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What You Should Know About Eastern Box Turtles

Commentator Philip Gerard recently found two box turtles in his backyard here in North Carolina, which honors the Eastern Box Turtle


The American Eastern Box Turtle (EBT)

  • They can live to 100 years, just like people. Not such a biggie when you consider almost half of that time is spent hibernating (or, more accurately, brumating).
  • They spend their whole lives in a 2 to 4 acre home range (again like many people). When not moving around, box turtles hunker down in depressions they make by digging away vegetation and the top inch of soil. These depressions are called “forms.”
  • They have an instinctive homing ability which is why, if caught, they should not be released anywhere except exactly where they were found or they will travel endlessly to get home, crossing roads and putting themselves in harm's way. Not good!
  • Studies suggest they navigate by the sun and so, during long periods of cloud cover, can wander off their home range and possibly cross a road. When the sun comes out, they head home, crossing that road again.
  • Their penchant for bright colors, especially yellows, attract them to the yellow stripes on roads. Not good!
  • They like to stay hidden or dug-in in cool, moist wooded areas, and they like to come out when it rains to forage for food and water and to mate.
  • One difference between the male and female is generally the male has bright red eyes, just like in some people :-)

  • They mate only through random chance meetings (again, just like some people) so low population density in one area dooms that population to extinction. Not good!
  • After mating once, they can lay fertile eggs up to four years from that one mating. This helps to compensate for their inability to find a mate.
  • Females can lay up to three clutches of from two to ten eggs each. The eggs typically incubate for 75 to 85 days at 75% to 85% humidity. Box turtles exhibit TSD (temperature-dependent sexual determination), which means that eggs incubated at 71°F (22°C) produce males. Eggs incubated at 79°F (26°C) produce a mixed ratio of males and females and eggs incubated at 88°F (31°C) produce females. Scientists figure out why female turtles are born at higher temperatures
  • No two are the same (like people). Color and design vary from almost solid yellow to almost solid black, with myriads of designs. Combinations and shades of white, black, brown, yellow, and red mark their skin and shells.
  • They have favorite nesting and hibernating sites in their home range. Sometimes they'll establish two home ranges — one area for cool spring and late summer conditions, another for hot summer conditions — with a migratory route between. If a road goes through their home range, they may be forced to cross it at least once a year to get to nesting or hibernation sites. Not good!
  • Don't try to eat an eastern box turtle! Part of its diet is poisonous mushrooms. These mushrooms don’t hurt the turtles, but they can kill people! The toxins accumulate in the turtle's body and if you eat the turtle, it can kill you... what a way to go! Anyone for a MacTurtle burger without mushrooms? How about our Killer MacTurtle burger with mushrooms?
  • To remain healthy, they need access to direct sunlight or UVB which keeps their immune systems strong and creates vitamin D in them which is necessary for metabolism of calcium and good shell growth.
  • Fall is the time for raking leaves, but burning your leaves should be done as soon as possible.To you just a pile of leaves, to a box turtle a cozy winter place. A baby box turtle will often choose a pile of leaves as its over-winter location. Burn your leaves sooner rather than later, or leave a pile of leaves for the turtles. Don’t risk burning box turtles with the leaves!

Can I Keep a Box Turtle as a Pet?

Many wild species of turtle and tortoise are endangered, so you'll need to check the rules that apply to your area regarding the legality of keeping them as pets.

If legal in your state, Eastern box turtles can be kept outside in garden-like turtle pens with access to water year round, with little attention, as long as they have food, water, and a place to hibernate. They'll reproduce and thrive on the worms, snails, bugs, and plants in the pen. You can treat them to watermelon and cantaloupe rinds, berries, other fruits and vegetables, and even a little quality, low fat canned dog food.

Although they like to hide, if you have several, there will always be one or two out foraging around so you can appreciate them. If you plan on keeping the turtles, scroll down for information regarding indoor and outdoor housing requirements.

The number of growth rings on a scute does not necessarily show how old a turtle is.

The number of growth rings on a scute does not necessarily show how old a turtle is.

Scutes and Shell Patterns

The scutes on a turtle's carapace and plastron are equivalent to the scales on other reptiles. The Eastern box turtle's shell has the greatest variety and brightest colored patterns of all North American box turtles. The shells of turtles are covered with an epidermis of growth rings which forms the scutes. There is tremendous variation in shell patterns, but six general patterns are apparent.

  1. "Bear-paw" has a paw print pattern on each scute.
  2. "Hieroglyphic" is a pattern where each scute appears to be drawn by an Egyptian scholar.
  3. "Radiated," the most common pattern, consists of radiating jagged stripes.
  4. "Spider Web" is similar to the Radiated with the lines fanned out.
  5. "Thunderbird" is where each vertebral scute has a design that looks like a bird with wings raised. The other scutes can be either a Spider Web or Hieroglyphic pattern. No other turtle or tortoise has this look.
  6. "Bullseye" pattern is probably the rarest of all. This pattern has near-perfect bullseyes on each pleural scute with a dot in the middle and complete concentric circles around the dot. (A very rare and good example is the first picture at the top of this page).

Because individuals' patterns tend to be blended, it's hard to find perfect examples of each of these patterns. The ability to breed for these specific patterns is yet undetermined.

Eastern box turtles mating: Anybody home?

Eastern box turtles mating: Anybody home?

"... the female, not so much!"

"... the female, not so much!"

