How To Keep A Box Turtle As A Pet (With Pictures)

Box turtles are popular pets. They have this exotic look that caught the attention of many. Some of its species have fascinating colors and designs. To survive as a pet, they need exposure to artificial light to stay healthy as well. It is essential to know and provide them with their required diet. These are just a few of the things you need to know on how to keep a box turtle as a friendly pet.

For a typical pet that you can handle anytime, box turtles are an exception. They may be safe to pick up, but they do not like that way to bond with their owners.

Although they require lots of care coming from their owner, they are still worth keeping as these creatures can live long. Keep them happy by providing them an equally varied diet in captivity to ensure proper nutrition.

What Is A Box Turtle?

box turtles

Box turtles live on land. They originated from Asia and North America as either terrestrial and semiaquatic turtles. The Asian and North American box turtles are not related to each other though they have similarities. The Asian genus is called Cuora. They belong to the Geoemydidae Family.

The Terrapene is a North American genus and a member of the Emydidae Family. Unlike other living species of turtles, this box one has a high-rounded upper shell or the carapace as they called. They have a flattened bottom shell or plastron with a transverse hinge.

Typical turtles have a bony bridge, except for box turtles because of their ligament connections between the carapace and plastron. Since they have too high domed shells, most of the predators think they are too large to consume as a whole. They are too tight, making them difficult to crack or open. 

  • The name box turtles derived from their ability to draw their head and limbs within the shell.
  • They can also hide like a box.
  • As a pet, most owners agree that they are the challenging ones to keep.
  • Upon keeping these turtles, you are entering into a long-term commitment as they can live for a long time or more than 100 years.

There are several species of box turtle, and each of them has its housing and dietary requirement. Some need high temperature, humidity, bask, and even slightly salty water. If you want to make them a companion, know that they like consistent surroundings and not fond of handling by people.

They can nip when you overhandled them, and they can carry salmonella. Thoroughly wash your hands if you have a close encounter with your pet or even touch anything in its environment. 

How To Keep A Box Turtle As A Pet

Before you consider owning a box turtle, you must know their background first. These turtles are great pets once they received the proper care from their owners. It is more beneficial to know how to keep a box turtle as a pet to give them the best life they deserve.

  • The ideal housing set-up for your pet is a turtle-safe outdoor pen as it gives the same vibes in their natural habitat. The temperature should not fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • It should have well-built 18 inches tall walls with an overhang to stop the box turtle from climbing the surface. Box turtles require a relative humidity of 60% to 80%. Mist the enclosure once or twice daily with water, and measure humidity with a hygrometer.
  • The tank should have some dark areas to hide whenever they want and access a shallow water dish. Clean the water. But the most important thing about an ideal shelter is, it should protect your pet from threats or predators.
  • You can keep this box turtle either indoor or outdoor. If kept indoors, you can use a terrarium with at least 40 gallons. Some owners make sandboxes and other large tubs into their turtle’s shelter.
  • The set-up should have space so that your pet can roam around. Also, provide a heat source, UV lighting, and a secured place they can easily hide.

If kept outdoors or in backyards, do it at least in one season of the year. These turtles are sensitive to the temperature of their environment. Box turtles can also hibernate in an outdoor set-up. But before you allow your pet to do such minimal activity, ensure that your pet has an overall good condition. When unhealthy box turtles hibernate, their body functions slow during the process that might result in death.

Are Box Turtles Carnivores, Herbivores or Omnivores?

Box turtles are omnivores. They have dietary requirements as they can eat and survive on both plants and meat. When you place them outdoors, they will look for other supplements for the food that you feed them in what they see in the backyard. Fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat meats, insects, and pinky mice are the primary foods under their nutritional diet.

For a balanced-diet, 60-80% should be vegetables, 10-20% are for fruits, and 10% are for insects. It is up to you if how to manage to give them the balanced diet they need. You can also offer commercial diets for these turtles. However, you have to supplement them with fresh foods. 

During the feeding process, place the food on a plate or paver as it prevents the turtle from ingesting its substrate. If you have young box turtles, you need to feed them every 24-hours since they are still in the development process.

When they reach adulthood, you can turn every day into every other day. For assurance, consult your Vet for the appropriate proportions for your pet. Always clean the water in a shallow dish. 

