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North American Box Turtles (Terrapene) - Steve Zuppa


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North American Box Turtles (Terrapene) - Tess Cook

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Terrapene Gallery

A Natural Shell Repair Example in a Terrapene - Chris Tabaka DVM

Ear Infections and surgery in Terrapene - Chris Tabaka DVM

Carapace Pitting in Terrapene - Darrell Senneke


Copyright © 2003 World Chelonian Trust. All rights reserved

Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)

Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major)

Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis),

Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila)

Spotted Box Turtle (Terrapene nelsoni)

Desert Box Turtle (Terrapene ornate luteola)

Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata)


The Terrapene species are a group of terrestrial turtles in the Family Emydidae.  Commonly referred to as box turtles, the genus only occurs in North America (although the Asian turtles from Cuora, Cistoclemmys and Pyxidea are also called box turtles, but are unrelated to Terrapene).  Of the 10 or so species and subspecies, only six are seen in captive collections with some regularity, and they are four of the T.carolina ssp. and the two T.ornata ssp.

Box Turtle, the common name applied to this group is appropriate, as members of Terrapene have the ability to close their plastron (bottom shell) tightly against the underside of their carapace (top shell), presenting would-be predators with a "box" of hard shell and plates around the edible body.  Evidence of the effectiveness of this protection can be seen on the turtles themselves. Many wild collected specimens bear bite marks and scratches along the shell.  After unsuccessful attempts to get to the flesh, many predators will discard the turtle and seek out an easier meal.  When the presence of danger is no longer sensed, a box turtle can then open its shell and resume its routine with little damage.

Young box turtles, however, are unable to use this defense.  They are instead less domed and more streamlined, adapted for a life of secrecy near water basins.  Ages vary, but a box turtle may be 2-6 years old before the hinged plastron is functional.  Juveniles are shy and rarely stray into the open.

Although considered primarily "terrestrial", box turtles will occasionally, and sometimes routinely seek a body of water in which to soak for hours to even days.  Some will even spend the hot weeks of summer in and around pond shallows.  Despite their fondness of water, box turtles are generally poor swimmers, and can drown if water is too deep and there is not provision made to easily exit any water .  The exception to the rule is the Coahuilan box turtles T. coahuilan, which is considered semi aquatic.

Terrapene sp. have long been kept as pets, and even today they remain popular and highly sought after.  All fare well in captivity, provided the proper conditions are met.  Captives quickly accept their keepers as non-threatening, and may actually come to enjoy such company.  The genus is equally suitable for beginner and advanced chelonian enthusiasts.

Identification, Ranges, and Natural History

The box turtles have a range extending much over the eastern and central United States, and eastern Mexico.  Throughout this range are 4 species and many races.

Common Box Turtles Terrapene carolina

This species inhabits  eastern America, and is considered the most sought after of the North American box turtles.  Six races, also called subspecies, are described for the species.


Eastern Box Turtles T. c. carolina: This is the nominate form, and is also the most variable patterned and formerly the most commonly available.  It ranges from Massachusetts west to Illinois, and south to Georgia.  Throughout the range, localities can be found from a variety of habitats, including fields, forests, lake margins, and everything in between.  The carapace of adults is highly domed, and typically a brown, or black ground color with a variable range of patterns, including but not limited to reticulations, radiating lined, splotches, etc.  It commonly attains sizes up to 6.5 inches (16cm), and it has 4 toes on each hind foot.  This race is in my opinion the most adaptable and hardy and therefore most suitable for captive conditions.

