10 Incredible Box Turtle Facts

Written by Crystal
Published: August 24, 2022
© iStock.com/SteveByland
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Box turtles are easily identifiable with their high domed shell and adorable stumpy feet. Their skin is usually dark brown and almost black. They also have red, yellow, and sometimes orange spotting and streaking. If you want to learn more about these incredible creatures, this article is for you.

Read on to learn 10 incredible box turtle facts.

1. Box Turtles Hibernate Like Bears

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Similar to bears, box turtles hibernate during the winter.

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Like a bear, a box turtle will hibernate during winter. A healthy adult box turtle will usually hibernate for 3 months.

A box turtle usually stops feeding in the fall, known as fall fasting. Even though they don’t eat during hibernation, they barely lose weight.

When it’s time, a box turtle will make a surprisingly shallow burrow to rest in. An unheated basement or garage can be the perfect spot for hibernation in captivity. As long as the box turtle can maintain temperatures between 36 to 50° Fahrenheit, it’ll do just fine.

2. They Think Inside the Box

While thinking outside the box might be great for some, box turtles take the opposite approach. They earned their name by their ability to draw their head and limbs inside their shells altogether. When they seal themselves off, it’s almost as if they were in a box.

A plastral hinge is one of the ways that box turtles seal themselves inside their shell. The hinge allows the land turtle to move the lower parts of its shell. A box turtle will adjust itself until they’re nice and snug and safe from harm.

3. They Belong to the Large Turtle Family

If you’ve seen a box turtle before, you’ll notice how cute and small they are. However, North American box turtles are reptiles belonging to the large turtle family Emydidae, despite their size.

You’re most likely to see a box turtle in the wild after heavy rain or during the hottest parts of the season. They love spending the day foraging in high grasses near bodies of water.

Pet stores carry the eastern box turtle (terrapene Carolina Carolina). There are also Gulf Coast box turtles (T.c. major) and the three-toed box turtle (T.c triunguis). Finally, pet stores are known for having the ornate box turtle (T. Ornate).

4. Box Turtles Like Making Friends

what do eastern box turtles eat
Box turtles love playing with toys.

©iStock.com/Alan Doucet

Box turtles have all sorts of fun and quirky social behaviors. Keeping them in groups can be much more fun than keeping them alone. You can keep several male and female box turtles in the same enclosure.

As long as the enclosure is large enough, you can successfully house your turtles yearly. You can even use their enclosure as a type of enrichment center.

Along with providing enough space, you can also add things to their environment to make it more engaging. Box turtles don’t care about climbing, but they love playing with each other and with toys. They enjoy playing with rocks, sticks, plants, and empty shells. However, floating toys are one of their favorites. A box turtle will happily swim, pushing the toy around and getting on top of it.

5. They’re Widely Distributed and Protected

Box turtles are one of the most widely distributed turtle species. American box turtles come from the eastern, central, and southwestern United States. They even come from Mexico! For instance, the desert box turtle is known for living in southern Texas and northeastern Mexico.

Certain species of box turtles are protected in several states. Florida, Maine, New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and New York have protection laws for box turtles. All box turtle species are listed under the convention on international trade and endangered species as threatened. Collectors have to have special permits to import or export them between countries.

6. Box Turtles Are Rarely Over 9 in Long

tiny baby snapping turtle
Box turtles are rarely over 9 inches in size.


Box turtles are so tiny that they’re rarely over 9 in size. The average adult size varies from one species to the next. The eastern box turtle ranges in size from 4 ½ to 6 in. The record size for the eastern box turtle is 7 13/16 inches.

Similarly, the average adult size for a three-toed box turtle is between 4 ½ to 5 in. At the same time, an ornate box turtle is usually between 4 to 5 in size.

Alternatively, a gulf coast box turtle comes in a little bit more significant, maxing out at 7 in. However, there is a record size for the gulf coast box turtle of 8 ½ inches!

7. Captive Raised Box Turtles Are Large

Captive-raised box turtles grow faster and more significant than the ones living in nature. This has to do with their living conditions. In the wild, box turtles don’t always have access to food.

However, captive box turtles can eat year-round. Since they don’t hibernate and they’re provided with plenty of calories, captive box turtles grow significantly faster. For instance, a male can reach sexual maturity at as little as 4 years in captivity.

Alternatively, a box turtle living in the wild wouldn’t reach sexual maturity for at least 6 years. After reaching 4 to 5 inches in length, their growth starts to slow down quite a bit. Box turtles over 10 years old have very little annual shell growth.

8. Box Turtles Aren’t Picky Eaters

Box turtles are omnivorous, eating a diet of plants, amphibians, and insects.


Box turtles are omnivorous, eating a diet of plants, insects, and amphibians. When a box turtle is young, they’ll have a greater tendency toward eating meat. It’s normal for young box turtles to prey on all sorts of aquatic life and eggs.

As they age, box turtles switch to a vegetarian lifestyle. Adults prefer eating fruit and vegetables. However, if food is scarce, an adult box turtle might eat earthworms, snails, beetles, flies, and even mushrooms.

9. They Can Live for Decades

If you’re considering getting a box turtle for a pet, keep in mind that they can live a long time. The record lifespan for a captive Florida box turtle is over 22 years. There’s also a 26-year record for a captive-raised Eastern box turtle. There’s even a record for a three-toed box turtle pet that lived over 26 years.

While the records cap out at under 30 years, captive-raised box turtles can live much longer. They have the potential to live 30 to 40 years or more. It’s believed that a box turtle could live over 100 years in captivity.

10. Males Are More Colorful Than Females

It’s usually easy to tell the male box turtles apart from the females. Not only do the males grow larger, but they also tend to be more colorful.

For instance, male eastern box turtles have vibrantly colored heads and limbs. They also have bright orange-yellow irises. In addition to being more colorful, box turtles have a thicker tail at the base. Their colorful displays are reminiscent of painted turtles.

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Types of pond turtles - Box Turtle
Western Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) in the flint hills of Kansas. These pond turtles do not have webbed feet and do not go into deep water.
© iStock.com/SteveByland

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About the Author

Crystal is always looking to learn more, and share her finds with you along the way. It's amazing how you can spend your entire life living with plants and animals, but still know so little about them! Let's explore our world together as Crystal covers topics about creatures, places, and experiences.

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