Box Turtle Lifespan – How Long Do Box Turtles Live?

box turtle lifespan

Do you know how long the box turtle lifespan is?

Are you aware that turtles are among the most long-lived of all animals?

These little reptiles’ longevity is nothing short of extraordinary!

So if you’re considering a box turtle as your next pet it’s important to understand that this is a long-term responsibility.

Like any pet they require quality care to ensure they live a long and happy life.

How Long Do Box Turtles Live?

Many baby turtles who live in the wild will die of exposure or predation in their first year.

But for the lucky ones who survive those treacherous early days, the common box turtle life expectancy is on average 50 years. And some can live to the ripe old age of 100!

box turtle lifespan

If well-cared for, a box turtle born in captivity should live just as long as those in the wild.

However that hasn’t always been the case. Bad turtle care in the past mean that many pet turtles died prematurely.

And today, that means some people still underestimate healthy box turtle life expectancy.

Luckily we know far more now about the box turtle life cycle, and how to secure a long and healthy live for them.

How Health Affects Your Box Turtle’s Life Expectancy

Box turtles are susceptible to a number of diseases and health issues.

Some can be cured, while others will shorten the box turtle life cycle.

This study also found that eastern box turtles are on the decline due to environmental pollutants as well as disease.

A proper diet, which includes both meat protein and plant matter, plays an important role in their overall health.

An initial visit to the reptile veterinarian when you first get your pet turtle, and then regular well-being check ups will also help prevent the onset of health problems.

Box Turtle Lifespan – Protecting Against Illness

The best way to stop an illness in its tracks before it can shorten your turtle’s life is to know what you might face, and the signs to look out for.

Conditions that affect the box turtle include:

  • parasites
  • fungal infections
  • abscesses
  • dehydration
  • vitamin A deficiency
  • bacterial infections
  • respiratory disorders
  • organ failure
  • and metabolic bone diseases.

We’ll look at the most common of those in closer detail.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease is one of the most common pathological conditions found in reptiles kept as pets.

It is caused by a calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D imbalance in their diet, and/or inadequate exposure to UV-B light.

The disease can affect your box turtle’s shell, beak, bones, and nails.

Visible symptoms, include a soft, deformed shell, nails that curve outward, a beak that resembles a duck’s bill, or splayed legs.

However once these signs appear, the disease is probably quite advanced.

You cannot repair a shell that’s deformed, but you can prevent it from getting worse by adding a calcium supplement to his diet and ensuring he has enough UV-B exposure.

If you notice any of the symptoms, take your turtle to the vet for a proper diagnosis, and a care plan to bring him back up to strength.

Respiratory Diseases

Respiratory diseases are very common in the box turtle.

Serious respiratory infection can be fatal if not treated properly and in a timely manner.

Causes vary from viral, fungal, or bacterial infections to poor living conditions that are too cold or damp.

A sure sign of a respiratory infection is wheezing.

Other signs include: breathing trouble, swollen eyes, runny nose, inability to swim properly or buoyancy issues, and fluid or bubbles coming from the mouth or nose.

A veterinarian will usually prescribe antibiotics to clear up respiratory a infection.

Ulcerative Shell Disease

Ulcerative shell disease is also known as shell rot.

The disease usually occurs if the outside protective layer of the shell that protects the turtle’s bones and organs is injured or infected.

Even a seemingly minor injury can put your box turtle at risk of bacterial infection or disease, if it penetrates the shell and allows pathogens to enter into the soft tissue beneath.

Shell rot can also occur if your turtle is in an environment where the shell is unable to dry out and bacteria or fungus can get into the shell and cause infection.

SCUD (Septicaemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease) is a more serious version of this condition where bacteria grow in the bloodstream.

It can be fatal if pathogens attack your box turtle’s organs.

If you notice any injury to your turtle’s shell take him to the veterinarian.

Aural Abscesses

Aural abscesses are common in box turtles.

Visible swelling occurs when pus inside the ear canal pushes on the skin.

Box turtles are extremely susceptible to Vitamin A deficiencies and this can cause structural abnormalities in the middle ear.

If it becomes damaged, bacteria can enter and cause infection.

Although not fatal, ear abscesses weaken turtles’ immune systems and make them more susceptible to other ailments.

Treatment of aural abscesses usually requires surgery to drain the pus.

Box Turtle Life Expectancy

Box turtles enjoying a suitable habitat and a healthy diet can live in excess of 50 years.

