Box Turtle Care & FAQs

We have provided information that we will hope answer your commonly asked questions on Box Turtles. We know this will help build the bond between you and your animal, and we hope it will continue to be a resource for your Box Turtle’s happiness and health for years to come. Please click on the category you are interested in learning more about:

Before Getting a Box Turtle

Should you get a Box Turtle?

Box turtles are commonly seen in the pet trade. Unfortunately, many people purchase these animals without the knowledge to care for them properly. The vast majority of box turtles seen in pet stores are wild-caught adult animals. Few babies are offered for sale because, by federal law, it is illegal to sell any turtle under 4″ in length — a size box turtles do no reach for several years after birth. Each year, hundreds of thousands of box turtles are taken from the wild to supply the demands of the pet trade. This trend cannot continue. With current harvest rates, it is likely that box turtles will be an endangered species within the next ten years.

Box turtles do make excellent pets for responsible reptile lovers, but they do not make good pets for children because their captive care requirements are rather elaborate. If you desire to purchase a box turtle for your child (or have already done so), realize that most children are incapable of providing for the elaborate captive care needs of a pet box turtle. If an adult is willing to accept the responsibility of caring for the animal, box turtles make good family pets. If you desire a pet box turtle, the best choice is a captive born animal.

If cared for properly, box turtles make fascinating and long lived pets. If your intention is to purchase a box turtle as a pet for a young child, realize that children cannot care for box turtles by themselves and require constant supervision when handling box turtles, both for their safety and the turtle’s. Box turtles are demanding as pets, but are worth all of the effort required to maintain them properly in captivity. If you do not have the money, time, or inclination to provide a box turtle with the requirements it needs, by all means DO NOT BUY ONE! Box turtles are one of the most abused animals in the pet trade because many people who buy them do not know what they are getting into. Do not contribute to this problem. This care sheet is not intended as the sole information required on box turtles. If you do decide to purchase one, there is a lot of other information you must be aware of, so purchase a full length book such as The Box Turtle Manual, published by Advanced Vivarium Systems.

Bringing Your Box Turtle Home

Box Turtle Requirements

90% of box turtles purchased by the general public die within the first 6 months to 2 years of captivity because they are not cared for properly. It is estimated that box turtles can live 50-100 years naturally. Purchasing an animal just to have it die because it is not set-up or fed correctly is a waste of your money, your time, and an animal’s life. Box turtles require five things in order to fare well in captivity, they are:

  1. Heating
  2. Room to Roam
  3. Full Spectrum Lighting
  4. High Humidity
  5. Proper Diet
Selecting a Healthy Box Turtle

What should you look for when you go into a pet store to purchase a box turtle? The first thing you should observe is how the box turtles are set-up in the store. Are the box turtles provided with all of the requirements they need? Do the animals look healthy, have clear eyes, smooth shells, and no visible, large lumps on their skin? One of the most important aspects of purchasing a box turtle is purchasing one from a store that has knowledgeable employees. Ask the employees what box turtles eat and what type of cage set up they need. If they do not mention most or all of the five requirements listed under “Box Turtle Requirements”, find another store to purchase your box turtle in. Pet stores with knowledgeable employees can help you after your purchase should any problems arise, and can save you a lot of frustration and time.

Taking Care of Your Box Turtle

Healthy Diet Sheet

Vegetables – 40% of Diet
Dark greens
Collared greens
Mustard greens
Radish
Turnip & Beet Tops
Kale
Bok choy
Spinach
Dandelions
Broccoli
Swiss chard
Shredded squashes
Sweet potatoes
Carrots
Thawed frozen mixed veggies
Bean sprouts
Tomatoes
Mushrooms

Protien – 50% of Diet
Earthworms
Crickets
Waxworms
Mealworms
Silk Worm larvae
Grasshoppers
Slugs
Dog food
Other insects
Soaked Monkey chow biscuit

Fruits – 10% of Diet
Apples
Grapes
Cherries
Peaches
Pears
Melons
Strawberries
Raspberries
Plums

Wash All Fresh Items – Including Insect

Try Bulbs Plus for Quality Lighting – 2217 E. Platte 632-2670

Vultark Aqua Lamp

Heat Lamp

Heating- The Danger of Heat Rocks

Proper heating is critical when caring for box turtles in captivity. Without proper heating, many box turtles will become ill. The most commonly seen illness caused by lack of proper heating is respiratory infections. Box turtles with respiratory infections often wheeze with labored breathing and produce bubbly mucous from their nostrils. If your box turtle has these symptoms, take it to a qualified reptile veterinarian. Not all veterinarians are qualified to care for reptiles, so be careful to check out their credentials. A good way to find a qualified reptile vet is to contact your local reptile society and ask for a reference.

