Box turtles are probably the most well-known of all the
turtle species. Many children's books and movies have
featured the happy face or closed shell of the Box Turtle.
The United States has several species of box turtles, and
all are kept as pets. The Eastern Box Turtle is the species
native to the southern Appalachian mountains which run
through North and South Carolina in the eastern USA.
The Eastern Box turtle is average sized for a North American
box turtle. Most adult individuals are between four and six
inches long, and about half that in width. Their shells have
a dark brown high dome, with bright orange, yellow and/or
red markings, and their skin is brown with yellow or red
irregular spots. Males have much brighter-colored spots than
Another way to tell a male from a female Eastern Box Turtle
is to check the tail. A female's tail will be shorter and
thinner than a male's. The male will also have longer,
curved claws on the back legs, may have red eyes, and he
usually has a concave plastron (bottom shell) rather than
the more flat one of the female. The female will have a
higher domed shell (carapace) than a male, her eyes are
usually dark red or brown and she is usually quieter and
The Eastern Box Turtle, like all box turtles, can, when
frightened, pull its head, tail and legs into its shell and
close the hinged bottom so that it is protected from
predators. It can stay that way for a long time, and come
out only once the danger is past. Happily, box turtles are
usually very easily tamed, and will often walk about and
feed from your hand within just a short time.
In the wild, box turtles may live as long as 100 years,
although they seldom live that long in captivity. But, even
in captivity they often live up to 40 years, so it is no
small matter to adopt a box turtle!
Eastern Box turtles live naturally in an area with a wide
variety of different small habitats, from damp deciduous
woodlands to grassy meadows, although they can most often be
found in damp places. On very hot days they will often find
a small spring or seepage and dig themselves into the mud to
They spend most of their time burrowed into the mulch and
leaves of the forest floor, coming out to feed, especially
after a rain, on their favorite plants, berries, mushrooms,
worms, slugs, snails, and insects. Each turtle will have his
or her own small territory, and will defend it against other
turtles, living there all its life if conditions are good.
Like many other reptiles, wild box turtles hibernate when
the weather gets too cold, burying themselves up to two feet
down in the soft forest soil. In the Spring, they climb out
and begin to seek a mate.
The female box turtle finds a sunny spot to lay her eggs, so
that the sun will keep them warm. She digs out a shallow
hole with her hind legs, lays 3 to 6 eggs, covers them up
with soil, and goes about her business. The eggs bask in the
sun for 2 to 3 months, and the turtles hatch as tiny copies
of their parents. Because they are camouflaged in dark
coloration and bury themselves when not feeding, baby box
turtles are seldom seen, but there may be quite a few to the
acre, happily munching and sleeping and growing.
Box turtles, like many other animals, are rapidly
disappearing from their natural habitats. For this reason,
it is best that if you choose to adopt one as a pet, (Please
read all the information about them on this site before
making that decision.), you try to make sure your choice was
captive bred rather than taken from the wild. You will
likely get a healthier pet - without wild parasites, and you
will help keep box turtles in the wild.