Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle

An eastern box turtle munches on a muscadine grape on the forest floor at Yates Mill County Park in Raleigh North Carolina.
© samray/

Written by Crystal

Updated: October 26, 2023

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Daytime is the best time to spot an Eastern box turtle on the move. Males and females hang out in groups of 3-4 members and are particularly active after it rains. Just be sure to look closely; these turtles are only 4-6 inches long, with the males being the largest.

What’s life like for each sex? Read on to learn all about the male vs female eastern box turtle.

Comparing Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle

Male Eastern Box TurtleFemale Eastern Box Turtle
ColorsBrighter colors
Orange or red eyes
Less vivid colors
Brown or dark brown eyes
ShellsLarger overall size
Convex plastron
Higher domed shell
Concave plastron
CloacaSlit shape and longer than females
Away from body, near tip of tail
At the east edge of the tail
Star-shaped and rounder than males
Close to the turtle’s body
At the base of the tail
Notch on top for mating
No notch
Mating behaviorsOccasionally spar with competing males
Sparring involves biting shells
Doesn’t fight with other turtles
Can store sperm for 4 years

Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle: Key Differences

Box Turtle crossing the road.

The primary difference between male vs female box turtles is that males tend to have more vivid colors while females are darker.

©Lisa Holder/

The key differences between a male vs female eastern box turtle are their colors, shells, cloacas, claws, tails, and mating behaviors. Male box turtles have more vivid colors, including bright orange eyes. Females tend to have darker colors, including brown to dark red eyes.

While the females have a higher domed shell, males are larger overall. The turtle’s plastron, undershell, is convex on females and concave on males.

When it’s mating time, males occasionally spar with each other. Females don’t fight with other turtles but are great at building nests.

What else should you know? Read along to discover more about the male vs female eastern box turtle.

Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle: Colors

what do eastern box turtles eat

Female box turtles have neutral brown eyes, and males have bright red or orange eyes.

© Doucet

One of the fastest ways to determine whether you’re looking at a male vs female box turtle is by assessing their eye color. Male box turtles usually have red or orange eyes. Female box turtles have brown or dark red eyes.

Males and females will also have pattern markings on their heads and necks. Males tend to have reddish streaks too.

The patterns for the carapaces on males and females are distinct. The unique colorations allow for easy identification within a population. The males will have brighter, more distinct colors than females. However, coloration alone isn’t enough to definitively gender a box turtle. You also need to look at the shape of their shell.

Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle: Upper Shell

An eastern box turtle munches on a muscadine grape on the forest floor at Yates Mill County Park in Raleigh North Carolina.

Female eastern box turtles have a rounder shell than males.


Every turtle species has its claim to fame. Snapping turtles have powerful jaws, and box turtles can box themselves off entirely! They’re famous for having high-domed shells with a hinge that closes tight.

When they’re young, males and females have a flatter carapace. As they mature, it becomes more prominent and diminishes as they age. As land turtles, their shells resemble a tortoise’s.

Females usually have higher dome shells than males. The female’s shell also tends to be more rounded. Male box turtles typically have a lower sitting shell with an oblong shape.

The male’s carapace flares outward, and the female doesn’t. Once you notice the outward flare, it’s hard to miss.

Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle: Lower Shell

When you pick up an eastern box turtle, you’ll notice their undershell or plastron ranges from yellow-brown to brownish-black. Male box turtles have concave plastrons. Female box turtles have slightly convex plastrons.

However, looking for a concave vs convex plastron can be misleading. Sometimes the female box turtles’ plastron is so shallow it doesn’t help with identification.

Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle: Tails

Male box turtles have longer, thicker, and larger tails. Females have less pronounced short, thin tails. But tail size can be misleading when there’s an overlap between the genders. Thankfully, for many turtle species, you can also identify their gender by looking for a tail notch.

Male turtles usually have a small notch at the end of their carapace. The notch is there to help with mating. Without the gap, the male’s upper shell could crush its tail. Females don’t need the same notch because of the position they assume while mating.

Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle: Claws and Cloaca

Male box turtles have long front claws, and females have short front claws. Why the difference? Males need to use their front claws during mating season. They use their front paws and claws to protect and claim territory. The more extended claws help ensure their survival.

Looking closer at an eastern box turtle, you can locate its cloacal opening. The opening looks like a small vent and it’s present in both sexes.

The female box turtle’s cloaca has a star shape and is more round than the males. It sits much closer to her body, right at the base of the tail. It practically disappears into the female’s shell. You can locate the cloacal opening directly under the edge of the carapace. The carapace is the top part of the box turtles shell.

The male box turtle’s cloaca is longer. It sits at the east edge of the tail, closer to the tip. For the male, the opening is right past the margin of the carapace.

Male vs Female Eastern Box Turtle: Behavior

Baby turtle coming out of its eggshell

Female eastern box turtles can pause pregnancy for up to 4 years.

©Attila N/

Males and females have powerful homing instincts. They move in one direction with a ton of energy. Pro tip; if you ever rescue a box turtle crossing the road, always put it on the side it was initially heading.

Young and unestablished male box turtles travel the most. They’re transients in the turtle world.
An eastern box turtle male can be immature for 8 years before finding a group.

Now and then, male box turtles spar with competing males. They bite each other’s shells but don’t cause damage.

Female box turtles don’t spar, but they can pause pregnancy. It’s called embryonic diapause; Hawaiian monk seals can do the same thing.

Female box turtles can store sperm in their ovary ducts for up to 4 years. That’s right, 4 years. After a single mating, they can produce viable eggs for years.

They lay their eggs in three to four-inch deep holes when they want to. Females are skilled at finding the perfect spots to dig their nests.

Females show a preference for laying eggs in clear-cut land over grassy meadows. They’ll choose the sunniest soil spots and lay 3 to 6 tough leathery eggs. Then the female will cover the eggs to incubate and hatch on their own.

Eastern box turtles mate between May and October. A female can lay several clutches yearly, and the incubation lasts about 3 months.

Clutches hatching late in the season sometimes overwinter in the nest hole. They weather the cold and snuggle with their siblings without a mother or father. When spring arrives, the baby turtles finally emerge to start wandering the world.

Do Eastern Box Turtles Like to be Held?

An Eastern Box Turtle walks through the tall green grass.

To keep your box turtle’s stress levels low, you should let him enjoy his surroundings with minimal human contact.

©Ray Hennessy/

In general, box turtles do not particularly enjoy being held, this includes both wild turtles, which you should not be handling, as well as pet turtles. Should you want to take your pet turtle out of its cage, you should try to keep the number of times you handle it to a minimum as it can cause them stress, which is the number one reason to let them be. Box turtles prefer consistency in their surroundings, which is why they don’t enjoy being removed from them continually.

While these turtles aren’t known to bite, if they are stressed, they may nip at you so caution should be taken. These reptiles can also carry salmonella, which is just one of many reasons why you shouldn’t touch a wild one, but also an important reminder that should you come into contact with your pet on a regular basis, you should exercise caution and wash your hands after each encounter.

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About the Author

Crystal is a dedicated writer at A-Z Animals, focusing on topics related to mammals, insects, and travel. With over a decade of experience in the world of research and writing, she also fulfills the role of a skilled video and audio engineer. Residing in sunny Florida, alligators are Crystal's favorite animal.

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