Chance Encounters Are the Only Way a Box Turtle Can Find a Mate

They have no way to attract a member of the opposite sex other than by bumping into them. They do not smell a mate or call a mate (with this one possible exception, "the turtle phone").

The indentation in the male's plastron (bottom shell) makes mounting a female easier as he snaps at the female's head. When she pulls it in, her rear pops out a little, making it easier for him to copulate. Males can actually damage a female's shell if she isn't cooperative. Where females are scarce, males will even try to mate other young males and can damage their shells, too.

Population density is vital to reproduction. When populations decline, it becomes less and less likely turtles of the opposite sex will cross paths, and therefore less likely that the population will reproduce at a great enough rate to overcome predation, roadkill, destruction of habitat from human progress, and all the inhibitions to population growth. To help turn the tide against these overwhelming odds, a female box turtle can mate once and continue to lay fertile eggs for up to four years.

Once they have copulated, they can remain attached for up to an hour. This position seems to bring certain ecstasy to the male... the female, not so much!

When mating season arrives, males' activity will increase and "penis fanning" can be observed. The penis looks like a purple flower and sometimes those unfamiliar with a turtle's normal anatomy may mistake it for a prolapse.

Box turtles dig their nests about two inches deep at dusk having staked out the nest sight during the day. They will stop if they feel a stone or hard object with their feet in the hole and try again in another spot the next night or two.

Hatchlings Are Susceptible to Predators like Raccoons but Adults Fare Well!

Examples of Outdoor and Indoor Turtle Pens


Interior and Exterior Housing Requirements for Eastern Box Turtles

Males and females should be housed separately.

Indoor Enclosures: Indoor enclosures should be at least 48 x 24 x 15 inches (120 x 60 x 38 cm) for one adult box turtle. Its walls should be a minimum of 12-15" (30-40cm) high to prevent escape. A daytime basking area heated from above by a radiant heat source or lamp (85-88°F / 29-31°C) is essential.

Outdoor Enclosures: Where the climate is appropriate, it is better to house box turtles outdoors. Walls should have an inside lip at the top and extend at least 15" (38 cm) above the ground and at least 10" (25 cm) into the ground to prevent escape. Turtles are capable of climbing over or digging under a fence. Daytime temperatures should be 72-75°F (22-24°C) and several degrees cooler at night.

Inside the Pen: Finely shredded hardwood mulch or high quality loam compost are appropriate substrates. Hardwood leaves like hydrated sphagnum moss or or hydrated coconut shell is recommended to increase moisture. Substrate moisture content is very important in the health of a box turtle. Live or silk plants and smooth pieces of wood should be added for a retreat from overexposure to sun or ultraviolet light and for environmental enrichment. Providing opportunities for exercise and a substrate (3-4" deep) for digging will help maintain the turtle’s health.

More on box turtle housing

Dietary Needs, Water & Lighting

Box turtles are omnivorous, and opportunity often dictates what they eat in the wild. In Illinois, for example, researchers discovered box turtles' diet consisted of (by volume) 34.2% plant material, 19.65% insects, 17.4% seeds, and 10.6% snails and slugs. But herpetologists In Kentucky determined that slugs and snails there made up 52% of turtles' diet. Eastern box turtles have also been observed eating blackberries, cantaloupes, mulberries, mushrooms, spiders, and carrion.

High quality, pesticide-free vegetable sources should be provided. High quality, preservative-free, low fat animal sources of food are okay as occasional treats but not a diet staple. A steady diet of cat or dog food can be too high in protein and fat for box turtles. Vegetables should be finely diced and mixed together to prevent selective feeding. All insects should be lightly dusted with a phosphorus-free calcium powder and offered every other meal, and a high quality multivitamin and mineral supplement given once a week. Feeding North American Box Turtles by herpetologist Sandy Barnett offers a highly recommended meal plan.

Hatchlings and juvenile turtles should be fed daily and prefer insects over vegetation. A blender may be used to dice their food finely to ease ingestion. When box turtles reach adulthood, it is practical to feed them only once every other day. Turtles should be fed in the morning. Mature turtles will eat pinkies, which should be offered occasionally.

Foods should be offered on flat rocks or a plastic lid to prevent substrate ingestion. Each animal should be provided its own food dish. Leftovers should be removed to prevent spoilage.

Free-roaming animals are at greater risk as a result of dietary indiscretion.

Other Requirements

  • Access to sun for basking is ideal.
  • An under-tank heater designed for reptile enclosures can help moderate the temperature indoors and should be used in a different area from the basking site.
  • A diurnal cycle of 12-14 hours of light and 10-12 hours of dark is ideal.
  • UVB full spectrum lighting must be provided 10-14 hours per day with bulbs replaced every 9-12 months.
  • Outdoors, providing a hollowed log, slanted board, or heavy vegetation will help protect from excessive direct sunlight.
  • Box turtles must have daily access to water for drinking, soaking, and eliminating wastes.
  • Fresh water should be provided in a shallow container no deeper than ¼ the shell height (many are weak swimmers).
  • Because turtles tend to defecate in water, fastidious cleaning of water containers is essential.


Box turtles rarely need significant restraint during exam.

Cranial exam is easier with an assistant restraining the forelimb from behind.

Once presented, the head is controlled with the thumb and forefinger.

Place thumb under carapace and the middle fingers on the other side midway on the carapace; be prepared for a pinch.