Gulf Coast Box Turtles T. c. major: The largest of all living box turtles, this race can attain sizes exceeding 8 inches (20cm).  It is very moisture loving and is most often found near or in shallow bodies of water in its' natural range, which includes the inside gulf coast region of western Florida, and areas of southern Louisiana.  The Florida localities are the most pure form, and those found in Louisiana are most likely an intergrade with three toed box turtles, but with much T. c. major influence.  Gulf Coast box turtles have no particular pattern of their own, but may superficially resemble other races within the specie.  Adults however, do often time develop whitish or reddish markings on the face and forelimbs.
Florida Box Turtles T. c. bauri: The race is represented only in peninsular Florida, and is perhaps the least commonly available of the U.S. varieties.  They are very similarly patterned to ornate box turtles, but are easily identified by the natural range, highly domed carapace, and facial stripes.  Florida box turtles are another moisture loving race, and are found in wet areas throughout its' range.  Sizes of 6 inches (15cm) are common.  It usually bears only 3 toes on each hind foot.
Three Toed Box Turtles T. c. trunguis:  These are the most commonly seen of the eastern box turtle subspecies.  They attain up to 6.5 inches (16cm) in total length, and range throughout much of the central United States, from the Mississippi River Valley west to Texas, and along the southern part of the range, it extends as far eastward as Florida.  Of all the T. Carolina races, this is the one most likely to be found away from water bodies, and prefers drier habitats than those previously mentioned.  The pattern is light radiating lines on an olive to brown ground color carapace.  Males often develop orange, red or yellow markings on the face and forelimbs.  Just because of the name, don't think that three toes on each hind foot are the rule, as it may have four!
Mexican Box Turtles T. c. mexicana:  Very similar to the three toed box turtle in habits and appearance, is the Mexican box turtle, found throughout North Eastern Mexico, especially near streams, and oases.  Any in the hands of hobbyists now are those remaining from the 1970's and 80's when the race was imported, but is now rare in captivity however, because of the export ban of Mexican fauna.
Yucatan Box Turtles T. c. yucatana:  Found in the Yucatan peninsula and Quintana Roo of Eastern Mexico, this is the rarest race of the specie, and is found only in a few zoological collections.  It has four toes on each hind foot, and can attain sizes up to 5.5 inches (14cm).


Western Box Turtles Terrapene ornata

The two races of the ornate box turtles are now the two most commonly seen in collections both in America and Europe.  They are the most dry tolerant of all the box turtles, and are less adaptable to captivity than their eastern counterparts.


Ornate Box Turtles T. o. ornata: This is the nominate form of the species, which ranges over much of the central United States, from Eastern Indiana to eastern Texas and Louisiana.  In this range, the race prefers irrigated areas, and sandy spots in which to plow into and rest at night.  It obtains sizes up to 5.5 inches (14cm) and bears 4 claws on each hind foot.  The pattern is of radiating lines on an olive to brown ground colored carapace.  The carapace is also less domed on top than the other box turtle species, and its' face and forelimbs are marked with yellow colorations.
Desert Box Turtles T. o. luteola: Similarly patterned to the ornate box turtles, but with more radiating lines concentrating on each scute on the carapace.  This race inhabits the driest areas of all the box turtles, ranging from western Texas, to Arizona and adjoining Mexico.  Up to 6 inches (16cm)

One of the major reasons for failure to keep these two subspecies is the misconception that they do not need a damp environment.  While more tolerant of dryness than other Terrapene, a moist microclimate (hide area) is needed for these as well as the other Terrapene species.  The species can not tolerate overall wet conditions though, leading to a more difficult to duplicate captive environment.

Spotted Box Turtles Terrapene nelsoni

These are the rarest in captivity of all the box turtles and are likely to be seen in only a few advanced zoological collections.  The carapace of both races is an olive-brown to brown color with numerous yellow spots.  Adults of T. n. nelsoni are up to 6 inches (16cm) and T. n. klauberi is slightly smaller.  The natural ranges are in north western Mexico.

We know little of this species and it's care, but is probably similar to T. ornata.