As well as meeting their care needs, recognizing signs of disease quickly and getting prompt treatment is one of the best ways to secure them the longest life possible.

Some health problems can be identified just by looking at your box turtle.

It’s important to pay attention to the condition of their shell. Ensure that it looks smooth, without any dry or flaky patches.

Other symptoms of illness include: weight loss, diarrhea, dry skin, watery eyes, loss of energy and excessive thirst.

Spending time observing your box turtle every day is the best way to notice changes that might signal health issues.

How Old Is Your Box Turtle?

What has been your experience of box turtle lifespan?

Do you have a box turtle over 50 years old?

Tell us about your long-lived turtles in the comments box!

If you want to read more about turtles, check out our guide to the snapping turtle!

References and Further Reading

Adamovicz, L., et al., “Investigation of multiple mortality events in eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina),” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 2018

Hoby, S., et al., “Nutritional Metabolic Bone Disease in Juvenile Veiled Chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) and Its Prevention,” The Journal of Nutrition, 2010

De Voe, R., et al., “RANAVIRUS-ASSOCIATED MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY IN A GROUP OF CAPTIVE EASTERN BOX TURTLES (TERRAPENE CAROLINA CAROLINA),”  Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, 2003

Wildl J., “Pathology of aural abscesses in free-living Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina),” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 2004


  1. I’ve had one box turtle since 1967 (52 years) and another one since 1976 (43 yrs). Both were received as mature turtles. I also have one box turtle received as a new born five years ago and one that I rescued from the highway as a new born just over a year ago. The key is to get them to start eating in captivity asap and vary their diet. Just as important is to ensure they get plenty of water during winter months so they do not dehydrate.

  2. Have one male three toed box turtle since 1975 and another male since 1991, They eat fruits and vegetables all year long( favorite cooked sweet potatoes, bananas) supplemented with live earthworms in the summer. They drink and bathe a few times a week in the kitchen sink. Spring and summer they live on screened porch. Fall and winter they are housed near radiator. They are kept separate because they are aggressive towards each other.
    Occasional supplementation with liquid calcium. Have never used substrate, only clean floor or brown paper.
    Healthy, happy turtles require good housekeeping and occasional human interaction.

  3. My Awesome box turtle is approx. 44 years old and doing great. His name is Hardhat. I got him when I was 11 and he was already full grown at that time. Unfortunately he has a little bit of a worm protein fixation, however it has not caused the problems for him that I’ve read about. He loves going out to the garden and trooping through the strawberries munching.

  4. Had a wild male box turtle wander into my fenced backyard. He stayed for about 3 weeks. I provided a low profile planter dish for water and refreshed it daily. He’d drink from it and on hot days would climb into it for a cool bath. I fed him grape tomatoes and strawberries to supplement his wild diet. After rainstorm, he could be seen out and about eating worms. Based on his shell growth markings, I estimated his age to be over 30 years old. I let him roam freely in the yard at all times so as to better simulate his natural habitat. He seemed restless though, and one day he left the yard, hopefully to find a mate.

  5. We have had our box turtle since 1976. My dad saved her from getting smashed by a semi. Based on the books that we read when we first found her, we figure that she was born 1967-1968. Her iris’s were brown/yellow, the sign of a female. Unfortunately, after we had her about 6 months, he iris’ turned bright red which means the “she” was actually a “he”! She knew her name by then so why confuse her. lol Also, it was a learning process so she does have a calcium deficiency but affects are very minor. She doesn’t like veggies like she’s supposed to so we’ll puree them with some strawberries but we finally got her her to eat more box turtle food which has been helping her. We had a bathroom remodeled for her by taking the tub out and putting a shower assembly in to give her a bigger space than the special box that we had made for her. (Now used for travel or evacuations) We put aquarium backing around the bottom of the wall so she’ll see either the desert with cactus or lush green foliage. We have substrate in a corner litter pan for her to play in. She has a fogger in there, a 1/2 log to go under or crawl on, heat lamps for day & night, a special ceramic heater to be sure she stays around 80F, different styles of plastic vegetation for her to push around and a radio to keep her company when we’re not around. Fresh water everyday and she seems to like to eat every other day. We put her in the sink to soak every week or so. We used to let her outside but stopped after a hawk tried to get grab her! :-O
    Needless to say, she’s in the will because contrary to what all of the books say, she’ll probably out live us all!


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