If poked or prodded, they usually do not retreat into their shell but may occasionally bite or pinch an unwary finger

Common Subspecies of Box Turtles, Counter Clockwise:  1. Eastern (at 12:00) 2. Ornate (Western)  3. Gulf Coast 4. Florida (at 6:00) 5. Three-Toed  6. Desert

Common Subspecies of Box Turtles, Counter Clockwise: 1. Eastern (at 12:00) 2. Ornate (Western) 3. Gulf Coast 4. Florida (at 6:00) 5. Three-Toed 6. Desert


What Kinds of Box Turtles Are There?

In total, there are approximately 14 subspieces of box turtles. These are the most common:

  • Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  • Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major)
  • Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)
  • Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)
  • Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata)
  • Desert Box Turtle (Terrapene ornate luteola)

Coahuilan Box Turtle


Box Turtle Ranges


And these two in Mexico

Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) ---->

Spotted Box Turtle (Terrapene nelsoni)


•Domain: Eukaryota - Whittaker & Margulis,1978 - eukaryotes
•Kingdom: Animalia - Linnaeus, 1758 - animals
•Subkingdom: Bilateria - (Hatschek, 1888) Cavalier-Smith, 1983
•Branch: Deuterostomia - Grobben, 1908
•Infrakingdom: Chordonia - (Haeckel, 1874) Cavalier-Smith, 1998
•Phylum: Chordata - Bateson, 1885 - Chordates
•Subphylum: Vertebrata - Cuvier, 1812 - Vertebrates
•Infraphylum: Gnathostomata - Auct. - Jawed Vertebrates
•Superclass: Tetrapoda - Goodrich, 1930
•Class: Reptilia - Reptiles
•Subclass: Anapsida
•Order: Testudines
•Suborder: Cryptodira
•Superfamily: Testudinoidea
•Family: Emydidae
•Subfamily: Emydinae
•Genus: Terrapene

Box turtles can be taught to sing and dance...



A Turtle Joke

Once there were three turtles who went on a picnic. Upon arrival, they realized they had forgotten the soda. The youngest turtle said if they wouldn't eat the sandwiches until he got back, he would go home and get it. A week passed, then a month, finally a year, and then the two turtles said, "Oh, come on, let's eat the sandwiches." Suddenly from behind a rock, the little turtle said, "If you do, I won't go!"

However Box turtles can be trained to do tricks like this one! How he did it!

Good stuff to know.

Every Adult Box Turtle Is Vital to Its Population's Future

In the fragmented habitats that are typical of the eastern United States, box turtle populations are so sensitive to losing adults that, in modeling studies performed by Dr. Richard Seigel at Towson University, a loss of only three adult box turtles from a population of 50 males and 50 females could put the population on a slow and irreversible decline to extinction.

Most box turtles never reach breeding age (8+ years): Foxes, raccoons, skunks, crows, opossums, turkeys, domestic cats and dogs, and other animals eat turtle eggs and young turtles with shells not yet hard enough to provide good protection. Any turtles that do survive have to contend with roads and also with development which causes a loss of habitat, which also brings more roads, more dogs and cats, and more people who like to take turtles from the wild, hoping that they can make pets of them. Every one of the years that a wild female box turtle can live is critical to ensuring that, of the three to five eggs she lays a year, at least one of her young will become an adult to replace her in that population.

Why are so many turtles are killed on highways? Could it be that when foraging for food, color is important? The fact is yellows and reds are their favorite! They are attracted by bright yellow stripes on streets and go for them. No doubt they think they are flowers. If the Department of Transportation would paint orange stripes, the box turtle population could skyrocket.

Mowers and Box Turtles

FACT: Every year, countless box turtles are killed and maimed by mowing machines. Sadly, mower operators likely have no idea that turtles are even present where they mow. Read Mowing Tips: How to Avoid Killing Eastern Box Turtles to help prevent unnecessary EBT deaths!

Is This Box Turtle Male or Female?

  1. The iris of the mature male is frequently bright red, while in the female it is usually brown, yellowish brown, or auburn.
  2. The tail of the male is often longer and wider at the base than the female's. Females tails are fatter.
  3. The cloaca of the male is more caudal (further from the shell and closer to the tip of the tail) than the female’s when compared with the rear edge of the plastron.
  4. Males often have a concavity in the caudal half of the plastron.
  5. Females typically have a higher-domed carapace.
  6. It isn't always enough to match just one of these characteristics in determining a turtle’s gender. For example females may sometimes have a slightly concave plastron or bright eye color still being female. What should be done is to see which gender has the most matches.
  7. EBT matings occur purely by chance meetings and these turtles are said not to have any means by which to attract a mate. However, since EBTs are strongly attracted to bright red and yellow, it could be that a hiding female would be attracted to the highly visible red eye of a male who otherwise might just stroll past a partially hidden female. This may be a way, the only way, they have of attracting a mate who is within sight.
Often people will mistake a reddish brown female eye for a male's red eye but when examined side by side, it is easier to discern the difference.

Often people will mistake a reddish brown female eye for a male's red eye but when examined side by side, it is easier to discern the difference.

Look Closely... Is This Turtle Sending a Message?

The GOD turtle.

The GOD turtle.