Coahuilan Box Turtles Terrapene coahuila

Only one race has been described for this species.  It was formerly extremely rare in captivity, but in recent years, captive breeding  has  increased its availability to individuals.  Coahuilan box turtles are the most aquatic members of the genus, and adults may attain lengths up to 6 inches (16cm).  The carapace is usually horn colored and basically unmarked.  Hind feet bear four toes and are webbed. T. coahuila are found only in the Cuatro Ciengas series of streams and water bodies in north eastern Mexico.

Choosing a Healthy Turtle and Where to Get It

If you have an opportunity to choose which box turtle you get, then consider the following aspects……

Your climatic conditions: Do you want to keep the turtle outdoors year round? Some species are more sensitive than others. Is your local humidity high or low? T.ornata has problems adapting to perpetually humid conditions, a T.carolina has trouble adapting to arid conditions.

Is the animal for breeding or pet purposes? Captive born animals are more expensive but are more adaptable and usually less problematic than wild caught animals.  They also prove to be more tolerant of handling and are less shy, resulting in more personable animals.  The only advantage to buying wild caught animals is that you will not have to wait the 4+ years it takes for a hatchling to reach maturity and this is offset by increased risk of stress induced ailments. .

In most cases, it is ideal to purchase a captive bred animal for obvious reasons.  Choose a reputable dealer and always remember that what you pay for is what you get. If someone sells a cheap box turtle, then you aren’t getting the top quality.

Why go Captive Bred?

Because wild caught box turtles are often plagued with internal parasites, covered in ticks, and severely stressed.  Most that enter the pet trade will die after just a short period of time.  The best and only alternative is captive bred animals, which are healthier, more adaptable, more personable, and in general, better pets.


Years of over collecting for export, habitat destruction, pollution, high way road kills, and increased predation on nests and hatchlings by foxes, dogs, cats, skunks, etc has led to much lower populations than in the past.  Areas which where once plentiful with box turtles are now finding them to be a rare sight.

The future for these majestic creatures looks grim and one day it may be true that the only natural habitats left for Terrapene is in national parks.  It is up to captive breeding efforts to preserve the species for future generations to come to enjoy.

Foods and Nutrition

As a rule, box turtles are omnivorous by nature.  In captivity we must duplicate this by offering a varied diet of assorted fruits, vegetables, invertebrates, and animal matter.  The ratio of vegetable to animal matter is variable upon the species involved and the age at which the turtles are.  It is generally accepted that the T. carolina species favor  more vegetation into their diet.  T. ornata is more carnivorous, and T. coahuila is almost entirely carnivorous.  It is also common knowledge that hatchlings and juveniles of all species and races eat more animal matter than the adults.  All this information must be factored in when preparing a dietary plan.

Vegetable matter:
The base of any vegetarian meal for any reptiles should be made up of varieties of feeds with a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1:1 or greater.  Too much phosphorous in the diet can contribute to metabolic problems (see health issues). 


The following are good items in which to offer:
Dark leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, mustard greens, collared greens, etc. are appropriate vegetable matter.    Do not offer iceberg lettuce as it has very little if any nutritional value.  Also remember that spinach can be offered only on occasion as excessive amounts have been linked to kidney problems due to high Oxalic acid content.

Broccoli stems and leaves (but not the floret's), carrot, and beet can be boiled to soften and cooled and served.  Alfalfa sprouts, mung bean, green bean, pea pods, soy leaves, moistened alfalfa, dandelion greens and flowers, clover, and hibiscus flowers are all good food items.  Please note that while some high protein vegetables like beans and peas are acceptable in the diet that this should not be the only thing fed.  True tortoises should not be fed these items as it can lead to a host of problems, Terrapene with their higher protein requirements can tolerate some in their diet.   

Fruits such as strawberries, black berries, raspberries, grapes, tomatoes, apples, mango, peaches, paw paws and apricots are all eagerly accepted.  Offer banana and kiwi only on occasion because of its exceptionally high phosphorous content. Terrapene are known to become addicted to bananas, refusing other foods in favor of them, because of this tendency bananas should only be fed as a rare treat.

