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Building the habitat

& outdoor pen for

Woodland Box Turtles

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If you are thinking of keeping a Box Turtle as a pet, you
should know that to stay healthy and grow properly, all box
turtles need to be outdoors at least some of the time.
Sunshine is necessary to turtle health, they may sicken
and/or die without it. Your pet will also be much happier,
livelier and more fun for you if he can live a normal turtle

Depending on the climate where you live and your box
turtle's species, you may want to give him a full-time
outdoor pen or perhaps simply a small place for his
afternoon sunning. Whichever is best for you and your box
turtle, here is how you can give your pet a wonderful
outdoor home without too much expense.

There are a number of species of Box Turtles commonly kept
as pets,
and they come from very different habitats: some
live in damp woods, some in open, grassy areas, and some in
dry desert areas. To keep your Box Turtle healthy and happy,
you will need to learn about his natural habitat and
duplicate it as closely as possible. Also, it is not a wise
idea to house different types of turtles together, as they
all have different habitat needs and different health

If yours is a Three-Toed Box Turtle, an Eastern or Gulf
Coast Box Turtle
, or one of the Asian Box Turtles, you have
a Woodland Box Turtle and its outdoor home should be well-
shaded and moist, yet with an area where he can bask in the
sun when he wants. If you have an area of your yard that
gets some sun most of the day, especially morning sun, but
has areas of damp shade, that should be a great spot for
your Box Turtle Habitat.

The absolute minimum space recommended by the experts for
one turtle is four feet by four feet, but since woodland box
turtles normally have a fairly large range, the largest pen
you can manage will please your turtle and help keep her
from being stressed by captivity. Solid sides, at least for
the bottom one or two feet of the pen, seem to work best.
The turtle can't see out, and so won't keep trying to dig or
climb (Turtles are amazing climbers.) to see the rest of the

A method that has worked well for us and our Three-Toed Box
Turtles is a 4' x 8' pen of 4' tall fencing, lined inside with
common concrete blocks. If you lay the blocks with the holes
up, you can fill the holes in the blocks with potting soil
and plant vegetable greens, strawberries, clover, or even
tomatoes to give your turtle the opportunity to forage for
some of his own food, just as he would in the wild. The
plants also help to provide shade and humidity for your

In one part of the pen, preferably the section with the most
shade, make a one or two feet deep pile of compost, mulch,
dry leaves, clippings from unsprayed grass or the like. This
gives your Box Turtle a place to dig herself a cool hiding
place, as well as to forage for worms and insects.

You can also add decorative elements to the habitat as you
wish - a large rock, a flower pot laid on its side and
partially buried to make a "turtle house", small logs for
sunning, and attractive edible plants are good choices.

Somewhere near the pen door, so you can get to it easily to
clean, lay a shallow bed of pea gravel (for good drainage
and cleanliness) and set down into the gravel a shallow
soaking and drinking pan large enough that the turtle can
climb in and out of it. A drain saucer for putting under a
large flower pot works well for most box turtles. Your
turtle will soak in his water dish, and usually use it for
his toilet, so be sure to empty and refill his water daily.
You will also use this area of the pen for his feeding
station. Shade this spot with potted plants so it won't get
too hot, but be sure to use non-toxic plants, he'll probably
taste them occasionally.

If your Box Turtle is an Asian Box Turtle, he will need a
larger water area, deep enough for him to swim (8 inches
deep is good), with sloping sides so he can easily get in
and out, and in deep shade.

If your yard doesn't have automatic sprinklers, you'll want
to set up a system to automatically sprinkle his pen every
day. That will help keep the plantings alive as well as to
help him stay cool enough. Remember that he is cold-blooded
and has to be able to move into the sun or shade to regulate
his body temperature.

If you just can't build such a pen, you might try using a
child's wading pool of the proper size, with potted plants
for shade and snacks. Just be sure to put drainage holes in
the bottom so he won't have to swim for his life when it
rains, and keep it shaded so he won't overheat. Also make
sure that no dogs or other predators can get to him, or put
a top over the pen (Some people have made covers of chicken-
wire with good results.) You might use a pen like this for
afternoon sunning and keep him in an indoor area for the

Box Turtles are charming pets, with individual personalities
and humorous ways. Give your turtle the best life you can
give him and you will be rewarded with years of enjoyment.

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