Plants That Are Toxic to Eastern Box Turtles

  • Certain plants or parts of plants can be toxic to box turtles. They can result in mild irritation, damaged organs, or even death. Although tomatoes are safe, tomato leaves and vines are toxic as are rhubarb leaves, avocado (leaves and seeds), holly, oleander, and plants of the nightshade family.
  • Plant saps that contain oxalate salts will cause irritation, burning, swelling, and pain. Begonia, calla lily, and Boston ivy are examples of plants that contain oxalate salts.
  • Other plants can cause dermatitis, rash, itching, or other irritations. Dermatitis can be caused by ivy, primrose, Shasta daisy, spider mum, and plants from the buttercup family.
  • Gardenia, grape ivy, and sweet pea seeds haven't been proven poisonous but might be harmful. It's best to keep plants you are not sure of away from your box turtle. Discuss symptoms and treatment with your veterinarian if your turtle is affected by a poisonous plant or one you are unsure of.

Aural Abscess: A common health problem

Ear Infections in Chelonians

Aural abscesses or ear infections are a common problem for both captive and wild-caught turtles and can occur in one or both ears. An abscess is a localized collection of pus made up of dead inflammatory cells called neutrophils. Although this is a common problem box turtles, the reasons for it aren't well understood. Abscesses can become life-threatening; however, with proper medical care, they can easily be resolved.

Great Sites About Box Turtles

Comparison of an Eastern and a Blandings turtles

Comparison of an Eastern and a Blandings turtles

Hatchlings of Eastern Box Turtles could be confused with Spotted Turtle hatchlings, because both have spots on each scute.

However, the Spotted Turtle lacks a mid-dorsal keel.

However, the Spotted Turtle lacks a mid-dorsal keel.

Species That Look like Box Turtles

The Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is referred to as the "semi-box turtle" because it has a hinged plastron like the Eastern box turtle that enables it to pull into its shell, however without the closure the EBT has. Although both may have yellow markings on their carapace, the marking on a Blanding’s are only spots or flecks, unlike the usual patterns found on EBT. In addition, an adult Blanding’s (15-23 cm; 6-9 in. in shell length) is larger than the EBT. The Blanding’s is essentially aquatic while the EBT is terrestrial but they both can nest in similar habitat on land.

  • North American Box Turtles State Laws
    Because they are endangered in many states, individual states may have law regarding owning, breeding and/or selling box turtles. You should check with your local Fish and Wildlife Division before keeping any box turtle to be sure it is legal.

Want to Be a Citizen Scientist?

You can help with a box turtle connection study! If you find a live or dead box turtle in your backyard or anywhere else, you can help! All you have to do is:

  1. Take pictures.
  2. Send the pictures and your address (or GPS location).
  3. Fill out the data sheet.

Box Turtles are the official reptile of three U.S. states:

North Carolina -Eastern Box Turtle

Tennessee - Eastern Box Turtle

Missouri - Three Toed Box Turtle

Samantha Loses the Box Turtle


Samantha Chapter Book Series by Daisy Griffin

Samantha Loses the Box Turtle is one book of the Samantha Series of Children's Illustrated Chapter Books written by Daisy Griffin and Illustrated by Matthew Gauvin. The books are a fun way for children to get to know more about animals.

Last but not least (well, maybe least), if you have never seen a box turtle fanning his penis, notice after he is done he kicks it in with his foot!

Watch This Tortoise Eat a Strawberry

Alan Rickman’s Dying Wish

By watching the video above, you earn money for Save the Children and Refugee Council. YouTube gives advertising revenue to whoever uploads a video. The more views it gets, the more money raised.


The Logician (author) from then to now on on March 06, 2020:

Jim, it is common knowledge that “They mate only through random chance meetings....."

You can google it. This is a fact as there is no evidence to the contrary. Any study I have ever read that addresses that issue says the same thing. Google it.

If you think there is some way EBTs attract each other please enlighten me.

Of course you are right, it is true that they will cross roads if roads go through or near their home range. This can happen when they are growing and expanding their home range or when cloud cover obstructs their view of the sun for long periods and so they wonder off their home range. (They navigate their home range by the sun and if removed from their home range and released they will cross roads to get back) Then when the sun comes out and they get their bearings they can cross roads to get back to their home range. As you mentioned they tend to have favorite nesting spots and places where they brumate. If a road is built or exists in their home range they can cross it to get to a nesting site or to brumate.

However they are also attracted to yellows and reds. The yellow stripe on the road is easily seen in the open and could be incentive for a turtle to start across a road it may otherwise would have ignored. I suspect that the fact that almost all males have bright red eyes may be to bring females to males when they randomly cross each other’s paths since they are attracted to reds. Males will be attracted to any female they see but if a female doesn’t want to mate it will not be attracted to a male. If it does want to mate being attracted to the males red eye is a benefit for her. A Male can damage a female’s shell if she is not ready to mate In which case she may want to remain hidden if she sees a red eyed male.

Thanks for reading my article and asking good questions.

jbasi on March 06, 2020:

Several places on your EBT pages you say "7) They mate only through random chance meetings....."

"Chance encounters are the only way a box turtle can find a mate."

"They have no way to attract a member of the opposite sex other than by bumping into them."

"EBT matings occur purely by chance meetings and they are said to not have any means by which to attract a mate."

Is this opinion, or can you lead me to a research paper or 2 discussing the randomness of EBT meetings and matings?

Same question about "Fact is yellows and reds are their favorite (colors)! They are attracted by bright yellow stripes on streets and go for them. No doubt they think they are flowers.".....I thought they crossed roads mainly for nesting and travel to different parts of their home range.


GalaxyRat on April 08, 2017:

Just was looking at some posts of turtles and this came up...

I really like it. Very informative.

