Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtle Information

Eastern box turtles are highly variable in shell shape, coloration, and pattern. Based on these differences, four subspecies of eastern box turtles have been designated. The most widespread subspecies is simply known as the eastern box turtle (T. carolina carolina).

This turtle ranges along the entire east coast of the United States from Massachusetts to northern Florida, as far west as the Mississippi River, and north to the Great Lakes. Although this subspecies is highly variable in coloration, it is often more brightly colored than the other subspecies and almost always has four claws on the hind feet.


eastern box turtle

Male adult – eastern box turtle

  • Eastern Box Turtles are terrestrial animals, which means they live on land.
  • They are omnivorous so they eat animals and plants.
  • Usually they can be found in forests or meadows where there is moisture.
  • Female box turtles will nest in the summer, laying three to eight eggs.
  • Like many other turtles they also will stay in the same area, as long as they have water, food, and other turtles to mate with.
  • Box turtles are some of the only turtles which can completely close their shell, protecting them from  predators.



Native habitat

The eastern box turtle is found mainly in the eastern United States, as is implied by its name. They occur as far north as southern Maine and the southern and eastern portions of the Michigan Upper Peninsula, south to southern Florida and west to eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In the northern parts of their range, they are rarely found above 1,000 feet in elevation, while they may be found up to 6,000 feet in the southern parts of their range.

Eastern box turtles are amazingly versatile reptiles and inhabit a wide variety of habitats. They are often found along wetland edges, damp forests and wooded swamps or dry and grassy fields. Although these turtles can live in a variety of different habitats, they are most abundant and healthy in moist forested areas with plenty of underbrush.

Although not aquatic, box turtles will often venture into shallow water. Occasionally they are found soaking in puddles or streams. During the hot periods turtles may submerge in mud for days at a time.

Eastern box turtles do not travel far, usually living within an area less than 200 meters in diameter. In cold climates they hibernate through the winter in loose soil at a depth up to two feet.


Physical characteristics



Eastern box turtles have a sharp, horned beak, stout limbs, and their feet are webbed only at the base. They have a high domed carapace. Turtles have 5 toes on each front leg, and normally 4 toes on each hind leg, although not typically some individuals may possess 3 toes on each hind leg.

Female’s plastron is flat, while males it is concave so the male can fit over the back-end of the female’s carapace during mating ritual.

When injured or damaged, the shell has the capacity to regenerate and reform. Granular tissue slowly forms and keratin slowly grows underneath the damaged area to replace damaged and missing scutes. Over time, the damaged area falls off, revealing the new keratin formed beneath it. Unlike water turtles box turtle scutes continue to grow throughout the turtle’s life and develop growth rings.



The eastern box turtle usually stays small in size. Measuring about 4-6 inches in length, but occasionally reach over 7 inches. When a box turtle first hatches from its egg it is a mere 1.25 inches long.

Sexual differences

It can be really difficult to tell the difference between male and female box turtles, unless comparing them side by side. Male turtles tend to have longer, thicker tails than the females. In addition, the plastron is slightly concave in males and flatter in females, while the carapace tends to be more flattened in males. The male turtles also have more colorful markings on the forelegs, and the claws on the hind feed are shorter and more curved than those on the females. Males also have more often red irises, but not always.



The eastern box turtle carapace can be of variable coloration, but is normally found brown or black and is accompanied by a yellow or orange radiating pattern of lines and spots . Skin coloration, like that of the shell, is variable, but is mostly brown or black with some yellow, orange, red, or white spots or streaks. In some isolated populations, males may have blue patches on their cheeks, throat, and front legs. Furthermore, males normally possess very orange or red eyes while females usually have brown or light orange eyes.

eastern box turtle red eye

Male red eye

Life expectancy

Eastern box turtles are very long-lived. Commonly they reach 30 to 40 years of age. Some reports even claim that eastern box turtles can reach up to 100 years. Sadly, many in captivity will not survive that long.


Feeding habits

Eastern box turtles are omnivore animals. That means that they will eat almost anything that they can fit in their mouth. The eating habits of eastern box turtles vary greatly due to individual taste, temperature, lighting, and their surrounding environment. Unlike warm-blooded animals, their metabolism doesn’t drive their appetite, instead, they can just lessen their activity level, retreat into their shells and stop their food intake until better conditions arise.

In the wild, eastern box turtles are opportunistic omnivores and will feed on a variety of animal and vegetable matter. There are a variety of foods which are universally accepted by eastern box turtles, which include earthworms, snails, slugs, grubs, beetles, caterpillars, grasses, fallen fruit, berries, mushrooms, flowers, bread, duck weed, and even carrion. Interestingly, box turtles are even able to eat many mushrooms that are toxic to humans.

Hatchlings are primarily carnivorous. But as they grow their diet shifts more towards plants.


Scientific classification

Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Subphylum – Vertebrata
Class – Reptilia
Order – Testudines
Family – Emydidae
Genus – Terrapene
Species – T. carolina
Subspecies – T. c. carolina
Trinomial name – Terrapene carolina carolina

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3 Responses to Eastern Box Turtle

  1. Lillian Barnes says:

    I have an eastern box turtle that must be very old, She has virtually no shell pigmentation. I’ve lost count on the line on her ‘scute’ (sp?), so how can I get a closer idea of how old she may be. She’s been coming to our porch for 20 years and will eat berries, melons, tomatoes, hot dogs, chipmunks and anything else that’s lying around. We would just like to have a better idea of how old she is. Any help?

  2. michele says:

    from Wikipedia:The vivid shell color found in many eastern box turtles often fades when a turtle is brought into captivity. This has led to the mistaken belief that the color fades as the turtle ages. The truth is that insufficient access to full sunlight causes the color in the keratin layer to fade.

  3. Alisa Brown says:

    What temperature can they withstand? I am in a very drought stricken part of GA, but have been able to provide bird water via a drip hose that falls into a large saucer on the ground. One came to the saucer a couple of weeks ago and just soaked for two and a half days. She has come back, but now it’s cold at night. Last night I noticed she had buried under some leaves the wind has blown into the saucer. Looks like she stayed there all night! It was 39F when I got up. Think she’ll be okay?

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