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How to take care of a box turtle

by Dean

How to take care of a box turtle? Taking care of a box turtle includes taking proper care of its habitat, environment, feeding, health, and water requirements. No doubt, this shelled pet can be a great addition to any family. But owning a box turtle is a long-term commitment. Reptile lovers have to be very careful in each step to raise a healthy and happy turtle. So if you are also fascinated by this friendly turtle, keep reading to find out box turtle care requirements.

How to take care of a box turtle?

Taking care of a box turtle is neither too difficult nor too easy. Yet, many newbies and sometimes even experienced reptile lovers find it a little challenging. One reason can be the lack of research on the care requirements of a particular species. Plus, box turtles can live for very long. The average box turtle’s lifespan is around 25-35 years. While some can survive over 100 years. Most people are not ready to make such long-term commitments. Perhaps, if you are willing to have a lifelong companion with a friendly temperament, here’s what you need to know. 

Taking proper care of a box turtle works with four key factors:

  • Habitat
  • Environment
  • Diet (feeding and water)
  • Health

Let’s look at their habitat requirements.

What are box turtle habitat requirements?

Semi-aquatic species require damp and humid conditions. Most of the box turtles are found in a relatively warm environment. They like to live in forested areas with a lot of shade and patches of light. 

Unlike most reptiles, box turtles thrive in a certain kind of environment. You may find them around the edge of a water source amongst logs, wet leaves, low plant grass, and stumps. They spend their daytime basking in the sun and cooling off in the shade.

Having sufficient knowledge about box turtle’s natural habitat will help you create an excellent artificial enclosure for your pet box turtle. It is a significant point in taking care of this beautifully patterned species. Yes, it is not possible to create the exact same natural environment. But a close enough enclosure mimicking their natural habitat can work too.

Indoor Box turtle Habitat

Box turtles may be small, but they need ample space in your home (and in your heart, too!). A 20-gallon glass enclosure can work well. But 30-to-40-gallon (136 liters) aquariums are better. Owners can also opt for a plastic enclosure as they are cheap and can be replaced easily. But avoid using any wooden tanks. 

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The enclosure should have lots of leaves, plants, and logs to provide a perfect hideout. This will help to imitate their natural habitat.

Box turtles need water to soak themselves in. So, the enclosure should have a shallow pool. But, make sure the water isn’t deeper than the turtle’s chin. It is because box turtles cannot swim. And if unable to find an easy escape, the little fella may drown.

box turtle habitat

Box turtles often get anxious. At the time, they need a safe place where they can stay away from all the interactions. Hiding spots can assist in this regard. Such areas can make the enclosure more comfortable. Just add some décor plants and heat stones, and Woah! You have an attractive aquarium for your lovely pet!

Lastly, you can place a wire barrier at the top of the enclosure. It will give you easy access to the inside. Plus, it significantly reduces the chances of any turtle escape.

  • Lightning and heat

This beautiful turtle loves to spend its time in the shade. But an occasional bask is equally essential. The greens and logs will provide enough shady areas, while a 75-to-100-watt bulb can fill up for the light and heat. A UV light is the best option as it stimulates vitamin D production.

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Tank temperatures and humidity levels (80%) are significant for a box turtle’s health. Therefore, both of these factors must be kept under consideration. The ideal night temperatures should be around 70°F to 75°F. While the temperature around 80°F to 85°F is perfect for the day.

  • Substrate

The substrate is the most critical thing for a box turtle habitat. It makes the environment suitable for the turtle. For example, box turtles like to live in damp areas with higher humidity levels and low light. 

Following are the points that you can keep in mind while choosing a new substrate

  • Always use a light obscured substrate
  • Go for a substrate that can hold a high humidity level
  • It must be loose and moist

It is wise to use a substrate that retains moisture and does not rot. This helps the reptile prevent dehydration. Many reptile owners use straws, carpeting, hay, or newspaper for a substrate, and they work just fine. But you can make the substrate a bit more effective by adding the following:

  • Sphagnum moss
  • Regular soil
  • Wood chips
  • Cypress mulch
  • Wood chips
  • Leaf litter

Keep in mind that a substrate can either be too suitable or highly harmful to your box turtle’s health. Therefore, always complete your research before choosing a substrate. Make sure to learn what substrates are toxic. For example, substrates using vermiculite, chemicals, and perlite are incredibly unsafe and should be a big NO.

What are box turtle’s environmental requirements?

The environment (light, humidity, temperature) plays a crucial role in a box turtle’s health. If box turtles are not getting sufficient heat, temperature, and moisture, they may lose their appetite and get weaker. It slows down their everyday activities. And such box turtles are more prone to diseases.

Here are the environmental requirements for different box turtle species

SpeciesBasking SpotDay time temperatureNighttime temperatureHumidity
Eastern Box turtle85-88°F (29-31°C)70-75°F (21-24°C)
65-70°F (18-21°C)Around 80%
Three-Toed Box turtle85-88°F (29-31°C)70-75°F (21-24°C65-70°F (18-21°C)70-80%
Ornate Box turtle85-88°F (29-32°C)70-90°F (21-32°C)65-75°F (18-24°C)40-50%
Florida Box turtle85-88°F (29-32°C)70-90°F (21-32°C)65-75°F (18-24°C)60-80%

Hatchlings may require higher levels of humidity.

What are box turtle food requirements?

Taking care of a box turtle includes offering the little fella a proper diet. Some people believe that a box turtle can ingest anything. Well, it is true, but not always.

