Order Testudines, Family Emydidae

The Eastern Box Turtle is the most terrestrial of the Emydid turtles, having close-fitting shells that have allowed them to adapt well to terrestrial life. They are found throughout the eastern and central United States and in the Southwest. They are omnivorous. Eastern box turtles are also known as box tortoises. Currently, there are four recognized species of box turtles.

Eastern Box Turtle Facts

The eastern box turtle (Terrapene Carolina carolina) ranges from northeastern Massachusetts to Georgia, west to Michigan, Illinois, and Tennessee. Also, they prefer the water but are not better at swimming in it. Box turtles can roam up to one mile in a year. The main roads are a major, deadly hazard for these slow-moving creatures.
Also, aggressive exotics smother their food plants. Raccoons and crows, though native, are major predators of young turtles. Also, lawnmowers get injured and kill box turtles. There are four subspecies of T. Carolina. All are found within the eastern United States.
  • c. carolina, T. c. major (Gulf Coast box turtle; the largest subspecies, restricted to the Gulf Coast).
  • c. triunguis (three-toed box turtle; Missouri to south-central Alabama and Texas).
  • c. bauri (Florida box turtle; restricted to the Florida peninsula and keys).

Body Size

The eastern box turtle is small, with adults ranging from 11.5 to 15.2 cm in length and approximately 300 to over 400 g. Hatchlings weigh approximately 8 to 10 g. Turtles continue to grow throughout their lives. However, their growth rate slows after reaching sexual maturity. The growth rings are no longer discernible after 18 to 20 years. Therefore, the body fat reserves in a Georgia population averaged 0.058 to 0.060 g of fat per gram of lean dry weight from spring through fall.

Where do Eastern Box Turtles Live?

Typical box turtle habitats include open woodlands, thickets, and well-drained but moist forested areas. But occasionally pastures and marshy meadows are utilized. In areas with mixed woodlands and grasslands, box turtles use grassland areas in times of moderate temperatures and peak moisture conditions.
Otherwise, they tend to use moister, forested habitats. Many turtles are killed attempting to crossroads, and fragmentation of habitat by roads can severely reduce populations. Eastern Box turtles tend to thrive best when they are left alone. Various people illegally collect Eastern Box turtles to breed in captivity and adopt as pets.

Eastern Box Turtle Diet

Most people want to know what eastern box turtles eat. Thus, adult T. carolina are omnivorous when young; they are primarily carnivorous, but they become more herbivorous as they age and as growth slows. They consume a wide variety of animal material, including earthworms, slugs, snails, insects, and their larvae (particularly grasshoppers, moths, and beetles), crayfish, frogs, toads, snakes, and carrion.
They also consume vegetable matter, including leaves, grass, berries, fruits, and fungi. A high proportion of snails and slugs may comprise the animal matter in the diet, and seeds can become an important component of the plant materials in the late summer and fall.

Temperature Regulation and Daily Activities

The species is diurnal and spends the night resting in a scooped depression or form that the turtle digs in the soil with its front feet T.carolina is most active in temperate, humid weather. In the summer, they avoid high temperatures during midday by resting under logs or leaf litter, in mammal burrows, or congregating in mud holes.
However, in the hottest weather, they may enter shallow, shaded pools for hours or days. But in cooler temperatures, they may restrict their foraging activities to midday. In the laboratory, locomotion is maximal between 24 and 32 °C. Thus, in the field, their mean active body temperature is approximately 26 °C.


In the northern parts of its range (northern Massachusetts, Michigan, and Illinois), the eastern box turtle enters hibernation in late October or November and emerges in April. In Louisiana, it is found that T. c. major hibernated when temperatures fell below 65F. To hibernate, the box turtle burrows into the loose soil and debris or mud of ponds or stream bottoms.
The South Carolina population of box turtles occupies relatively shallow burrows (less than 4 cm) compared with those occupied by box turtles in colder regions (up to 46 cm). The hibernacula of box turtles in Tennessee are under 15.5 cm of leaf litter and 5.8 cm of soil on average. In southern states, during rainy and warm periods, box turtles may become active again. In Florida, the box turtle may be active all year.