Oatmeal can be moistened and left unsweetened and fed to the box turtles

Animal matter:
Even the most finicky of box turtles will quickly snap at some scurrying crickets and worms.  Adults and especially juveniles seem to enjoy the pursuit of various insects, including crickets, grass hoppers, mealworms, wax worms, super worms, red worms, night crawlers, caterpillars, etc.  All of these insects are available from your local pet shop or bait store, or you can buy them bulk from numerous mail order companies.

Other forms of animal matter include freshly killed minnows, fish slabs, beef heart, chicken meat and organs, and moistened high quality, low fat dog food.

One thing that I have found to be effective for providing animal proteins and at a low cost is to buy chicken hind quarters from the local super market.  When on sale, they can be purchased in large bags at "next to nothing", boil the meat (chicken meat can be fed raw, but it is better  to boil it as raw meat lures insects too quickly and can cause Salmonella), divide into portions and freeze for later use.  By this method, all that is needed is to take a portion out of the freezer, and let thaw out then serve to the turtles.

Commercial diets:
Several commercial diets are now on the market, and are said to be nutritionally complete, but should still not make up more than 50% of the dietary intake of your box turtle.  Many Terrapene will even snub the foods and prefer to eat fresh meals instead.

Vitamin and mineral supplementation:
This is a subject of much controversy, and I have found that it is best to dust food items with a good multi vitamin and calcium supplement once per week.  Do not provide a supplement with Vitamin D3 if your turtles are kept under natural sunlight for more then 20 hours per week.  The reason is vitamin D3 can cause problems if given too excessively.  This vitamin is necessary for the proper absorption of calcium and should be supplied to Terrapene being maintained indoors but is synthesized by reptiles and amphibians subjected to UVB rays which are given off by sunlight.

Box Turtle Housing

Housing for box turtles is variable and is the options are unlimited in design as long as basic needs are met.  For obvious reasons, those species from drier habitats (i.e. T. ornata) will need drier overall climates than those from wetter habitats (T. carolina). Just remember that Terrapene species are active animals requiring lots of space and clean conditions.

Indoor Housing

Indoor housing is necessary for the husbandry of young, sick, injured and cold sensitive species during cool conditions.  The indoor terrarium can be simple or complex based on the keeper’s preferences.   For example I maintain my hatchlings in plastic hardware tubs measuring 2' x 3' x 8"  (60 cm x 90 cm x 20 cm) with a simple moss or moistened paper towel bedding.

All of the land dwelling species require similar enclosures and the following guidelines apply to all species except T. coahuila.  The only variable is humidity and how wet the substrate is kept.  Provide a water dish large enough for the animals to sit in completely, but shallow and easily accessible so the turtles do not drown.  Box turtles of all species will sit in water receptacles and soak for hours and even sometimes even days.  They also defecate in the water dishes so be prepared to change often.

As for substrate, you can use cypress bedding (but not cedar or pine), natural earth, paper towels, sand, smooth river gravels, out door carpeting, newspaper, moss, leaf litter, etc.  How wet you keep the substrate depends on the specie involved.  For example, the eastern box turtles do better on moistened bedding which raises the terrarium humidity than the more arid western box turtle species.

The size of the terrarium depends on the size, temperament and number and sex of the inhabitants.  A simple 2’ x 3’ (60 cm x 90 cm)  enclosure would easily house several young box turtles.  The same are would only maintain a pair or trio of tolerant adults, or a single aggressive adult.  If more than one male is to be kept per enclosure the amount of space must be larger than if only a single male were to be kept.  The reasoning is because male box turtles become aggressive towards each other during certain periods through out the year.

Be sure to provide visual barriers and hiding areas within the terrarium to help reduce stress and keep the animals inside happy and comfortable.  Such places can be made using driftwood, log shelters available from pet supply carriers, and even a small cardboard box with a hole cut in the side will do.