TSAD, turtles and rats seem similar in the way of "chance breeding". You can place a female Rat in heat and a male Rat in the same cage for a night, and...OMG you got a pregnant female who looks like she's swallowed a watermelon.

And yes... some people are just stupid and go do "chance breeding"... LOL.

The Logician (author) from then to now on on September 11, 2016:

When they hatch they sometimes will have a tiny bit of egg yoke visible in the middle of their plastron but even if they don't they can receive nourishment from what may be left internally until it is completely absorbed. So they will not eat for about two weeks after hatching. Not to be alarmed, they will eat live insects that are tiny, baby crickets, pillbugs, tiny worms virtually any insects small enough for them to tackle as soon as they are ready.

Their shells won't really harden for 3 years, the hinge doesn't appear for three or four years so they can't close up. This makes them very susceptible to predation when young.

However it is best to just leave them on their own in the wild just like any wildlife. When hatched they are virtually impossible to find being so small and instinctively secretive. In many, many years of experience exploring box turtle habitats I have never come across a hatchling or any box turtle smaller than 3 inches. When hatched they are about an inch at most. They lack bright colors and are so secretive and indistinguishable from the forest floor you can't see them even if they are in front of your eyes in the wild.

As far as students are concerned the best thing to do if you want to enlighten them is to make a video adventure of the turtles emerging from the nest, and then being relocated with descriptive narration throughout and present it to your students.

If you were to keep them for a couple years to give them a start, keeping the correct environment, providing the right food etc. can become tenuous and once turtles are kept in captivity they should not be released into wild populations because of the risk they could carry something a wild population will not have immunity to.

Have fun! It is a great idea to spread awareness and specific knowledge of these special creatures and children will learn many things most people don't know about these little gems of the forest. Hopefully a little knowledge will go a long way to preserving a future for a species that is slowly disappearing from many areas where they used to thrive.

Joyce on September 11, 2016:

Thank you for the info.. and the funny.. the kids loved it!! We have done everything mentioned and have one last question as we wait... For everyone out there in cyber land here is another question.. Once they hatch- should an individual immediately relocate them to a safer habitat or feed- care for them until their shell hardens (actually that is true- we can't possess them but I am sure others are wondering as well)... If it is best to feed/ care for them first how could the average person best do that? I should also share that I am a teacher in a special ed high - school classroom. I will be sharing this with my students this week as well.

The Logician (author) from then to now on on September 10, 2016:

Yes state parks are great but remember those hatchlings will eventually grow up to command a home range o 2-4 acres. If there are roads that close to where you release them eventually they will likely get killed crossing a road. I would take them to a place on state land that is near wetlands or areas where runoff from rain drains (box turtles often live near gullies or areas that conduct water runnoff or small streams) and release them at least a half mile, preferably more if you think about future generations they might produce, from any roads that get traffic. A country road with one car in hours is probably little threat as they can cross it in time and cars aren't traveling at high speeds.

Joyce, remember it is illegal in Georgia to possess eastern box turtles so be careful even though you are being the good Samaritan.

And did you know what the box turtle was doing on the expressway?

About 150 inches per hour! "Why was the turtle crossing the road?" you may ask. To get to the Shell station, of course.

Joyce on September 10, 2016:

Oh wow- you are awesome!!! Thank you so much!! We caged the area as we read we should for the last two years - checking daily. We did not wet the ground though... Mushrooms sprouted in the spot they were laid after some time leading me to believe they perished under ground. We will water the area as directed. Once they hatch... if they hatch (we are a foster/ adopt home and all of the kids are eagerly awaiting)... should we just release them into the thicket of the state park that connects to our property? Thank you VERY much...

The Logician (author) from then to now on on September 10, 2016:

In the hot weather water an area of about 10 feet by 10 feet with the nest in the middle every night for at least an hour except the day or two after a decent rain. Put a 1 square foot wire cage or the like stapled to the ground with lawn staples to keep animals from digging up the eggs. If long periods of hot weather persist water more often and in the day. If the eggs are heated higher than about 90 some degrees for long they will die and they need humidity in their nest or they will dry out. The nest if you could see into it is a small cavern with a tiny air pocket above the eggs. As long as the ground around the nest isn't totally dried out an inch under the surface they should be ok, you can even push a thermometer into the ground so the bulb is 2 inches deep to get an idea of the subsurface temperature.

In hot weather you can shade the nest with a board or something flat 3 feet in diameter but do not cover it by placing a board directly on the ground. Shrews love to search under anything laying on the ground and could be drawn to dig up the nest. Check the nest daily and shade the nest after 70 days also so when they hatch out they won't be trapped in the cage under hot sun, although it is common for them to dig an air hole but remain in the nest for days before totally emerging.

Sometimes if the eggs aren't developing at the normal rate they can take 3 months to hatch or even overwinter in the shell and/or nest to emerge in spring. If yours don't hatch by end pof September I'd dig them up gently, use a spade to under cut the nest and pry the ground up. The ground will rack right through the hiole that was dug to make the nest and eggs or hatchlings will appear to be easily plucked out without making a mess of the ground digging.

It isn't uncommon that all the eggs being laid or some are not fertile.

Unless you are diligent watching daily for hatchlings it is possible they emerged and were missed. If you have sites of old nests dig them up, you should find the eggshell remnants in the ground still if you hose off the dirt you dig up.

Let me know how your nest works out.

joyce on September 10, 2016:


A box turtle has been laying eggs in our yard for 3 years now. Because we live in Georgia the ground gets really hard during this time of year... not much rain. We are at 75 days now for the last group. For the past two years no turtles emerged. This year we watered the ground to make it softer.. What else do we do.. start digging??

