The Florida Box Turtle is the smallest of the primary five
American Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina), growing to a
maximum length of 6 inches. It is also one of the most
attractive, with dramatic yellow or cream colored stripes
radiating on each scute of it's helmet-shaped black carapace
(shell) and often yellow stripes from its mouth through the
eyes as well as yellow spots on the legs. Its plastron in
cream colored with brown lines. These turtles have an
average lifespan of 30 to 40 years, and some may live as
long as 100 years!
It's scientific name is Terrapene carolina bauri, and this
genus of the American Box Turtle is found in the wild only
in Florida, USA, in habitats from open woodlands to
wetlands. It, like all North American Box Turtles, are
listed as a threatened species, and only captive-bred
turtles should be purchased.
Florida Box Turtles are good pets for knowledgeable reptile
owners, as they are attractive and naturally tame and
curious, but they, like all reptiles, need wise care. The
best habitat for the Florida Box Turtle is of course
outdoors, in a large (4 Ft. by 4 Ft. minimum), secure pen,
with a shallow pool with a ramp, or at least several flower
pot saucer pools sunk level with the soil and kept full of
clean water for drinking and bathing, a deep, shady leaf
compost and sand area for digging, half a flower pot or
other "house" for escaping the sun or rain, and a good
basking site with at least morning sun.
Planting edible plants in the enclosure, such as
strawberries, tomatoes, squash, melons, and the like will
not only make their home more attractive for you, but will
add to their diet and entertainment with the fruit and with
insects attracted by the plants and leaf litter.
Add to the food they find for themselves by serving every
other day a variety of earthworms, crickets, mushrooms,
grated carrots or other vegetable, and the occasional treat
of most any fruits or berries, commercial turtle chow,
banana or low-fat dog food. Younger turtles will eat primary
animal foods, and adults will eat more vegetation. Keeping
cuttlebone in their pen helps to assure that they have
Be sure to make the walls of the pen high enough to keep the
turtles in (They can climb!) and predators out. Lining the
inside of the pen with concrete blocks or railroad ties will
keep them from wanting to find out if the grass is really
greener on the other side of the fence, and prevent their
digging out to see.
If you live in a temperate area, this outdoor habitat will
work for all but cold weather, and in semi-tropical areas
like this box turtle's native habitat it is fine year round.
If you must keep your turtle indoors, you will need at least
a 50 gallon aquarium, but preferably a "tortoise table." The
aquarium or tortoise table needs a set up similar to the
outdoor pen, but be sure to cover the sides of the aquarium
so that the turtle isn't always trying to climb through the
Be sure to create cooler hiding spots and warmer basking
areas of the indoor habitat so that your turtle can regulate
his body temperature, and provide a full-spectrum light that
provides both UVA and UVB above the basking spot, with no
glass between the light and the turtle. Remember that
temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit night and day will
cause the turtle to begin to go into hibernation mode, and
it may starve itself.
As for hibernation, many experts believe that four to six
weeks of hibernation per year are necessary for the long
term health of box turtles. Check out other parts of this
website, a good book, or search the Internet for more detail
on how to hibernate turtles in captivity.
When you purchase your Florida Box turtle look for one with
no obvious signs of illness, then have a reptile
veterinarian check it for parasites and other problems.
Once you have introduced it to the great habitat you have
already set up for it, give it several undisturbed weeks to
adjust to its new home and schedule before handling it.
The breeder from whom you buy your turtle can probably give
you more detailed advice about its care, and there are many
good books and many more websites and turtle lovers' forums
and discussion groups on the Internet that can help with any
questions that arise.
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