Box turtles are a semi-aquatic species that are native to North America. They require humid and damp conditions, which is important for hatchlings, as they can dehydrate quickly.
The most common box turtles are the three-toed, Eastern, Gulf Coast, Florida and ornate.
Box Turtle Caging
The best cages for box turtles are glass terrariums or plastic enclosures that will retain moisture without rotting; avoid wooden enclosures. Plastic storage bins also work, but make sure it has dark or opaque sides to minimize stress from outside activity.
Hatchlings don’t require too much space, so nothing less than a 10-gallon terrarium should work. However, as they grow, they will need more space to move about and get exercise. Continue increasing the enclosure size as the turtle grows.
Bedding and Hides
It is important to use a substrate that will retain moisture but not rot; the bedding should be damp at all times to prevent dehydration, so keep a spray bottle as needed. You should consider cypress mulch, fir bark, coconut fiber, organic topsoil or a mixture of any of these. A top layer of leaf litter and/or moss, like sphagnum, is an excellent way to keep in moisture and provide additional hiding options. Hatchlings will spend most of their time hiding under leaf litter and moss.
You should provide multiple hide areas; logs, caves, thick bushing and leaf litter work well. Provide at least one hide on each side of the enclosure to give the box turtle a choice between a warm and a cool place.
Avoid sand, rabbit pellets, aspen, pine, cedar, corn cob, gravel or reptile carpets, as they could be potentially fatal to the box turtle.
Plants and Decorations
Live terrarium plants are a great way to keep the area wet and humid. However, make sure they aren’t fertilized and are non-toxic in case they get eaten. Plastic plants can also be used.
For a naturally bioactive environment, add earthworms, isopods and springtails.
Decorations can include rocks, driftwood, more and more. Make sure that everything is securely placed so the turtle won’t tip over.
Like most reptiles, box turtles need UV light to grow and metabolize specific vitamins. Use a 5.0 UV fluorescent rube for about 10 hours a day or take the box turtle into direct sunlight. Natural UV exposure will help promote stronger coloration in the shells, as well as promote growth and increase its overall health.
Some UV bulbs, such as spiral coil, should not be used; these can cause severe eye damage and potentially blindness.
Box Turtle Temperature
Unlike other reptiles, box turtles require a lower temperature of about 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit; anything over 90 degrees is too hot. If you notice the box turtle in its water dish or hiding more than usual, it may be trying to cool down.
Use a low wattage basking bulb or “moonglow” (black light) bulb that is positioned to one side of the enclosure. Aim for a temperature of 80 to 85 degrees on the warm end for about eight to 12 hours a day. If you use a reptile heat pad to radiate heat upwards, use a minimum of four to six inches of substrate.
Avoid spot bulbs, as they can dry out the environment and create dangerous hot spots, and mercury vapor bulbs.
A shallow water dish is essential because if your box turtle flips over into it, the turtle won’t drown; keep the water level shallow enough so that it can hold its head out of the water.
Keep the dish filled with fresh water so the turtle can drink and soak in it, which helps keep it hydrated.
Bury the water dish so that the edges are flush with the substrate to create an easier way for the turtle to get in and out.
Box Turtle Food
Hatchlings are mostly carnivorous, but you should offer fruits, vegetables and pelleted food at least a couple of times a week, although they will probably ignore these foods until they hit a year old. Protein should make up about 70 to 80% of the hatchlings’ diet. Hatchlings are attracted to the movement of live foods. Sub-adults and adults will be more likely to experiment with different foods as they get older.
Box turtles can consume a variety of different proteins.
– Live insects: earthworms, nightcrawlers, mealworms, crickets, waxworms, isopods, Dubia roaches, hornworms, slugs
– Animal proteins: hard-boiled eggs, boiled chicken, beef heart, raw ground turkey, canned tuna, canned cat food. Make sure it is lean and easy to consume.
– Fruits: blueberries, strawberries, grapes, raspberries, bananas, mangos, apples, cantaloupes, watermelons. Sugary fruits should be kept to a minimum of no more than 10 to 15% of the diet.
– Vegetables: Lettuces (spring mix, radicchio, dandelion leaves and flowers, hibiscus leaves and flowers, collard greens, romaine, mustard greens, kale, arugula – avoid iceberg), pumpkins, squash, carrots. When feeding denser vegetables, make sure it is thinly sliced and bite-sized.
Calcium+D3/vitamins: A calcium powder with added vitamin D3 should be included in small amounts two or three times a week. “Dust” live insects with it, add it on top of the food or mix it with raw ground meat, such as ground turkey. Also, provide a vitamin mix once or twice a week to prevent any deficiencies.
For prepared diets, Mazuri makes good pelleted food you can use in addition to the other foods. Be sure to soak the pellets in water to soften them.