These omnivorous reptiles eat a variety of things in the wild. Such as

  • Blackberries
  • Mushrooms
  • Apples
  • Earthworms
  • Beetles and some other insects
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Spiders
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Dark green leaf
  • Green beans
  • Papaya
  • Grasshoppers
  • Collard greens, mustard greens
  • Grapes
  • Green cabbage
  • Butternut squash
  • Cherries
  • Watermelons
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli
box turtle eating

Your turtle’s diet may vary with the habitat and season. These shelled pets are not picky in the wild and like to eat several times a week.

In captivity, prefer feeding your box turtle a primarily carnivorous diet. Fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be more than 30% of their meal plan. Where vegetables should be fed more than fruits. Make sure everything is chemical-free and pesticide.

Adult box turtles like to feed 3 times a week. While juveniles need to eat every day. They also need a higher proportion of meat. Their meat plan can consist of hornworms, snails, caterpillars, earthworms, insects, spiders, snails, and an occasional pink mouse.

Box turtles favor a varied diet, so you should feed your pet a variety of greens and meat. Don’t forget to wash every food and cut it into pieces before feeding it to your turtle. Dusting the food with calcium supplements is also beneficial. Finally, keep the enclosure clean and remove any uneaten or old food daily.

What do box turtles drink?

box turtle drinking

Box turtle’s drinking habits are not different than any other turtle. These reptile pets stay hydrated by drinking water from their bowl. They also fulfill their water requirements by eating foods having high water levels, such as greens and fruits. Owners can mist their box turtles several times a week to maintain the humidity levels in the aquarium. It also helps the Turtle stay hydrated.

Their enclosure must have a source of fresh and clean water all the time. These turtles not only drink from the bowl, but they also like to bathe in it. Try to give water in a pan, crock, or a shallow dish that isn’t easy to tip over. Owners can also use some kind of ramp so the turtle can easily claim in and out for drinking and soaking. Water levels should not be very high.

Many box turtles eliminate and defecate in the water bowls. So change the water daily and don’t forget to clean the bowl as well.

How to keep a box turtle healthy?

Box turtles are sensitive reptiles, and they can quickly get sick. These turtles are also prone to bacterial attacks. Although as compared to wild box turtles, pet turtles face fewer health issues. But the common diseases can be

  • Scratches
  • Irregular shell growth
  • Lumps
  • Fly on skin
  • Shell rot
  • Swollen eyes
  • Overgrown nails
  • Mouth rot
  • Respiratory illness
  • Organ disease
  • And Vitamin A deficiency.

Other than that, captive box turtles are likely to get

  • Internal parasites
  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Egg retention
  • Ear infection

For internal parasites, the best thing to do is to take your turtle to the vet. This disease is not very severe and can easily be treated with basic medication.

Metabolic bone disease is common in many reptiles. It is not easy to diagnose in turtles, but using some quality calcium supplements can help avoid it.

Egg retention occurs due to improper laying beds. In this disease, your turtle may need to visit the vet and get some Oxytocin injection.

Most of the diseases are caused by inadequate husbandry and can be avoided with proper care.

Box turtle disease and cure

DiseaseCauseCure
ScratchesAccident or attackUse a week diluted Betadine solution or a diluted Chlorhexidine to clean the cut.
Irregular shell growthMetabolic bone diseaseAccess to sunlight and a proper diet.
LumpsBacterial infectionAntibiotic shots
Fly on skin severe wounds or open skinsDisinfect the area with disinfectant and apply an antibiotic ointment.
Shell rotBacteria/ fungusKeep the turtle clean. Apply some antibiotics on the rot.
Swollen eyesVitamin ASoak the turtle’s eyes with antibiotics and provide a proper diet.
Overgrown nailsLack of necessary neuration and exerciseProper diet. Make the enclosure more attractive and playful for the turtle.
Mouth rotBacteria/fungusUse antibiotics
Respiratory illnessVitamin and mineral deficiencyAntibiotics
Organ diseaseHigh proteinSadly, you can’t do anything to cure this disease.
Vitamin A deficiency.Vitamin A deficiencyOffer a proper diet

Signs you are raising a healthy box turtle

  • Healthy box turtle has an active and alert temperament
  • They are quick to retract limbs
  • Healthy box turtles should feel heavy
  • They have clear mouths, eyes, and nostrils.
  • Healthy box turtles should have a solid and hard shell.

Symptoms your box turtle is sick

  • Constantly discharging nostrils and eyes
  • A sick box turtle drags its shell
  • May feel light in weight like an empty shell.
  • Excessive mucus

How to prevent diseases in box turtles?

Unfortunately, you cannot prevent every disease. But staying alert can help you reduce the harm.

  • The box turtle should never live in a dirty environment.
  • Owners should provide fresh water.
  • Box turtles should have a properly balanced diet. Each diet must contain sufficient minerals, calcium, and vitamin A
  • Isolate the sick turtle. Take extra care of it.
  • Ensure that humidity and temperature levels are just right.

Handling advice 

Good hygiene is vital for you and your turtle. So before touching or feeding your turtle, wash your hands.

How to handle your turtle

  • While handling, make sure the turtle is not sleeping or eating. Also, consider if the turtle is in the mating season.
  • Never try to pick your turtle single-handedly. Use both hands and pick up from the sides of the shell.
  • Don’t squeeze, but hold firmly, so the turtle doesn’t wiggle out of your hand. 
  • Do not pick any turtle by the limbs.
  • Try to limit the handling to check-ups and cleaning only.
  • If a box turtle urinates when they are picked up, it means that the pickup was unexpected.
  • Box turtles have excellent memories. They may come running to you if you offer them food during your interactions.  
  • Although box turtles are usually very docile and don’t bite or snap, you shouldn’t be handling them while they are asleep.

Bottom line

Box turtles have very particular care requirements. However, this management isn’t very challenging. It may take a while and patience to get used to this routine, but in the long run, you will have a friendly pet and a lifelong bond of trust.

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