12 Types of Box Turtle

florida box turtle

There are twelve main types of box turtle, and they all have something that makes them totally unique. Today we’ll get to know the Common, Easternm Florida, Gulf Coat, Three Toed, Mexican, Yucatan, Coahuilan, Spotted, Western, Ornate and Desert types of box turtle. We’ll see what separates them, what they have in common, and why they make such fabulous pet turtles.


Did you know that all turtles are tortoises, but not all tortoises are turtles? It’s time to learn more about these incredible creatures, believed to have been around for 200 to 250 million years, around the same time dinosaurs appeared.

What Do The Types of Box Turtle Have in Common?

Box turtles get their name from the ability to close up their domed shell, like a box. They can draw their head and legs inside so they’re protected from predators. Their hinged belly allows them to seal themselves tightly.

Their eyes are positioned somewhat on the side of the head and look downward. Box turtles have excellent eyesight both during the day and at night, but their shell makes peripheral vision difficult. Their superior sense of smell helps them find food, territory, and a mate. However, box turtles don’t have very good hearing. Instead of external ears, they have a layer of skin on either side of the head behind the eyes.

Common Box Turtle

The common box turtle is the most well-known type of box turtle, with six subspecies found throughout the Eastern U.S. and Mexico. The species’ official status is classified as vulnerable to threats to its survival.
All common box turtles typically survive from 25 to 65 years in captivity, but those in the wild can live to over 100 years or older.

Eastern Box Turtle

eastern box turtle

Eastern Box turtles are also known as land turtles and are one of the more well-known and colorful subspecies. They’re found throughout the eastern and central parts of the U.S. in grasslands, woodlands, and marshy areas, near ponds and streams. As omnivores, they eat fish, plants, and insects such as grasshoppers and crickets and will travel up to 50 meters a day to find food.

They can grow from 4 to 7 inches long, with a high-domed dark-brown shell sporting yellow and orange blotches over most of their body. The Eastern box turtle’s shell is unique in that it has the ability to regenerate. The upper jaw is hooked, and the feet are slightly webbed.

Florida Box Turtle

florida box turtle

This subspecies gets its name due to being found almost exclusively in Florida, although they’re sometimes found in southern Georgia. They prefer moist areas such as wetlands, swamps, and marshlands.

They measure from 5 to 6 inches with a hard, upper shell or carapace that’s typically dark, radiating thick yellow lines. Either side of the head may also have yellow markings. The back of the shell flares slightly, and they can have three or four toes on their hind feet.

Gulf Coast Box Turtle

gulf coast box turtle

Reaching up to 8.5 inches, the Gulf Coast box turtle is the largest subspecies. Although not aquatic, they like to be near water and can be found in the warm, humid marshes and swamps along the Gulf of Mexico between Louisiana and Florida, where they eat various insects and mollusks.

Their dark brown or black shell has fluted edges and sometimes features splotches of yellow or orange, but it varies from turtle to turtle. The head color can be dark, or in older males, it can be white.

Three-Toed Box Turtle

three-toed box turtle

Three-toed box turtles get their name from having three claws on their hind legs. They prefer meadows, woodlands, and grasslands and can be found in the south-central U.S. states. They are more adaptable than most box turtles and considered one of the better subspecies to keep as pets.

Their brown or olive-colored, high-domed carapaces don’t typically have brightly colored markings. However, some males have yellow, orange, or red spots on their heads or neck. Their diets consist of insects, mollusks, worms, and vegetation.

Mexican Box Turtle

The Mexican box turtle is a larger subspecies measuring 7 to 8 inches. In appearance, they are similar to the three-toed box turtle, with a brown shell that sometimes has yellow markings, as well as yellow or red spots on the sides of the face.

As their name suggests, they’re native to Mexico. They’re not common as pets as there are export laws protecting the Mexican box turtle.

Yucatan Box Turtle

yucatan box turtle

When the Yucatan box turtle was first discovered, it was thought to be an independent species of its own. This subspecies is only found in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and is rarely spotted, even by locals. They can measure up to 6 inches in length, and the male Yucatan box turtle can sometimes have a white face.

Coahuilan Box Turtle

The Coahuilan box turtle is the only known almost completely aquatic box turtle in North America and is also the most endangered. They’re found exclusively in the Coahuila region of Mexico. Their shells are dark brown or black, without markings, and measure 3 to 6 inches in length.

Spotted Box Turtle

The spotted box turtle has two subspecies known as the Northern and Southern box turtle. Both are found only in Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico, and are exceptionally rare. About 6 inches in length, they get their name from their unique shells spotted with numerous tiny dots.

Western Box Turtle

There are only two subspecies of Western box turtles, and they’re quite different in appearance and behavior compared to Eastern box turtles.

Ornate Box Turtle

The ornate box turtle is a colorful subspecies found across much of the central and western U.S. Measuring 4 to 5 inches, these small turtles feature distinct patterns of yellow or orange radiating lines on their brown or black shells.

They have a less-pronounced dome, giving them a flatter appearance. Males have green heads and purple tongues. They prefer open spaces in dry areas like grasslands and prairies.

Desert Box Turtle

Desert box turtles are only found in southwestern regions of the U.S. and northern parts of Mexico. As their name suggests, they prefer more arid habitats and spend most of the time on land.

They’re similar in size and appearance to the ornate box turtle but with thinner markings and a shell ranging from brown to reddish-brown. Their diet consists of insects and vegetation such as cacti and fruit.

What are your Favorite Types of Box Turtle?

These small reptiles are incredibly interesting and adorable. Do you have a favorite box turtle? Why not share your thoughts in the comments.

Learn More About Pet Turtles


  • Eastern Box Turtle.” The National Wildlife Federation.
  • deVosjoli et al. “The Box Turtle Manual.” Herpetocultural Library.
  • Eastern Box Turtle.” Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.


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