you need. Measure the temperatures and adjust the lamp height before placing your turtle inside the enclosure.
You can also buy the basking bulbs sold at pet stores, but they are pricier.
UVB bulbs are sold both online and at local pet stores specifically made for reptiles. I recommend Repti Sun 5.0. (There’s a 10.0 version, but it’s too intense for most turtles.)
You’ll need to replace these bulbs every 6 months to a year — the UVB output diminishes over that time.
What to Feed Eastern Box Turtles
Here are the percentages:
- 60% animal matter
- 40% plant matter
I use Mazuri’s Aquatic Turtle Diet as a staple pellet. Add a bit of water to the pellets to soften them — don’t feed dry.
Mix this pelleted diet with veggies and fruit to give your turtle a fully rounded meal.
Feeder insects include:
- Phoenix worms
Most are available through pet stores or available online. Don’t feed bugs collected from your backyard — they may have come in contact with pesticides and can make your turtle sick.
Feed your Eastern Box Turtle leafy greens, such as:
- Romaine lettuce
- Dandelion leaves
- Plantain weed
For vegetables, these work well for Eastern Box Turtles:
- Any squash variety
- Sweet potato
- Prickly pear cactus pads with spines removed
And all of these fruits make great treats for Eastern Box Turtles:
- Prickly pear fruits
Responsible Eastern Box Turtle Care
Amazingly, box turtles have the potential to live 80–100 years old if cared for properly. In other words, they are a lifetime commitment and not to be taken lightly.
Check state laws concerning turtles before acquiring an animal. In some states, you’re required to have a permit to keep certain species.
Also, check local reptile clubs or rescues for adoptable animals. There are far too many turtles in need of good homes.
Learn more about Eastern Box Turtle care in this video:
If you want a hatchling to start with, inquire with local reptile hobby shops or clubs to find a decent breeder.
Captive-bred animals are always a better option, since animals collected from the wild may have parasite infections and other issues that will cost you more in vet bills.
Wild-caught individuals might also adapt poorly to sudden captivity, and taking one of them from a wild box turtle population is a reduction in the number of reproducing adults. Unless a wild box turtle is injured or very sick, please leave it in the wild. If you find a sick or injured turtle, call a wildlife rehabilitator or a reptile vet who can take them in at no charge.
All reptiles require specialized care, and finding a vet experienced with them is important to their well-being. You can get referred to vets through other reptile keepers and hobbyists.
Should you at some point no longer be able to care for your turtle, find them a home where they will receive proper care. Don’t release any reptiles into the wild — this is not only illegal but also a death sentence for the animal.
Please do the right thing, and find a reptile club or rescue group to give your pet to.
Final Thoughts on Eastern Box Turtle Care
If after reading everything above you still want to bring home one of these unique turtles, prepare ahead of time:
- Read all you can.
- Gather all the supplies you’ll need.
- Set up the enclosure, and test everything out.
If outdoors, build in security measures, add plants, logs, hiding spots and more. If indoors, adjust the heating and lighting for the right temps/humidity, add decor and plants and, of course, a water source.