The Logician (author) from then to now on on May 26, 2016:

Thanks for commenting and asking for my thoughts.

Your tank is pretty big and that's good, That size can accommodate two box turtles however you can't provide them with too much space, they just love to roam and the more room to exercise the healthier they will stay. They prefer to go to the bathroom in water. Make sure water in the bathing areas are fresh daily, or at least replaced as soon as it is soiled.

They are a solitary sort and don't need nor necessarily want company of their own kind, except to mate, which is always a random chance meeting. If you put a really horny male with a female, especially if she does not want to mate, he can hurt her. The males mount the female and bite at her head to get her to pull her head in which will cause her rear to stick out more enabling the male to copulate. If the female is stubborn or if she is trapped in your aquarium and can't move on after mating, a male will continue to try to mate and can damage the nuchal and or anterior scutes next to it because of his constant biting at her head, he'll bite the scutes.

In the wild this even occurs, if a population has no females because of the fragmentation of their habitat due to development and roads, males will mount other, usually younger males and their persistent biting at the nuchal and anterior scutes will break them. Turtles usually heal from this type of injury in the wild but depending on the health of the turtle and the environment it is in (for example captivity) it can lead to infection and death.

I would keep a close eye on them if you put them together. Turtle's often do have different "personalities" and if the male isn't a crazed sex pot they will be fine. If he is, let's say, a turtle version of Bill Clinton a female will do better with lots of room and hides to get away from the male.

If you can construct a large out door pen for summer these two would be better off. An outside pen should have one spot that gets direct sun all day, with nice topsoil at least 8 inches deep, no clay or stones, bare, no growth. If the female gets pregnant she will lay her eggs there, starting the nest digging at dusk and finishing after midnight, so in June and July check that part of the pen every night before going to bed so you can catch her in the act, mark the nest and in the morning cover it with a wire cage to prevent predators from digging it up and to confine the hatchlings when they arrive.

Be sure that area is watered frequently, droughts/intense heat for too long can dry out the soil and cause problems. It's a good idea to set a sprinkler on a timer to dampen the pen every night it doesn't rain. Humidity is the turtle's life line.

If they mate in your aquarium and you want the female to nest there just create a spot equal to what I described with a heat lamp over where you want her nest. When the eggs are laid gently dig them up, DO NOT TURN THE EGGS, but mark the upside with a pencil and put them in an incubator. You can research how to incubate box turtle eggs. Just google it.

BY the way, your aquarium should have a top that contains humidity and the humidity should never go below 60% in the tank, higher is even better. One end of the tank should be cooler than the other end where your heat lamp should be. They also need UVB and lighting should be on a timer set at least for 12 hours daylight. If heat lamp heats tank up too hot put it on a timer for only a few hours focused on one spot

These turtles have to be about ten years old to breed. I hope this helps, thanks for stopping by. Remember if your male's behavior resemble's Slick Willie, I'd keep him separated after one mating. A female can lay eggs for four years after one mating.

Okieforokc on May 26, 2016:

Loved the info my son is 8 and he has read every book he can find on his 3 toe we have one on are porch (we live in an apt ) and keep him in a 175 gallon tank and we have lined the walls of it in plants my son and a friend of his found another 3 toed box turtal that looks to be female and he was wanting to keep it for him to have a friend it this a good idea the soil we put in the tank is about 8in thick and it has a house and to bathing areas on each end of the tank ......what are your thoughts

peachy from Home Sweet Home on April 14, 2015:

is it true that the older the turtle, the bigger the shell? If human can live by hibernating, we can live up to 100 too!

The Logician (author) from then to now on on March 24, 2015:

Wow! How in the world do you get to take such diverse and fantastic pictures of so many of these two classes of vertebrates? Don't tell me you're a descendant of Jane and Tarzan and still live in the trees (I'm guessing you left Africa for Florida :-) Thanks kind lady.

itsbygrayce on March 23, 2015:

Great information about these fascinating little earthlings. You've put a great deal of research and observation into them, and we the readers benefit. Thanks!

I don't have any pets other than our Miss Sassy cat. Over the years we've had wonderful experiences with all the animals we've had, including goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, (well maybe geese were a little out of hand)dogs, and cared for peoples' horses. I love them all.

Wildlife is a passion of mine. We are the stewards that must do what we can for their protection. Part of that, in fact a large part of that is educating others. Photos also speak volumes. I try to do both and appreciate your obvious concern for wildlife and responsible pet ownership. Thank you!

I have a great many nature photos. Here is a link to my amphibian and reptiles, if you ever feel like taking a look. Enjoy!

God bless you and thanks for the oodles of info, kind man.

The Logician (author) from then to now on on February 01, 2015:

They are fascinating beautiful creatures, so sad to see them squished on roads when only a small, 7-8 inch barrier, not much more than a curb, would save their lives which can be as long as 100 years. And it could all be accomplished by volunteer organizations (scouts, 4H, high school and college clubs, citizen scientists, to name a few) and local businesses in the areas where their home ranges are found. But today students and others would rather play video games or surf social media instead of getting off their duffs and finding a small purpose for good to be a part of.

Suzie from Carson City on February 01, 2015:

Tsad.....My life is complete. You have provided your readers with Everything I've ever wanted to know about EASTERN BOX TURTLES, but simply forgot to ask.

