Eastern box turtle is actually a subspecies of Box turtles. This species is native to the eastern region of US. They are highly long lived and slow moving creatures. This turtle is North Carolina’s only ‘land turtle’. This species is the official state reptile of North Carolina as well as Tennessee.
Size: Average size of this species is 4 – 6 inches, but at times they reach more than seven inches in length.
Weight: An adult of this turtle weighs around five pounds.
Body and Carapace: This species have dome-like shell and an attached plastron which makes the whole carapace closure. Eastern box turtle have a horned, sharp beak and webbed feet at the base. On each front leg, this species have five toes whereas they have three to four hind legs on each hind leg. The carapace is covered with a keratin layer. The plastron of the female is flat, whereas the male’s is concave.
Color: The colors of the shells are generally black or brownish, but it can also be of black with orange or yellow patterns of blotches, spots and lines at times. Like the carapace, the skin color is also black or brown with some orange, red, white or yellow spots. Some isolated individuals have dark blue patches on front legs, throats or cheeks.
Eyes: Males display red eyes whereas females have brown eyes.
Picture 1 – Eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle is mainly found in the United States. They northern range goes to the southern part of Maine as well as the eastern and southern parts of Michigan Upper Peninsula, west to Texas, Oklahoma also including eastern part of Kansas, south to the southern part of Florida. In the north of their distribution range, they are hardly found over one thousand feet elevation and in the southern parts they can be seen up to 6000 feet elevation.
Though they are considered rare and uncommon in the Great Lakes region, yet some populations can be found in regions not bisected by roads with heavy traffic. In states like Indiana and Michigan, they are a species of ‘Special Concern’.
This turtle species likes to stay in deciduous forest areas with somewhat moist forest floor which has go drainage. They prefer bottomland forest compared to ridges or hillsides. They can also be spotted in moist ground, under fallen logs, pastures and open grasslands. At times, Eastern box turtle ‘bath’ in ponds, puddles or in shallow streams. During hot weather, this turtle tend to submerge itself in mud.
Starting from October – November to March – April, this species hibernates in its northern range. In upland forest regions, they overwinter by staying few inches deep in the soil surface, which is covered by woody debris or leaf litter. They burrow into the ground when soil temperature goes down. Generally, overwintering is not common, even though most of them tend to overwinter within close proximity of each other. During warm spells in early spring or in winter, few individuals may come out prematurely. In spring, Eastern box turtles start mating.
Behavioral pattern of this turtle is as interesting as its appearance.
During summer, adults of this species tend to be more active in morning as well as in evening, especially after a rainfall.
At times, they look for shelter in mud, mammal burrows, decaying leaves or rotting logs to keep off the heat of the day.
Though they are called ‘land turtles’, they often enter puddles or in shaded shallow pools in hot weather conditions for hours or even few days.
They forage in cold weathers during fall or spring, during day.
The feeding habits of this turtle species alters because of individual taste, lighting, temperature, and also the environment they live in. Their metabolism does not push their appetite. They can diminish the level of their activity, diminish their ingestion and retreat into their hard shells till better conditions spring up.
They are an opportunistic omnivore species in the wild, where they feed on various kinds of vegetables and animals. Their diet includes snails, earthworms, grubs, slugs, beetles, grasses, caterpillars, fallen fruit, mushrooms, duck weed, carrion, berries, bread and flowers. Recent studies suggest that they also feed on live birds caught by net. In captivity, they have been observed to consume things like eggs or even hamburger even if it does not fall into their regular diet.
This species is also known to eat poisonous fungi which make their flesh inedible. Anecdotal evidence reveals that hatchlings are more carnivorous compared to adult Eastern box turtles, but there is no solid evidence in favor of that theory.
Picture 2 – Eastern box turtle Image
Female Eastern box turtles reach their sexual maturity at the age of 13 years. Their mating season starts from April and continue till October. Mating is quite timeserving and courtship starts with male biting, shoving and circulating the female. Premounting as well as copulatory stages take place. Female turtles are known to store sperm and lay eggs after 4 years from mating.
Females nest around June – July and they also travel long distances in search of a proper nesting habitat. They may travel about 1 mile during their journey. Nestling places may be in meadows, woodland openings, cultivated gardens, roadsides, residential lawns or beach dunes. Sometime, female lay eggs in close proximity to last part of the year. Generally, female begin nestling during late afternoon or early in the evening and go on for five hours.
In its natural habitat, this species live for over 100 years, but in captivity their life span has been recorded around 40 years.
Juvenile turtles have several predators. One can hardly see an adult becoming a prey as their hard shell tends to protect them. Any and all carnivores and omnivore in the wild are preadtors of this cute looking turtle species.
This species is crepuscular, that means they are active during dusk and dawn.
They hide in burrows to avert the heat as well as to sleep at night.
Box turtles pull their legs, tail and head into their hard shell when threatened by predators.
The flexible joint on their underside allows them to fully close their shell, providing extra protection.
Here is a brief care sheet of this turtle :
Housing: A large indoor enclosure is required as aquariums are too small for this species. There has to be some hiding places as well as litter inside the enclosure so that it appears natural to them.
Light and Temperatures: If the enclosure is located outside, it must have both shady and sunny areas and if the enclosure is located indoors, an UVB emitting light wound be a good choice. A basking place with temperature around 85 degree F to 88 degree F along with a nighttime temperature of around 75F would be perfect.
Water: This species is not aquatic, but at times they can be spotted to walk into shallow water just to have a soak or to drink. A shallow water pan must be there all the times.
Feeding: Adults can be feed on various food items. Half of their diet must be made with fruits and vegetables. The rest of their diet must be made by live foods like snails, slugs, meal worms, grasshoppers, crickets and earthworms.
Here are some interesting facts about this species –
The shell of this turtle does not get hard till the age of 7 years.
Though females lay around hundreds of eggs during their lifetime, yet 2 – 3 of those survive till adulthood.
Their shell can reform if damage or injured.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed this species as ‘Vulnerable’. Industrial development, habitat destruction and road mortality are some of the major reasons why their numbers are decreasing in recent years.
Here are some images of this beautiful turtle species.