Common Box Turtle

Terrapene carolina

Order: Testudines

Family: Emydidae

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat


Ecosystem Role

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
  • Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
    • Temperature: 70-90 F
    • Humidity: 60-80%
    • Lighting: need at least 5% UVA/UVB lighting
  • Substrate
    • Sphagnum moss and vermiculite
  • Social Housing/Colony Management
  • Other General Housing Requirements or Management information

Diet Requirements

  • Diet in the Wild
    • In the wild, box turtles eat insects and other small creatures (worms and slugs are a favorite,) leafy plants, berries, and other fruits.
  • Diet under human care
    • Under human care, they are fed an Omnivore’s salad and nightcrawlers.
    • Zoo America: Ours are picky eaters!

Veterinary Concerns

  • Juveniles may need extra calcium supplementation as they grow. They’re highly carnivorous as juveniles and become less so as adults.


  • Behavioral Relevant Information
  • Environmental Enrichment
    • This species enjoys burrowing, so providing deep substrate into which they can burrow is ideal.
  • Behavioral Enrichment


  • Behaviors Trained
  • Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement

Programmatic Information

Messaging Themes

  • Threats and Conservation Status
    • In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters.
  • Interesting Natural History Information
  • Did you know…

Handling & Presentation Tips

Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines

  • Never flip over on their backs, but instead raise vertically to show/display their plastron hinge.

Transportation Tips

  • Brandywine Zoo: During cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle set to one side of the cooler. Wrap bottle with newspaper for lizards or snakes traveling with the bottle loose, to make cleanups easier in the case of defecation while traveling.

Crating Techniques

  • Brandywine Zoo: reptiles travel in a stackable Coleman style cooler that has been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). With box turtles, the cooler is lined with newspaper.

Temperature Guidelines

Acquisition Information

  • This species is widely available from wildlife rehabilitators.
  • After looking at other AZA institutions for surplus animals, check with your local herpetological society and reptile rescue organizations. Many of these animals are purchased by the public at reptile stores and expos and owners are unable to keep them for their whole lifespan. If purchasing, look for a reputable breeder to avoid wild caught specimens.



Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters

Comments from the Rating System

  • Buffalo Zoo: we have the Eastern subspecies
  • Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square: We use a Gulf Coast box turtle (T. c. major)
  • Pittsburgh Zoo: We use a Gulf Coast box turtle (T. c. major)
  • Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: A great native species that can be used outside for more of the year. Great adaptations to talk about!
  • Brandywine Zoo: We have Eastern subspecies, acquired at ages 2 and 3 yrs from local rehabilitator.