Types Of Box Turtles 

Box turtles have four recognized species like:

  • Common box turtles
  • Coahuilan box turtles
  • Spotted box turtles
  • Western box turtles

1. Common box turtles

Common Box Turtle is a popularly known type of box turtle in which most of the North American subspecies hail. The current status is vulnerable. There are six common subspecies of these box turtles. The first one is the Florida box turtle. These subspecies are exclusively from Florida. However, you can see them also in Southern Georgia.

Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtle

The second is the Eastern Box Turtle from the United States. It is also a well-known subspecies and considered as vulnerable too.

Three-Toed Box Turtle

Three-Toed Box Turtle

The third is Three-Toed Box Turtle that is commonly known for its three toes on its hind legs. They can cope up well in their new environment than most box turtles. Because of that, they are one of the ideal turtle box species as pets.

Mexican Box Turtle

The fourth one is the Mexican Box Turtle which is obviously from Mexico. They have a law issue regarding export, and they are not for the pet trade.

Yucatan Box Turtle

The second to last is the Yucatan Box Turtle. These subspecies are in the Mexican state of Yucatan. They are not an officially endangered species. But the locals have rarely seen these subspecies in the past years.

Gulfbox Turtle

This Gulfbox reptile is pretty unique. The last one is the Gulfbox originated from the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, and Florida. 

2. Spotted Box Turtle

Spotted Box Turtle has not been highly focused on by researchers. Up to this day, there is still insufficient information about these species. The name spotted came from the tiny spots all over their shell. Experts cannot tell if these species are at risk because of a lack of study. However, there are two subspecies named Southern Spotted Box Turtle and Northern Spotted Box Turtle. 

3. Coahuilan Box Turtle

Coahuilan Box Turtle

Coahuilan/Aquatic box turtle is the only aquatic box turtle in North America. 

However, they are now endangered species. These turtles came from Coahuila, Mexico. 

4. Western Box Turtle

pet reptile

Western Box Turtle is a species with less of a dome shape in its shell, and it looks a bit flatter in appearance than other box turtles. It has two subspecies, namely Ornate Box Turtles and Desert Box Turtles. The Ornate Box Turtles is nearly threatened, and the Desert Box Turtle is from the dry areas of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. 

How Do I Keep My Box Turtle Happy? 

Box turtles are not expressive pets to show if they are enjoying, sad, or even depressed. So, it’s hard to tell what they feel at the moment. Keeping your pet box turtle happy means you understand their mental state and their needs. You have to give them a spacious area as their shelter.

  • Always keep it clean, provide consistent temperatures, put decorations or toys like an empty shell they can slide across the floor or a small toy that they can push along to enjoy.
  • Do not forget to provide a place where they can hide.
  • Another way to make your pet happy is by giving them the healthy diet they need.
  • One thing that would make them active is the foods that they eat.
  • Like humans, they need essential foods to survive.
  • You can also put live food as they serve as an exercise because your pet can hunt these live ones.

With that, they can live their life to the fullest.

Spending time with your pet is the best way to keep them always at their best. Whenever they see you often, they tend to be comfortable with your presence as each day passes by.

Although these box turtles do not crave human affection most of the time, you can still have another way to bond with them. You can talk to them outside their shelter, feed them live foods, or even do your favorite hobby near them. If you will attempt to handle them, make sure that they are in the mood.

Carefully pick them up and place them in an area where they won’t feel threatened. While they are outside, you can clean or play with them. Allowing them to exercise is a beneficial activity to their health. If you see them enjoying your presence, pet their chin, head, and shell as long as they want you to do it. 

Final Thoughts: How To Keep A Box Turtle As A Pet

Box turtles are not for everyone. Since they do not crave for human touch, they are not an ideal pet for young children. These creatures are not like a dog that can be pet, handled and forced to move fast at all times. They are sensitive and moody most of the time.

The appropriate one to own a box turtle is an adult. They know how to handle these turtles calmly and gently. When you have a child at home, make sure that they would not get near your pet. Box turtles are not toys.

Having a box turtle as a pet is quite challenging for some people. Since local pet stores do not sell these animals, you can only see them in the wild. However, several states are not allowed to adopt these creatures. You have to get a permit to keep a box turtle legally. They are wild creatures and have not been domesticated. So, what do you expect?

When planning to keep one, experts would recommend you to get a juvenile box turtle. They are obedient pets, and you can train them in the proper ways as early as possible. When keeping an adult one, it is essential to know that you have to make their new home like the wild where they used to live.

This environment can prevent stress and helps them to live longer than expected. Their life will eventually cut short due to different reasons as well. If you want accurate information, do not hesitate to consult the Vet or do your research before making this box turtle your companion.

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