A box turtle pet can be a wonderful, enriching and entertaining addition to your family!
Before you take the plunge and bring a box turtle pet home to stay, it’s exciting to learn as much as you can about these extraordinarily long-lived turtles.
We’re here to get you started with some of our favorite interesting facts about box turtles.
So whether its box turtle habitat facts or box turtle facts for kids that you’re after, read on because we’ve got them all!
Box turtle facts
There are two main groups of box turtles: North American and Asian.
Intriguingly, these two groups are not closely related genetically, in spite of the fact that they can look quite similar.
The North American box turtle comes from the genus Terrapene and the family Emydidae.
Within this genus and family are four species and several sub-species.
Of these, the most commonly kept box turtle pet types include the common Eastern box turtle, the 3-toed box turtle, the Gulf Coast box turtle and the Western Ornate (desert) box turtle.
The Asian box turtle comes from the genus Cuora and the family Geoemydidae.
This genus and family include 10 species, of which the most commonly kept box turtle pet types are the Malayan box turtle and the Chinese box turtle.
Box turtles are disappearing from the wild at alarming rates, landing them on vulnerable and endangered populations lists around the globe.
The illegal smuggling trade is one of the biggest threats to box turtles worldwide, as is habitat loss, environmental pollutions, climate change, disease and competion or predation from invasive species.
These gentle, smart, beautiful reptiles need and deserve our protection before they go extinct.
Can you keep a box turtle as a pet?
Whether you can keep box turtle pet depends upon where you live – in the US every state can make their own laws about keeping box turtles as pets.
Over twenty have made keeping a box turtle as pet illegal – to deter people from taking them from the wild, to prevent the spread of diseases carried by turtles (including Salmonella), and to avoid unwanted turtles being dumped in new habitats and damaging local wildlife populations.
How you obtain your box turtle pet and how well prepared you are to care for your new box turtle can make all the difference to box turtles everywhere!
Never take a box turtle you find in the wild – even a baby box turtle – and make it your pet.
And never order a box turtle pet from a mail order catalog, since it is likely these pet turtles were either illegally obtained or poorly cared for.
The hands-down best way to bring home a new box turtle pet is by contacting local or regional turtle and tortoise rescue groups.
These groups can help you locate a pet box turtle who cannot be released back into the wild, needs a new forever home and is an appropriate species/sub-species to thrive in your climate.
If this is not an option, you can work with a local breeder to select a domestic pet box turtle that has been legally obtained and captive bred for the pet trade in clean, healthy and humane conditions.
Keeping a box turtle as a pet
Box turtles can be kept indoors or outdoors – but states that permit them may have further rules about this!
The best-case situation is a fully-enclosed and predator-proof outdoor enclosure that permits your box turtle pet to receive the benefits of natural ultraviolet light.
Turtles aren’t familiar with windows and have been known to try and frantically escape through transparent enclosures – therefore the best enclosures have solid sides that are not see-through.
Box turtles have a strong natural instinct to dig for protection, temperature regulation and humidity needs.
In captivity, organic potting soil that is free from fertilizer or additives,and combined with reptile bark, leaf mulch and sphagnum moss is a great choice for bedding!
Turtles’ toenails keep on growing like ours do!
Flat rocks in their enclosure help keep those claws filed down, or they can be trimmed with special clippers.
Like all reptiles (cold-blooded animals), box turtles need warmth.
Their ideal temperature range is 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with one end of the enclosure at 85 and the other end around 70.
Most turtle owners use a sun lamp or a mixed sunny and shady spot in the garden to achieve this.
Most box turtles (even the desert species) require humidity to stay healthy.
Optimal humidity levels should stay between 60 and 80 percent for all species except the desert box turtle, which will do best with humidity around 60 percent.
Box turtle habitat facts
Turtles are complete homebodies.
These box turtle facts are all about where they like to live.
Turtles love a place to hide!
In the wild this protects them from the elements and predators.
In captivity you can use a hide box, half a hollow log, or even get creative with your hidey holes!
Turtles don’t hid their displeasure at poor housing – a 2005 study at North Carolina State University found that turtles without suitable floor covering, bedding and hiding places spent more time trying to escape!
Box turtles love water!
They need a ready supply of fresh water for drinking, bathing and bathrooming.
And they’ve never met a puddle they didn’t like to paddle in.
Female turtles will even lay more eggs in the summer following a wet spring, and may choose not to mate at all after a very dry spring.
Box turtle fun facts
Here’s some light hearted trivia about your box turtle pet!
Did you know there are TWO types of hibernation? And box turtles may do both!
Wild box turtles typically brumate (hibernate) during the cold season and may aestivate (a type of warm weather hibernation) if temperatures consistently climb above 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Box turtles are the only turtles in the world that can fully enclose their body inside their shell (hence their common name, “box” turtle).
The shell muscles are very strong, and once your box turtle has withdrawn, you can’t open the shell without hurting your pet.
Box turtles can live up to 50+ years, and some evidence exists that they may be able to live up to 100 years! 25 to 30 years is the most common lifespan in captivity.
Box turtle facts for kids
These box turtle facts for kids can help get the younger members of your family interested and engaged to care for your new pet.
Box turtles are omnivores. In the wild they eat fruits, vegetables, grasses, and protein sources such as worms, snails, beetles, small fish.
One study from the Ecological Society of America found that box turtles in the wild eat over 130 different kinds of food!
They are also opportunistic feeders, which means they may eat more food when it becomes available to survive lean times later.
Our article on box turtle diet will help you plan your turtle’s meals – what will their favorite snack be?
The bottom part of the box turtle’s shell is called the “plastron” and the upper part is called the “carapace.”
The carapace includes the turtle’s spine and ribs, which are fused to the carapace itself.
Box turtles have an amazing sense of smell, which they rely on to find food in the wild.
Box turtles see in color and have binocular vision (seeing what is in front of them) like humans.
Box turtles don’t have the outer part of the ear, but there is a thin skin flap on either side of the head that covers the inner ear.
All turtles hear best under water – even land turtles like the box turtle!
Box turtle pet facts
We hope you have enjoyed learning more box turtle pet facts about these wonderful, fascinating reptiles!
Do you have any interesting facts about box turtles to add to our list?
Share them in the comments box!
Plus, if you’re ready to learn more about turtles, check out our snapping turtle guide!
Zug, G.R., “Box Turtle: Reptile,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018.
Johnson, D., DVM, et al, “Box Turtle Care,” Avian and Exotic Animal Care, 2018.
Reed, C., “Behavioral Adaptations of the Box Turtle,” Sciencing, 2017.
Gibbons et al, “The Global Decline of Reptiles, Déjà Vu Amphibians: Reptile species are declining on a global scale. Six significant threats to reptile populations are habitat loss and degradation, introduced invasive species, environmental pollution, disease, unsustainable use, and global climate change”, Bioscience, 2000.
Case et al, “The physiological and behavioural impacts of and preference for an enriched environment in the eastern box turtle”, Applied Animal Behavior Science, 2005.
Klimstra & Newsome, “Some Observations on the Food Coactions of the Common Box Turtle, Terrapene C. Carolina”, Ecological Society of America, 1960.
Nieuwolt-Dacanay, “Reproduction in the Western Box Turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola”, Copeia, 1997.