Many box turtle problems can be avoided by simply offering one area of the cage that is heated to 85-88°F. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. First of all, heat rocks are not suitable sources of heat for box turtles. If an employee at a pet store tells you they are and tries to sell you one, leave, because they don’t know what they are talking about. If you already are using a heat rock and don’t want to use anything else to provide heat, give your animal to someone who will take care of it properly. Heat rocks, if used at all, should be buried in substrate such as peat moss to prevent box turtles from burning themselves. The best sources of heat for box turtles are either overhead incandescent heat lights or quality undertank heating pads. They can be used in conjunction with each other quite effectively to provide daytime and nighttime heat areas.

Whatever source of heat is used, it must provide an area of the cage where the ambient (air) temperature where the animal is basking is 85-88°. Undertank heaters can be left on a night to keep one side of the cage warm without disturbing the box turtle’s sleep. During the day, the heat light and heating pad should be left on for 10-12 hours. At night, turn off the heat light, and if temperatures in your house do not drop below 75°, you may turn off the heat pad as well. The enclosure the box turtle is in must be set-up to provide a thermal gradient, so that the turtle can warm up if its too cold, or cool down if its too hot. Hiding spots should be placed at both the warm spot and the cool spot so the box turtle can feel secure in either spot.

High Humidity

Box turtles require a relative humidity of 60-80%. Box turtles that are not provided with the correct humidity often suffer from infected and swollen eyes and ear infections. Box turtles kept in enclosures with low humidity spend a lot of time buried in an effort to reach an area that is moist. Providing high humidity is easy. In one corner of the enclosure, pour some peat moss and wet it down with water. This area is the box turtle’s “humidity site” and will help to keep the relative humidity high. Peat moss dries out rather quickly, especially in dry climates, so it must be checked constantly and rewetted as needed. In addition, a large, shallow water dish should be provided so the turtles can soak. Box turtles must have clean water available at all times.

Lighting

There is quite a bit of controversy regarding box turtles and lighting. Some experts say that box turtles do not require full spectrum lighting, but it is good for their psychological welfare. Other experts say that full spectrum lighting is necessary to prevent calcium deficiency. Suffice it to say, full spectrum lighting certainly does no harm, and may do a world of good, so it is recommended for use with box turtles. Full spectrum lighting refers to a special type of fluorescent bulb manufactured for use with reptiles. Full spectrum lights simulate the wavelengths of natural sunlight. Irradiation by certain wavelengths of light is thought to provide reptiles with vitamin D3, which is necessary for the absorption of dietary calcium. Without full spectrum lighting, many reptiles suffer from a calcium deficiency known as metabolic bone disease, often termed “soft shell disease” when seen in turtles.

Proper Diet

Box turtles are omnivorous, meaning that they eat part of their diet as vegetable matter, and part of their diet as animal matter. At each feeding, box turtles should be offer both a mixed salad and some animal protein.

Animal Protein Sources:

  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Nightcrawlers
  • High quality, low-fat wet dog or cat food (NOT grocery store brands)

Box Turtle Salad:

(containing parts from each type below)

Dark, calcium rich greens (60-70%)
Mustard greens
Collard greens
Endive
Dandelion greens
Romaine lettuce
Vegetables (20-30%)
Grated carrots Grated squash or zucchini
Frozen mixed veggies
Fruits and flowers (10-20%)
Berries (strawberries, raspberries, etc.)
Melon or cantaloupe
Prickly-pear cactus fruits and flowers
Grapes
Kiwi fruit
Hibiscus flowers

Box turtles need a varied diet, so switch around the ingredients in the salad, and offer different types of animal protein. For example, one week offer crickets and a salad of mustard greens, collard greens, carrots, squash, and strawberries, and the next week offer nightcrawlers, and a salad of thawed mixed veggies, romaine lettuce, endive, and kiwi fruit. There are several dietary items that should be fed sparingly or not at all. Spinach and beets should be given in small amounts or avoided because these vegetables contain oxalic acids which bind calcium, making it unavailable to your turtle. Vegetables like cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, and broccoli should also be offered in small amounts or avoided because these contain iodine binders that can cause thyroid problems. In addition to a varied diet, box turtles should receive calcium and vitamin supplementation once a week for adults and three times a week for juveniles. Calcium and vitamin supplements are available at reptile stores.

Room to Roam

Box turtles need a good size enclosure in order to provide for the proper range of heating and humidity. The smallest size indoor enclosure one box turtle should be kept in is a standard 30 gallon breeder aquarium. For two box turtles, the minimum enclosure should be a 40 gallon breeder tank. Bigger is always better. A ten gallon aquarium is not appropriate for an adult box turtle and is analogous to forcing you to live in your closet.