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Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina

eastern box turtleIntroduction Eastern Box Turtles are omnivorous terrestrial turtles native to the eastern part of the United States. They can attain a length of 8 inches. A distinctive characteristic of box turtles is their hinged plastron (bottom of the shell) that can be shut very tightly to protect it from predators. While other turtles posses hinged shells, they cannot be closed completely. While box turtles may resemble tortoises, they are more closely related to many aquatic turtles and belong to the same family as map and painted turtles. Eastern box turtles are very variable in shell shape, pattern, and coloration.

Acclimation and Quarantine Quarantine and acclimation enclosures need not be elaborate, instead they should be sterile and easy to clean. Plastic storage bins and aquariums are often used for such enclosures as they are easy to clean, come in a variety of sizes, and most provide the security needed for a freshly acquired box turtle. Paper towels, newspapers, or other easily cleaned materials may be used as the substrate. A hide box should be provided for additional security. A shallow water dish (painting trays work exceptionally well) should be used as the water bowl. This setup should be used until the box turtle is feeding regularly and appears to be in good health.

Housing We recommend that you house a single adult box turtle or a pair in cage with a footprint of at least 18" x 36". Babies and small juveniles can be kept in a 20 gallon tank. They should be kept individually as these are naturally solitary animals. In a large enclosure, you may be able to house a group of mature females with one male, but always be ready to separate them. Provide a hide box as well so they can escape the heat and get some solitude.

For a substrate you can use almost any commercially available reptile bedding. Cypress mulch is perhaps the best one to use as it will allow the turtle to dig, burrow and provide shelter. Mulch will also aid in maintaining a proper humidity. Other acceptable bedding includes shredded coconut husk, top soil or any combination there of.

Lighting and Heating There should be a thermal gradient in the cage, so that the Box Turtle may choose the area of the cage where it is most comfortable. The warmest extreme of the cage should be between 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler side of the cage should be between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. It is extremely important that the turtle is provided with this thermal gradient so they can escape the heat; if it is not provided, your pet may suffer from heat exhaustion. At night there should be a slight drop in temperature, preferably of about ten degrees. We use fluorescent or incandescent bulbs during the day to provide light. A heat lamp of appropriate wattage or heat pad should be all that is needed to heat the enclosure. We use a heat pad on the same end of the cage as the light to provide the proper gradient. Use of thermometers and/or temp guns are highly recommended to ensure proper heat gradients. If you choose to use a heat light be sure to place it on one end of the tank and not in the center. By placing it on the end you ensure a hot spot and a cool spot.

Box turtles should be provided with UVB exposure from a quality light. A lot of reptiles, box turtles included, synthesize vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB. Vitamin D3 is necessary for calcium to be metabolized. Animals that are not exposed to UVB can develop Metabolic Bone Disease. If MBD isn't treated in a timely fashion, skeletal deformities, kidney failure, seizures, and eventually death will occur.

Feeding Eastern Box turtles are omnivorous. Their diet should consist of part vegetable matter, and part of their diet should consist of animal matter. Per feeding, box turtles should be offer both mixed vegetables and animal protein. Provide appropriate animal proteins by feeding your box turtles crickets, meal worms, night crawlers and feeder fish. The vegetable part of the diet can include the following: 60-70% should be mustard, collard, endive, and dandelion greens. Romaine lettuce can be offered occasionally, but completely avoid iceberg lettuce all together as it is low in nutritional content and is more like candy. 20-30% should be vegetables such as carrots, squash, pumpkin, zucchini, and thawed frozen mixed vegetables. The last 10-20% should be comprised of fruits and flowers such as dandelion and hibiscus flowers, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and tomatoes. Box turtles need a varied diet, so switch around the ingredients frequently. For example, one day you might offer crickets, mustard and collard greens, zucchini and tomatoes. The next day offer feeder fish with thawed mixed veggies, dandelion greens, and blueberries.

There are several food items you should not offer to your box turtle, as they can cause dietary related health issues. These include: A)Spinach because it contains oxalic acids which bind calcium, making it unavailable to your turtle. If calcium is not able to be absorbed by your box turtle, it may lead to MBD; B) Cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, and broccoli should be offered in small amounts or avoided because these contain iodine binders that can cause thyroid problems such as goiters. Box turtles should receive calcium and vitamin supplementation once to twice a week for adults and three to four times a week for juveniles. We recommend Nekton-Rep.

Water Box turtles like to soak and should be provided with a clean source of water at all times. A shallow water tray used in planters is good to use for juveniles as they are sturdy and cannot be easily tipped over. However for smaller specimens, a dish of this type can be a death trap as they cannot climb over the edge to get out. Painting trays work very well for animals ranging from hatchlings to adults. They are sloped upward, allowing even the smallest to climb up and out of the water.