Seriously? This is a huge amount of research involved and I would imagine a very popular hub on google.

There's a big old Turtle in the creek that runs along my property....In the summer he sits on a rock and just checks out the scenery. I call him Mr. Grumpy...because he does not like me and my grandsons anywhere near him (which is FINE with me!) and he opens his mouth and slips off into the creek. Of course I don't want the kids touching him.....he just looks mean.

Very good hub. You put serious work into this. UP+++

The Logician (author) from then to now on on February 20, 2013:

You might like these other turtle hubs too

Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord on February 20, 2013:

Wow!!! This is really a complete guide. I will link this article to a hub I wrote about a turtle tank.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on November 06, 2012:

We have very many box turtles here in the country. I usually see atleast one everytime I go for a walk. One of my grandsons had one for a pet for a while, but his daddy told him that the turtle would be much happier living in the wild and talked him into letting him go free. He did put him right back where he found him. I was proud of him. Great hub, tons of really good information! Voted up ++. :)

Claudia Mitchell on November 06, 2012:

Awesome and voted up! I love box turtles. Had 2 of them growing up for many many years. They are so gently and best of all they loved the snacks I'd give them. Cherries were their favorite! Every winter we would pile mounds of dirt for them to hibernate and we were sure they would never come back, but they always did. Loved this hub. Brought back many memories! Shared too!

The Logician (author) from then to now on on November 05, 2012:

Thanks Peggy. These little gems of the forest are slowly disappearing in some areas due to fragmentation of their habitat as high population density is necessary for reproduction since they don't attract a mate but breed only by random chance encounters. Because of their long life (up to 100 years) it may take a generation or two for them to disappear in an area that has development going on. For some more on what can be done to help them go to:

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2012:

This was so very informative about Eastern Box Turtles. It has been a long time since I have seen any kind of a turtle in the wild. Of course where I live in Houston, Texas...I guess that makes sense. Development and new subdivisions have undoubtedly taken over their natural territory. Up votes and sharing so that more people can learn about them.

The Logician (author) from then to now on on May 06, 2012:

Turtle with carved initials turns up 47 years later

aa lite from London on April 28, 2012:

Great hub! But now I really want to keep some as pets! It is nice that you can tell males from females easily, with some reptiles or frogs this is quite a challenge, I love the red eyes on the male eastern box turtle and of course the beautiful colours!

The Logician (author) from then to now on on February 22, 2012:

PADDYBOY60 from Centreville Michigan on December 06, 2011:

I will check them out soon.

The Logician (author) from then to now on on December 06, 2011:

Thanks Paddyboy! I have been a box turtle enthusiast all my life - I think they are amazing - you might like my other turtle hubs on snappers and wood turtles.

PADDYBOY60 from Centreville Michigan on December 06, 2011:

Very good! I love these turtles, but here in Michigan they are protected, and you need a permit to keep one. Great pictures. You have really done your homework on these. Thanks.

The Logician (author) from then to now on on August 30, 2011:

Stew? - you didn't read the whole hub did you? - they eat poison mushrooms and a stew of their meat could kill you! But hey, you are playing Russian roulette with cancer already, go ahead and enjoy your stew.

Stump Parrish from Don't have a clue, I'm lost. on August 29, 2011:

You forgot to mention how good they are in a stew, Once cooked the shells make great ashtrays.

The Logician (author) from then to now on on May 25, 2011:

Keeping in mind there is always an exception to any rule, males have bright red or orange eyes, females usually are some shade of brown. Young males may have brown eyes too but when they reach sexual maturity (usually 7 - 10 years of age) they turn red. Also the plastron (bottom shell) on males is deeper concave (making it easier to mate) while females are usually flat or slightly concave. If you still have questions, the anus on females' tails is located before the edge of the carapace(top shell) when tail is extended while the males tail is usually longer with the anus usually located past the edge of the carapace. females tend to be rounder but eastern box turtles exhibit high amounts of variation in appearance so sexing can be difficult.

happy123 on May 25, 2011:

i cant tell if my turtle is a boy or a girl

justmesuzanne from Texas on May 03, 2011:

Sure! Yes, I actually would like to find some organic gardeners with well fenced gardens so that I can relocate some. I have an extremely successful breeding program!

The Logician (author) from then to now on on May 03, 2011:

I agree - you are right on and bravo for promoting awareness of these unique little gems of the wild! Every home should have a proper turtle pen habitat with a box turtle or two they rescued from certain death! Great residents for organic gardens too! I appreciate your sharing your experience with box turtles and I am extremely grateful for the prospect that they possibly can reorient themselves to a new home range in a few (3) years! That would probably lessen the stress of removal from their home range and does make sense to me. Thanks again for that information.

justmesuzanne from Texas on May 02, 2011:

Yes, that's very true, and repopulating an area with box turtles would certainly be a much more worthwhile 4H project than raising a pig, sheep, goat or calf as a pet and then sending it off to the slaughterhouse! I have been told by "experts" that repopulating an area with box turtles is "impossible";even though, that's exactly what I'm doing. However, if I were to examine them and weigh them every day and keep pestering them,it would, indeed, be impossible! :)

The Logician (author) from then to now on on May 02, 2011:

