What Do Eastern Box Turtles Eat?

Written by Andrew Attilio
Published: January 17, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Alan Doucet
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The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is a subspecies of the common box turtle that is native to the eastern United States. T. c. carolina is the official state reptile of both North Carolina and Tennessee.

Box turtles are slow movers and are frequently killed by humans on accident, such as with tractors or cars. They are also slow to mature and produce few offspring, so their populations increase at a slower rate than many other animals. The underside of their shell has a hinge that allows for complete closure when necessary (hence the term “box”). Eastern box turtles have brown shells with orange or yellow spots.

The eastern box turtle is currently designated as a “threatened” species by the IUCN. Over recent decades, populations have declined by around one-third. Some states have more serious designations for box turtles: Michigan, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts give box turtles a “special concern” designation. The state of Maine goes so far as to list the species as endangered.

There are five related subspecies of box turtle found throughout the United States and Mexico:

  • the Florida box turtle
  • the Gulf Coast box turtle
  • the Three-toed box turtle
  • the Mexican box turtle
  • the Yucatán box turtle

The Eastern Box Turtle Diet

Box Turtle sitting on leaves.
Box turtle sitting on leaves.

samray/Shutterstock.com

Eastern box turtles many things, including amphibians, insects, roots, berries, foliage, mushrooms, and eggs. They are omnivorous scavengers.

When they find suitable food, they extend their neck and bite down firmly. They consume food a few days out of each week. Unlike most animals, box turtles are not driven by hunger or their metabolism. When food is scarce, they can hide away in their shells until better opportunities present themselves.

Adults usually hunt on land, but juveniles prefer the water and end up consuming a more carnivorous diet as they grow up. Some turtles have been found to eat live birds that were trapped or injured.

What Do You Feed Eastern Box Turtles?

Tiny Box Turtle crawling around on grass.
A small box turtle crawls through the grass.

Karen Culp/Shutterstock.com

Eastern box turtles kept as pets should be fed a similar diet as their wild counterparts, including fruits and vegetables like:

  • Kale
  • Blackberries and raspberries
  • Green beans
  • Apples (with the seeds removed)
  • Collard greens
  • Squash and zucchini
  • Grapes
  • Spinach

They also enjoy a variety of insects, most of which can be found at bait shops and pet stores. Before feeding, the insects should be dusted with a calcium supplement—pets kept indoors are missing nutrients that are normally provided by the sun, which a calcium supplement can help replace. Wild-caught insects may contain pesticides and should be avoided as a food source.

Suitable insects to feed your eastern box turtle include:

  • Meal worms
  • Crickets
  • Wax worms
  • Beetles
  • Roaches
  • Earthworms
  • Snails
  • Slugs

A healthy diet is a key component of the happiness and longevity of all pets, including box turtles. They should receive approximately 50% protein, 20% fruits, and 30% vegetables to maintain a balanced diet.

What Can You Not Feed an Eastern Box Turtle?

Box Turtle crossing the road.
Box turtle crossing the road.

Lisa Holder/Shutterstock.com

Some fruits and vegetables are okay for them to consume, but should only given sparingly. Some foods are too rich in sugar or a certain nutrient and may cause digestive issues in your turtle. These items include:

  • Strawberries
  • Cucumbers
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli
  • Romaine lettuce

You should also avoid feeding your turtle too much of any one food item. They thrive on variety—feeding them just one type of food will cause health issues.

What Do Baby Box Turtles Eat?

Baby eastern box turtles east greens, vegetables, insects, and fruit. They can be fed the same basic diet as adults. As they are growing in size, they may require more frequent feedings than their adult counterparts. Some young turtles are shy about eating and may require their food in a secluded space.

What Animals Eat Eastern Box Turtles?

Box turtles have an effective defense mechanism (their shell) and experience little predation. Some animals—including coyotes, foxes, snakes, owls, chipmunks, and skunks—will consume baby turtles or eggs.

When kept as a pet, eastern box turtles should be kept separate from other pets. Fights, injuries, anxiety, or death could occur if box turtles are introduced to cats, dogs, or other reptiles.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can You Have an Eastern Box Turtle as a Pet?

Yes, eastern box turtles are commonly kept as a pet. Most pet turtles are caught in the wild and sold to pet stores. Depending on the climate, eastern box turtles can be housed either indoors or outdoors. Either way, they require adequate space, a warm spot to bask, a relative humidity above 70%, care, and attention.

They are a serious commitment—often outliving their owners—so be sure to consider all factors before deciding to acquire a turtle.

Do Box Turtles Lay Eggs in the Ground?

Female box turtles lay their eggs in nests that they dig in the ground. Egg-laying season is typically around May or June. The mother turtles will find a suitable location and spend a few hours digging out the perfect nest. They lay anywhere from 1 to 9 eggs at a time and cover them with soil or foliage. Around 2 months later, the baby turtles hatch.

What is the Lifespan of Eastern Box Turtles?

Eastern box turtles live 25 to 35 years on average. When in captivity, they often live to over 100 years old when well-cared for. Living in the wild brings disease, predation, and human interference that cuts many box turtle lives short. Eastern box turtles are captured by humans for the pet trade—the lifespan of these individuals is sometimes just a few days when not properly cared for.