Coahuilan box turtles require housing similar to other semi aquatic species such as red ear sliders, painted turtles, cooters, etc.  If you are lucky enough to obtain a T. coahulia provide it a primarily aquatic terrarium with a sizable land area.  The water depth should be approximately as deep as the turtle is long and the land area should be made easily accessible to allow for basking, resting, etc.

Suspend basking lights over the land area and provide a filtration system.  Use a smooth river gravel substrate, and an aquatic plant or two will serve as not only visual barriers but also a snack.

Heat and Lighting
Most box turtles are active and foraging at temperatures between 60 and 80F.  Temperatures below that will encourage resting and above that may cause aestivation or a form of dormancy brought on by excessive temperatures.

Lighting in the form of a UV emitting full spectrum bulb should be provided.  Also provide a basking place over one side of the terrarium to allow the animals to thermo regulate.  It is important to keep one area of the enclosure cooler than under the basking light to prevent dangerous over heating.

Outdoor Housing
I feel that this is absolutely necessary for box turtles even if it can be offered only a few months of the year.  It is especially important for wild caught animals in order to adapt to captivity, a process which may take many months or even years.

The period of time in which a pet reptile of any sort can be maintained outdoors depends on your climate and the specie involved.  At my location in Kentucky I am able to maintain my T. c. carolina colony outdoors for the entire course of a year because they are native and will hibernate during the cooler months.  Gulf coast and Florida box turtles must be brought indoors during the winter months however.  Those living in warmer area such as southern Florida would be able to keep any of the U.S. Terrapene sp. outdoors year round without any problems.  Cooler area such as New England and southern Canada have a shorter period of time in which outdoor maintenance is feasible.  With this in mind we must design a terrarium to keep the ideal microclimate in which the particular species requires.

A minimum size for an outdoor terrarium in 4’ x 8’.  (1.3 M x 2.6 M) Using treated lumber 2x4s build a sturdy box like frame.  To this frame attach a strong metal mesh such as 0.5˝ x 0.5”, or 1 inch hexagon netting (depending on the size of the turtles to be kept inside) along the sides.  The set up should be approximately 3' tall.  Affix a hinged wire lid to the top of this unit and it will be ready for modifications to provide the ideal microclimate.  Remember to sink the walls of the terrarium into the ground to a depth of at least 1’, leaving 2’ of the unit extending above ground.  To get in, simply open the lid and step over the walls.

Inside be sure to provide a hide box, a sizeable but shallow and easily accessible water receptacle, and a feed dish.  You can also decorate with old tree stumps,  stones etc.

To establish a preferred habitat, look at the preferences of the species in mind and the climate you have.  For example, in my climate, which is rather wet, I do not need to provide any further modifications for my T. c. carolina specimens.  For T. ornata however, it is necessary to cover the terrarium lid with a tarp or metal sheets to keep out excessive rain.  If you live in an area that is excessively hot and dry (such as area of the American south west) it is important to put the terrarium in a shady location.  The more moisture loving biotypes like T. carolina ssp. would also benefit from having a mister and sprinkler system installed in this type of climate.

If you want a more elaborate set up, then feel free to modify the units even more or even design a whole new housing system.  Just remember that the walls need to extend below the ground surface or else some box turtles may dig themselves out.  Also remember that some specimens will easily scale a wire mesh fence if a lid or overhang isn't provided.  Water and shaded areas must be available at all times.


Hibernation is a period of dormancy brought on by cool temperatures and is commonplace for all reptiles and amphibians from the more temperate areas throughout the world.  The eastern, three toed and most specimens of the ornate biotypes will hibernate during the winter months.  Other species and races will also go dormant during the passage of cold fronts but not go into a full hibernation.

Many times, during late fall and winter even those box turtles kept indoors and warm will attempt to dig in for a long seasonal rest period.  They will stop eating and will become quite inactive for weeks or even months at a time.  If your box turtle exhibits this behavior, then you may want to consider hibernating it.  Below are some guidelines for natural and artificial hibernation that you will need.

