turtles pages

General info on the Eastern Box Turtle

General info

General Information
11 species/subspecies of box turtle exist ranging from the mid-west to the east coast of North America and south into parts of Mexico and Central America. In the pet trade the most common box turtles are: Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina triunguis), Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornate), Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina Carolina), Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) and the Golf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina major). Box turtles are very popular because of the variety of individual colors, small size (one to two pounds) and resilience in captive situations. Box Turtles are as comfortable in water as they are on land – hence the SUV of turtles! Additionally, they have the ability to bend and turn their heads making them appear more expressive. Box turtles are very visually orientated and make excellent hunters. Northwest Tortoise focuses on the Eastern Box Turtle.
The Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
Eastern box turtles (EBTs) are native to the eastern United States from Maine to the deep south. They are characterized by high-domed carapaces (shells), and various coloration patterns including: yellow or orange streaks or blotches on their carapace and/or limbs on a brown background, and a rigid formation in the vertebral (backbone) area. Box turtles in general are so named because of the hinge located on the plastron (bottom) that allows the turtle to withdraw its head and legs completely into the shell, thus acting as a drawbridge. The hinge is so strong predators can rarely force it open, nor can humans without a crow bar!


EBTs are fun, intelligent and full-of-personality. They are easier than some species to keep (if you set them up correctly!), and they are very adaptable to many weather conditions and climates. EBTs are hunters. Providing them a place to stalk bugs, grubs, worms and anything that moves is essential to their happiness.
Housing basics:
Use open-topped tortoise table. Glass tanks are NOT adequate at any size to house turtles/tortoise. The housing needs of any turtle/tortoise species change as they age.
Hatchling to yearling:
This time period is very difficult and is not recommended for the novice or inexperienced keeper. Northwest Tortoise will not sell or adopt any EBT under the age of one year. For advice see the reading list/resources page.
One to five years:
The Northwest Tortoise starter enclosure is excellent for this time period. Contrary to some existing literature young turtles/tortoises CANNOT be kept the same as adults. Moisture and humidity are VITAL to healthy shell development (unhealthy shell development). The young EBT (regardless of species) need a place to bury in warm, moist substrate. An example of correct and incorrect shell development. See the reading list/resources page for more information. Substrate: provide substrate deep enough to bury completely. Coconut coir and/or peat moss, hardwood mulch, cypress mulch, or organic soil without perlite or additives. Do not use anything that can’t pass through their system to avoid potential gut impactions. Adding leaf litter on top will give more places to hide and burrow. Remoisten/turn as needed. Lighting/heating: UVA/UVB light is a must when kept strictly indoors. Filter the light by using plants, leaf litter or a screen to diffuse it by the time it reaches tortoise level. Remember EBTs do NOT bask! Avoid coiled bulbs as they can irritate eyes. Additionally, a ceramic heat emitter can be used for the warm area. Temperatures: Use a thermometer to monitor both ends of your enclosure. The warm/dark moist area should be 80 – 85F and the cool end area 70F.
Five years to adult:
It is not an exact science or absolute rule that shell development is complete by the age of five years. Through 20+ years of experience, however, and extensive reading this appears to be a general guideline. At this point the turtle/tortoise can be treated like an adult. Expand the size of the enclosure as much as possible. Provide lots of obstacles, plants, shade areas, places to bury, permanent watering area, and lots of opportunities to hunt their own food. Tips: Mist the indoor enclosure and the EBT daily. In outdoor enclosures be sure to cap the corners to avoid escaping and cover to prevent predators from getting in. Birds, fox, raccoon’s, cats, dogs, squirrels, etc. are all potential predators. Change up the surroundings monthly! Mentally stimulate your EBT! As you get to know your EBT you’ll find what he likes and doesn’t like. Adapt the enclosure to his needs. The enclosure should be constantly changing to accommodate the needs of your EBT.


Feeding your EBTs is one the most important aspects of captive keeping. In the wild EBTs eat a wide and varied range of animal matter, fungi, greens, fruits and vegetables. In captivity it is the owners responsibility to provide something from each group during feeding. Many commercial foods are starting to appear on store shelves. None of these foods represent a complete diet. Some can be used in conjunction with a proper and varied diet. Some are detrimental to your EBTs health. Do the research to really understand and be able to provide a correct diet. Be wary of store purchased insects and worms. Crickets, mealworms and earthworms raised for retail environments are essentially void of all nutritional merits. Earthworms are raised on and digest newspaper. Mealworms are raised on potatoes and corn meal. Again, do your own research to determine what source you’ll use. Or better yet, raise your own! One of the most common issues seen in surrendered animals is lack of a correct diet resulting in picky eaters. Just like humans they have taste buds and would rather eat candy compared to what’s good for them! If you have a picky eater and are having trouble getting him on a correct diet try this method.