A Boxy Shell: Pet Care Tips for Domesticated Box Turtles

Box Turtle Care
If you are planning to keep a box turtle as a pet, then the tips provided in this article will help you ensure that you subject it to proper care.
Turtles are great pets, especially for those who love exotic animals. They are inexpensive, fun to watch, and―most important of all―make excellent companions for single owners as well as families. The American box turtle, also known as the Common box turtle, is a native to Mexico and the United States. It is a terrestrial species, which is often found in warm and marshy wooded areas along the moist banks of rivers and streams. Even though they make unique pets, turtles need a lot of care and attention; at least, the most of them.

Box Turtle Facts
  • Box turtles belong to the genus Terrapene and spend most of their time on land. They enter the water only when they have to soak themselves.
  • In North America, there are four main species of box turtle, namely, the Common box turtle, Coahuilan box turtle, Spotted box turtle, and the Ornate box turtle. Of these, the Common box turtle has seven subspecies, while the Spotted and Ornate species have two subspecies each.
  • The average lifespan of these turtles is 40 years, but they can live for about 100 years. Their age can be determined by counting the growth rings on their upper shell. Pet turtles, however, only live for about 20 years.
  • These turtles are omnivores without teeth and thus, survive on insects, berries, and worms.
  • They protect the soft areas of their body by tightening their lower shell against the upper shell and completely encasing themselves. The upper shell, which comes in a range of colors, is usually well-rounded and higher.
  • Their shell is not completely hardened until they are seven years of age.
  • Female box turtles can store sperms for about four years and lay eggs for several seasons without mating.
  • The predators of this turtle species include skunks, dogs, raccoons, rodents, etc.
How to Care for Box Turtles

To have a pet box turtle around the house can be fun in its own way. Even though a turtle may not be as expressive as a dog, it too knows the owner's emotions.
  • You can keep your box turtle either indoors or outdoors; in a large aquarium, tub, or a terrarium. As long as you provide it a source of heat and plenty of space to roam around, any captive habitat will do.
  • A small pool or pond and consistent source of humidity won't hurt them, as they are naturally used to damp environment.
  • Just to ensure that the inner area of your turtle's home doesn't dry out, the bottom can be lined with wet leaves, compost, rotten logs, etc., especially if you are keeping the turtle outdoors. The optimal outdoor cage temperature for this species is 75°F. Its bedding should be changed at least once a week.
  • The species is used to extreme humidity in its natural habitat and you will have to replicate the same in its captive habitat. You can do this by misting the turtle daily and adding some potted plants to its environment. Ideally, the humidity levels should be in the range 60 to 80 percent, as those turtles living below this range are prone to injury, illness, disease, and even death.
  • Light is another major factor which you need to take into consideration. Like most reptiles, even box turtles need direct sunlight for survival. If you have kept your pet turtle indoors, then you will have to set a bulb which will provide at least 85°F heat to the turtle at all times.
  • As for its diet, you can feed it fruits, insects, worms, and vegetables. You should dice or chop fresh fruits and vegetables when you feed your turtle. They even enjoy treats like tomatoes, strawberries, apples, green grapes, etc. Once in a while, snails and crickets will also do.
  • You will have to feed it twice a day. The food should be kept on a flat rock as it will help your pet turtle sharpen its beak and toe nails.
  • You will have to make sure that you feed it foods rich in calcium, as it requires the same for its shell growth.
  • A healthy and well nourished box turtle will have clear eyes, soft skin, smooth shells, and no bumps, bruises, or cuts.
  • Ideally, you will have to take your pet turtle to a veterinarian once in two weeks for regular health checks.
If you are convinced that the box turtle is your kind of pet, go ahead and get one for yourself.