Natural Hibernation
This is most feasible with native biotypes.  For example, I allow my eastern box turtles to hibernate outdoors every year.  Starting in October or November, they will dig in to soft earth approximately 4 inched below surface level.  Atop the sleeping turtles I throw down several inched of fallen leaves and straw, which insulates, keeps out the frost, and prevents the ground from drying out.  They remain in this state until March or April when the warm spring rains draw them out.  This method proves to work equally well with three toed and ornate box turtles in the covered terrariums.

Artificial Hibernation
Because of some of the potential problems associated with natural hibernation (such as the dormant turtles being discovered by rats, etc), many keepers with smaller collections utilize artificial methods to cool the turtles.

The most common method is to stop feeding the turtles 2 weeks before entering them into dormancy and soaking them daily in warm water to encourage defecation and complete digestion of food in the gut which could possibly spoil and kill the animal.  Then turn off all heating devices in the terrarium and reduce the photo period to encourage the box turtles to try to brumate.

When the activity is obviously greatly reduced or absent, place the turtles in a plastic container such as a Rubbermaid shoe box with wholes drilled in the side.  In this box should be some slightly moistened moss.  Place the lid on this and secure it tightly, then put it in a refrigerator set at 59F.  Though the box turtles inside may scratch around and seem restless, they will calm down and enter the winter rest.  Over the period of a week or more, lower the temperature inside the refrigerator two degrees per day to a low of 40-42F.  After a month or two the temps should be slowly raised until they reach 60F at which time the turtles can be removed from the refrigerator and allowed to warm up to room temperature.  At this time they should begin to awaken and scratch around inside the box.  Take the turtle out and set it in room temperature water so it can drink and further awaken.

Remember to periodically check on the turtle through out hibernation and the awakening period to ensure it does not dehydrate, or worse.

Why Hibernate?
A hibernation period is necessary for biotypes from cooler areas to become fertile and encourage sexual activity, which occurs directly after the cool down period.  Although many keepers say it is not, I have found it to be necessary for many box turtles especially those that have been wild caught to survive captive conditions.  Keeping a turtle awake when its’ ready to go dormant is stressful and results in low weight, unhappy turtles.  If it wants to go dormant, then my philosophy is “let it”.


Breeding members of Terrapene is generally unproblematic.  After a winter cooling period and period of reduced lighting (this will suffice for may varieties) or hibernation (for biotypes from colder regions), the box turtles become fertile and ready to mate.  A male will usually circle the female biting at her shell or legs until she becomes thoroughly “interested” and allows for copulation, at which time the male mounts the female and mates with her.

Six to eight weeks later or so, the female will seek a sandy or area to nest.  She usually digs a flask shaped whole about 2 to 3 inches into the soil and deposits between 1 and 8 eggs.  Before laying, she may dig several holes called “false nests” for unknown reasons.  It may be to deter predators from an actual nest or maybe just be because the ground in this area is not to her liking.

After deposition, the female fills in the hole, and packs the ground on top of it smooth using her carapace.  In a natural setting the eggs would take 70 or more days to hatch, with some late season hatchlings actually over wintering inside the nest.

The sex of the babies will depends on the temperature at which the eggs are incubated.  Eggs should be incubated between 74 and 82 degrees, higher temps produce primarily females, while lower temps produce mostly males.

If you discover a box turtle nest, it is advisable to carefully remove them from the ground and bring them in for artificial incubation.  Fresh eggs within 24 hours  can be moved without causing problems for the embryos.  If the nest is more than a day old though, it is important not to turn or roll the egg which may result in the drowning or detaching of the embryo from  the top of the egg.  I recommend lightly marking an X the top of the eggs with a pencil to ensure you do not roll them.

