American Box Turtle Care Sheet

Proper American Box Turtle care is extremely important. Learn step-by-step how to care for this type of turtle, and help them to thrive in your own home.

Turtles can make excellent pets for single owners and entire families. The often inexpensive turtle is fun to watch, but does have many care requirements which need to be followed rigidly.


The most common captive bred turtle is the American Box Turtle, also known as the Common Box Turtle. One of many terrestrial turtles belonging to the family Emydidae, the American Box Turtle originates from Mexico and the United States, where it is most often found in heavily wooded areas or along warm, moist banks of rivers, streams, and swamps.


The American Box Turtle was named for its boxed shaped lower shell, which appears hinged and closed. By tightening its lower shell against the upper shell, the turtle is able to protect the soft areas of its body during times of danger by totally encasing himself.

The American Box Turtle has a rounded, high upper shell, which can appear painted with many colors. The upper shell of the turtle commonly grows to 7-inches or more in size.


The American Box turtle is omnivorous in nature, and like most members of the turtle family, has no teeth. The Box Turtle is known to feed on insects, mushrooms, berries, and worms when living in their natural environment.



The American Box Turtle can be kept indoors or outdoors. Large aquariums, large tubs, and terrariums all provide an excellent environment for this species of turtle. Each turtle should be provided with a source of heat, plenty of room to roam, a small pool or pond, and a consistent source of humidity.

The bottom of your turtle's home can be lined with compost, wet leaves, rotten logs or similar matter, if the turtle is being housed outdoors. Many indoor turtle owners prefer a bedding of potting soil, sand and mulch or a commercial variety of specialized turtle bedding. The optimal indoor cage temperature is 75-degrees Farenheit, and bedding should be changed once per week.

The American Box turtle needs extreme high humidity in order to thrive. Misting your turtle daily and adding potted plants to your pet's living environment will help to keep air moisture at peak levels. Humidity levels can range from 60-80 percent. Those turtles not provided with enough moisture are prone to illness, injury, disease, and early death.

A good source of lighting is a necessity when keeping turtles as pets. Reptiles require access to direct sunlight or artificial light at all times. Special reptile bulbs and lighting options are available at most major pet stores. Lights should be set to warm one portion of the turtle's living environment to a consistent temperature of 85-degrees Farenheit at all times.

American Box turtles also require the addition of water to their living environment. This type of turtle does well when it is given the opportunity to wade, stand, or soak in water each day. A small pet tank can be purchased separately or a tiny pool can be added to the turtle's space. Whichever method is used, the turtle should be placed in water at least once daily and allowed to soak. For safety reasons, the pool should have a shallow end, which will allow for the turtle to pull himself from the water with little or no assistance, should he need to. Fill turtle ponds or pools with fresh warm water daily.


Box turtles are omnivorous and will need to be fed accordingly. The American Box turtle enjoys a regular diet of fruits, greens, worms, insects, and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be diced, chopped, or grated. Most turtles enjoy a varied diet of fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, apples, cantaloupe, strawberries, blackberries, and green grapes. Animal matter can be given to your turtle daily. Box Turtle favorites include night crawlers, snails, worms, slugs, and crickets. In areas where this type of food is unavailable, turtles should be provided with an ample supply of trout chow or a low fat cat food.

An ample source of calcium should also be made available to this type of turtle, and you can do so through inserting a cuttlebone, boiled eggshell, calcium carbonate, calcium lactate, or plaster block into its living environment. Turtles should be given calcium once each week.

Turtles need not be fed from a dish. Instead, a flat rock should be inserted into the turtle's cage, and all food should be placed on it daily. This will help the turtle keep his beak and toenails in shape, and avoid any problems of toenail overgrowth and injury.


A healthy, well-nourished American Box Turtle will have clear eyes, smooth shells, and no visible bumps, lumps, bruises, or cuts on their soft skin.

Turtles which refuse to eat for a period spanning more than two weeks, should be taken to a veterinarian for a thorough examination. Most illness and disease in turtles presents itself through lack of hygiene and reluctant eating.

The American Box Turtle is prone to eye irritation and respiratory illness, most often brought about by exposure to dry air. Misting your turtle several times a day and adding potted plants to their space will help add needed moisture to the air. Other signs of turtle ailments include:

DRY OR FLAKY SKIN, which is usually indicative of dehydration or lack of humidity. Allowing your turtle to soak twice daily in warm water will usually cure this condition.

SMALL BUMPS ON FLESHY AREAS of skin indicates an infestation of Bot-fly maggots. Flushing the sores with Betadine will bring maggots to the surface of the skin, where they then can be removed with a household tweezers.

LOOSE OR RUNNY STOOLS is a sign of many illnesses. Turtles suffering this condition should be seen by a veterinarian at once.

ABSCESSES are commonly found on Box Turtles, and may show themselves through swelling near the head or ear. Abscesses need to be lanced and flushed thoroughly in order to heal. Abscesses which have opened on their own should be flushed immediately with Betadine, followed by an application every four hours of a topical antibiotic. Abscesses or growths which do not respond to treatment should be treated professionally.

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