Box Turtle Care

Basics About Box Turtle Care

Learn the basics of box turtle care.

There are two species of box turtles, with 6 subspecies of  North American Box Turtle. This species are the Florida Box Turtle, Desert Box Turtle, Gulf Coast Box Turtle, Eastern Box Turtle, Three-toed Box Turtle, and Ornate Box Turtle.

Box turtles range between the truly aquatic turtles and the terrestrial tortoises with their need for bodies of water in which they soak and their need for grassland and wooded areas with moist and humid soil. Box turtle forage for food on land and spend the time dug into the earth in burrows, under logs and under rocks.

A box turtle is one of the favorite pets to have in the home. The creature will not only bring joy to the owner, but also to the rest of the family members. However, taking care of the box turtle goes beyond placing the animal in a given space. It also involves the following aspects:

Proper Shelter

Box turtles require to be placed in a large enclosure. The large space ensures that the area is well ventilated, properly heated, and also has the correct humidity. A comfortable and conducive environment will ensure the turtle is always peaceful and happy.

Usually, the smallest enclosure for a box turtle should have a length of 3 feet, width of 3 feet, and a height of 2 feet. Medium size housing should be at least 4 feet long, 4 feet wide and 2 feet high. Although people use aquariums as houses for box turtles, this will only be sufficient for small turtles. Larger turtles need to be placed in larger enclosures.

The surface of the box or enclosure is also important. As a turtle owner, you need to make sure the surface is smooth, and suitable for the turtle’s habitation. Good surface is made up of soft and smooth soil .Course or rough soil may contain hard particles that may injure the turtle, or scratch its shell. A broken shell or skin is prone to getting infections. Do not simply dig up any soil from the backyard or garden, this soil may contain insects, pests, bacteria, or fungi. Soils to avoid include gravel and sand.

The enclosure should also make the box turtle feel safe and secure. The enclosed space should also act as a hideout, where the box turtle can retreat when it wants some peace and quiet. Placing hay in a box is one way to make the shelter conducive. The turtle will burrow through the hay when it needs to hide. The hide box can be a box made from plastic, cardboard, or wood that also has a small opening to act as a door.

A turtle also requires cooling off once in a while. Naturally, it will take a plunge in the water. In order to emulate its natural habitat, a litter pan used for cats can be used as the watering point. The depth of the water should reach the turtle’s nose. The turtle is not meant to swim in the water, but rather soak in it. Turtles also use the water area to relieve themselves. The watering point should also be hygienic.


Good Lighting

Turtles require natural lighting for their metabolism to work well. It will use the light to create and use vitamin D3 which is essential in its growth. Natural lighting also helps in metalizing Calcium. Calcium is needed for growth and development of strong bones and other muscular tissues. Lack of calcium may cause harm to the animal’s bone structure.

Box turtles usually require about 12 to 14 hours of natural lighting. Since, the light may not be sufficient, it is necessary to install full spectrum lighting. This form of lighting tries to imitate the natural lighting. It is also important to shine the light directly on the turtles. Glass or plastic will restrict or reflect away ultra violet (UV-B) rays which is most important. For instance, aluminum screen loses about 40% of the light waves.


Appropriate Humidity and Temperature

Day Time temps: 85 to 88 degrees

Night Time temps: 70 to 75 degrees.

Turtles thrive well in a humid area. The moisture helps them cool off. An enclosure that lacks the right humidity concentration will harm the turtle. Side effects of this include ear infections, and swollen eyes. The right humidity is usually about 60 to 80 percent.

To create a humid environment, peat moss is placed in a corner of the enclosure. Water is added to wet the peat moss until fairly damp. A hiding box with vents or holes is placed over the peat moss. You should constantly check to ensure the moss does not dry up. The temperature inside the box should be kept between 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.



Naturally, box turtles hibernate. This is part of its biological clock. Hibernation takes place during the winter season. You should also allow the turtle to hibernate in its enclosure. Alternatively, if you decide not to allow the turtle to hibernate, you should then provide similar conditions as if hibernating. This will entail providing sufficient UV lighting, and keeping it warm.

When the time of hibernation nears, you should desist from feeding the turtle at least for two weeks. This allows the animal to digest all the food that is still remaining in the intestines and stomach. Soaking the turtle inside a shallow container of lukewarm water also helps in hastening the digestion process, as well as hydrating the animal. It is very important to make certain that no

food remains in the digestive system. Box turtles are known to die during hibernation; this is caused by infection originating from food rotting inside them.

Turtles kept indoors require a special hibernation box. This is a box made of cardboard that is halfway filled with moist peat moss, or damp potting soil that has been sterilized. Once all food has been cleared, the turtle is placed in the box for hibernating.

A turtle that is ready for hibernation will bury itself in the substrate and remain motionless. In case a turtle is restless for a bout 20 minutes after being placed in the box, then it is not ready. You should take it back to its enclosure and try again after a couple of days.

When ready, and after placing the turtle inside the hibernation box, the turtle is moved to a room which is not heated for instance, a garage. Make sure the temperature is between 40 to 55 degrees. Keep a close eye on a weekly basis to make sure the turtle has not surfaced. This will usually occur when the temperature exceeds 65 degrees for a number of days. After the hibernation period is over, you need to move the turtle back to its original enclosure. Provide warmth, water, and food. You should also monitor its health to make certain everything is okay.


Proper Nutrition

The turtle needs to be feed after a couple of hours have elapsed after waking up. This allows the animal to warm up. Young turtles are feed on a daily basis, while mature turtles do not have to be feed daily. Their diet should contain plant and animal matter. It is also a recommended to give vitamin supplements to the turtle two times a week.

Carrots, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, plums, cherries, squash green beans, dandelions, mustard greens, collard greens, and cantaloupe are some of the fruits and vegetables feed to the turtle.

Some animal products feed to the turtle consist of low fat dog food, chopped raw chicken, uncooked beef liver, live worms, crickets, and much more. Young box turtles require more animal matter in order to encourage growth. As they mature, the animal product is also reduced.



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