Place the eggs in a plastic tub filled partly with moistened vermiculite.  Bury them approximately 2/3 into the material and put a lid with pin holes in it on the container.  The lid should allow air to enter but should also hold in moisture.  If the eggs begin to dent or dry out, moisten the vermiculite further and this usually corrects the problem.

After 2 ˝ to 3 months the eggs should hatch into little box turtles.  Don’t be alarmed if it takes a full day or even up to a week for the hatchlings to fully emerge from the eggs.  Just be sure they are kept moist and do not dehydrate.
After emerging from the eggs, the hatchlings should be moved to a sterile terrarium with a moistened paper towel bedding.  They will still have the remnants of the egg yolk sac on them for several days.  It is crucial this does not get busted or does not dry out otherwise the turtle may be scared or even killed.  If it looks like the  yolk sac is drying out, you may want to gently apply a little bit of petroleum jelly to it.

The hatchlings will survive the first few days on left over yolk and may not feed for a period of time.  Once this is absorbed, care for the babies as usual.  They will soon begin to eat voraciously and grow.

Common Ailments

Although very hardy and adaptable, box turtles can still develop problems.  The following describes some of the more common ailments and their treatments.  If even after treatments the ailments continue to worsen or if new symptoms develop, it is advisable you take the animals to a qualified veterinarian.

Swollen eyelids and/or peeling skin: this is often caused by acute vitamin A deficiency.  The problem occurs most often in young animals and those fresh out of hibernation.  The first indication is swollen eyelids.  Advanced cases result in peeling skin, inability to open eyes, and even death.  If caught early, oral doses of Vitamin A will usually fix the problems.  Advanced cases require Vitamin A injections to reverse the problems, but the best medicine is preventative precautions, by offering a well-balanced, variable diet with proper supplementation.  This is complicated by the fact that Vitamin A excess is often misdiagnosed as a Vitamin A shortage in which case injections will only worsen the problem.  

Obesity: this is very common in adult box turtles and is apparent when the animal becomes so obese it can no longer use its hinged plastron effectively.  By switching to a more lean diet and reducing the quantity fed .  Obesity can lead to respiratory, cardiovascular, and kidney and liver problems if it is not taken care of.

Respiratory diseases: these are a common place when a western box turtle is introduced to a humid climate, or when an eastern box turtle biotype is introduced to a dry climate.  Clogged or runny nostrils, wheezing, and foaming around the mouth and nostril are common symptoms.  The most common reason for respiratory problems is problems with humidity and temperatures.  By isolating the animal and correcting these problems, the ailment should correct itself.

Other problems may also cause respiratory problems including infections, which require more advanced treatment in the form of antibiotics. , Antibiotics should only be administered under direction of a vet familiar with Reptiles. .

Ticks:  This is another common problem related to wild caught reptilians.  Small ticks may be seen in between the scales or in other soft parts of the box turtles.  Using a commercially available ectoparasite spray intended for reptiles, mist the animal and use tweezers to pick off any dead ticks or any that aren’t killed.  Be sure to also get the head out with the tick as well.

Endoparasites: This includes intestinal worms, coccidian, nematodes, amoebas etc.  Endoparasites are very prominent in wild caught animals and are easily spread throughout all other animals in the terrarium with the infected specimen.  Treatment for nematodes is a changing field, it is best to treat your animals only under direction of a veterinarian.  While Terrapene respond well to both Panacur and Flagyl it should be noted that dosage information available on the Internet or in hobbyist books is often dated and potentially dangerous, please leave drug advice to trained professionals.


Turtle and tortoise care research is ongoing. As new information becomes available we share this on the World Chelonian Trust web site at Serious keepers find it to be a benefit to have the support of others who keep these species. Care is discussed in our free online email community, which may be joined from the web address above. Please contact us about the many benefits of becoming a member of the World Chelonian Trust.

If you like this care sheet please be aware that the author, Steve Zuppa, has a book in preparation on North American Box turtles. - World Chelonian Trust


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