Well many "scholarly scientific types" would probably tell you there is no such thing as common sense. I know the type of which you speak and a good illustration of this is the advice they give that when you find a box turtle crossing a road you should put it on the side of the road in which it was heading! on most any road that is a sure death sentence for the turtle based on what the same "experts" tell you about their behavior... if it is a country road sparsly traveled, well sure go ahead and do it but in most cases we are talking about new roads in developing areas or multi lane highways, all situations with constant traffic. The "experts" say box turtles have hibernation sites and nesting sites they tend to use repeatedly. If they are crossing the road to get to them they will cross it again over and over because the road is in their home range, so what chance will they have for a long life? "Experts" say they navigate to their home range by the sun. If they have wondered off their home range because of days of cloud cover when they cannot see the sun they may have crossed the road and when the sun comes out they will cross the road again to get back to their home range. Truth is if they are crossing a road they will be crossing it again over and over, eventually get squished and as Dr. Richard Seigel of Towson University says will eventually be extinct from that area - it may take a 100 years for them to disappear there but it will happen as you can see all over the nation once development is started in an area of their habitat...Yet the "experts" will tell you to put the turtle on the other side of a four lane highway it may be crossing. . If more people kept these turtles as you do providing them good habitat and protection and allow them to breed there would be plenty... and what an easy and rewarding project for young people, scouts, 4H'ers, etc... Can you imagine how many are destroyed everytime a farmer sells his land to a developer? And not just the building kills them off with bulldozers and destruction of habitat but the roads created continue to kill whatever is left for generations. If the "experts" would be more proactive than reactive when it comes to these gems there would be more awareness and more turtles around.

justmesuzanne from Texas on May 02, 2011:

Growing up in the country in TX during the 1960s, I had ample opportunity to study box turtles as a child, and I have kept them off and on throughout my life. I've read a number of scientific studies, and the one thing many of them seem to have in common is a lack of common sense.

I have had scholarly scientific types tell me that what I am doing with box turtles is impossible - even when the evidence is right in front of them.

Here is what I think is wrong with scientific studies:

*Not enough NATURAL environment provided.

*Too much handling.

*Too much testing.

*Not enough patience.

*Not enough common sense.

It is easy to fail with box turtles if you don't "hold your mouth just right"! You have to just give them ideal habitat and behave in a very consistent, predictable manner around them. You must almost never pick them up, and if you see them walking around, you have to kind of watch them obliquely. If you pay too much attention to them, they will, try to escape, avoid mating, refuse to eat, etc. They like their independence! :D

The Logician (author) from then to now on on May 02, 2011:

Actually that is what I meant - when put in a new location they would likely home to their old location if released, but after emergence from hibernation in that new location they tend to reset to the new locality - exactly as you say. They have to emerge from hibernation in the new setting and possibly after several hibernations (or three years as you say) they are reoriented. This is all anecdotal which is not to discredit it but many studies have been done on box turtles and I am surprised I don't see this aspect studied in the literature. Maybe I have just missed it. Isn't it sad how many of these turtles are run over by cars and lawnmowers every year! Every adult box turtle is vital to the future of its population. Box turtle populations in the fragmented habitats typical of the eastern United States are so sensitive to the loss of adults that, according to modeling studies conducted by Dr. Richard Seigel of Towson University, the loss of just three from a population of 50 males and 50 females could doom that population to a slow, but irreversible, decline to extinction.

justmesuzanne from Texas on May 01, 2011:

My experience has been just the opposite. In my opinion, the BEST time to relocate a box turtle is just before hibernation. Place the turtle in a VERY SECURE pen that is set up perfectly for hibernation and let it spend its first few months in its new location in hibernation. Then be certain that it has everything it needs in place to be completely comfortable and at ease in its new home when it awakens. Keep the turtle in that very same pen, perfectly accommodated for 3 years before allowing it to venture into the main yard AT ALL. After that period of time, you should be able to open a little door in the fence or simply remove the fence, and the turtle should continue to return to it's safe place at night, even if it ventures out into the yard during the day.

It has always been my practice to keep my wildscaped yard completely comfortable for my box turtles. My yard work is at a minimum and mostly by hand. There are plenty of watering places around. Feeding is at the same time in the same place every single day without fail, and there are plenty of foraging opportunities. I will occasionally find one of my turtles outside the fence trying to get back in, but that happens very rarely. (2 or 3 times in the last 6 or 7 years.)

My yard is surrounded by yards that are kept scalped during the summer, and there is a constant buzz of lawn care equipment throughout the summer, so my turtles are highly motivated to stay put! :)

The Logician (author) from then to now on on May 01, 2011:

That is great anecdotal evidence I have not encountered - I have spoken to others who had tutrles escape after a few years and never saw them again, but of course there could be many reasons for that. I have heard that when they come out of hibernation they tend to reset to their surroundings if in a new place - maybe after three years of that they get reoriented to their new location, someone should do a study!

justmesuzanne from Texas on April 30, 2011:

Good info and great pictures. A long time ago, I read some info from a rescue in PA that said that box turtles will become attached to their surroundings after 3 years. I have found that to be true. Turtles I have kept in smaller enclosures for a 3 year period and then allowed to roam my yard do not leave. It would take a little effort for them to do so as my yard is well fenced, but it is possible.

Additionally, I had one very adult male turtle given to me by a friend. I kept him for several years, and then a neighbor asked for a good pet, so I made sure they had a proper environment for him and placed him with them. However, they stepped into the house for a moment one day while letting him stroll around the yard, and he disappeared. He turned up at my gate a few days later! Clearly, my yard had become home to him.

Listerino on September 13, 2010:

loved the video at the end. Can't believe you can train a turtle!

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