Eastern Box Turtle Care?

Keep the Box Turtle in an outdoor enclosure if the climate is often above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Or keep it in an indoor glass tank that has at least 20 gallons of water. Moreover, soak from time to time to rehydrate and cool down the body of water that is large but shallow. Also, mist their living place several times daily with a spray bottle to keep the humidity level high.
Box turtles normally live for 25 to 35 years, but in some cases, they are known to survive to over 100 years old. Moreover, if there are no woods on the roadside, then the best you can do is to find a small patch of woods as close as possible to where the turtle was heading and reposition them there.
If anyone has a Box Turtle as a pet, then you must provide adequate sun or artificial light to stay healthy, along with a suitable diet. Box turtles are omnivores, so they need invertebrates, such as insects and worms, vegetable matter, leaves, fruits, and berries. Hence, it is very imperative to provide a varied diet in captivity to ensure good nutrition.

Breeding Activities and Social Organization

Eastern Box turtles are solitary except briefly during the mating season. Individuals restrict their activities to a foraging home range, but the home ranges of different individuals can overlap substantially.
Mating usually occurs in the spring but may continue into fall, and eggs are laid in late spring and summer. The female digs a 3-to 4-inch cavity in sandy or loamy soil in which she deposits her eggs and then covers the nest with soil. Also, Box turtle eggs can be a very easy target for predators like raccoons. 
Nests tend to be constructed several hundred meters from the female’s foraging home range in the warmer and drier uplands. The duration of incubation depends on soil temperatures, and sometimes hatchlings overwinter in the nest. The young are semi-aquatic but seldom seen.

Home Range and Resources

Measures of the foraging home range for box turtles range from .5 ha to just over 5 ha. A female may need to search for a suitable nest site (e.g., slightly elevated sandy soils) outside of her foraging home range. Winter hibernacula tend to be within the foraging home range.

Population Density

Population density varies with habitat quality, but studies linking density to habitat characteristics are lacking. In some areas, population densities have declined steadily over the past several decades. Some investigators attribute the decline to increasing habitat fragmentation and obstacles that prevent females from reaching or returning from appropriate nesting areas.

Population Dynamics

Sexual maturity is attained at about 4 or 5 years to 5 to 10 years of age. One to four clutches may be laid per year, depending on latitude.  The Eastern Box Turtle clutch size ranges from three to eight eggs, averaging three to four in some areas. Juveniles generally comprise a small proportion of box turtle populations, for example, 18 to 25 percent in one population in Missouri. Some individual box turtles may live over 100 years.

Similar Species

The ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) and the desert box turtle (Terrapene ornata luteola) are similar in size and habits to the eastern box turtle. They occur in the western, midwestern, and southern Midwestern states. Preferred habitats include open prairies, pastureland, open woodlands, and waterways in arid, sandy-soil terrains. The ornate box turtle and desert box turtle forage primarily on insects but also on berries and carrion.

Are Eastern Box Turtles Endangered?

In some cases, Eastern Box Turtles are not listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. However, in some cases, it is considered threatened by many conservationists due to the loss of habitat, collisions with traffic, and illegal trade that have made the eastern box turtle scarce in some of its native ranges.
Hence, in recent years, their population has been in decline. The exclusive bright coloration of the of the shell makes it very special for animal lovers. The Eastern Box Turtles’ length is 4 to 8.5” with its carapace being high and dome-shaped. The shell is made of bone covered by living, vascularized tissue and covered with a layer of keratin.
The strong shell is connected to the body through its fused rib cage, which makes the shell enduringly attached and not detachable. However, when it gets injured or damaged, the shell has the capacity to regenerate and reform.
Eastern Box Turtle 8 Eastern Box Turtle Diet
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Eastern Box Turtle Care Are Eastern Box Turtles Endangered

Eastern Box Turtle Facts

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Read More – The Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina)

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