Jump to content

Eastern box turtle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle in Southern Illinois
CITES Appendix II (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Superfamily: Testudinoidea
Family: Emydidae
Genus: Terrapene
T. c. carolina
Trinomial name
Terrapene carolina carolina
click to expand
  • Testudo carolina Linnaeus, 1758
  • Testudo carinata Linnaeus, 1758
  • Testudo brevicaudata
    Lacépède, 1788
  • Testudo incarcerata Bonnaterre, 1789
  • Testudo incarceratostriata Bonnaterre, 1789
  • Testudo clausa Gmelin, 1789
  • Testudo virgulata Latreille, 1801
  • Testudo caroliniana Daudin, 1801 (ex errore)
  • Emydes clausa Brongniart, 1805
  • Emys clausa Schweigger, 1812
  • Emys schneideri Schweigger, 1812
  • Emys virgulata – Schweigger, 1812
  • Didicla clausa Rafinesque, 1815
  • Terrapene clausa Merrem, 1820
  • Monoclida kentukensis
    Rafinesque, 1822
  • Cistudo clausa Say, 1825
  • Terrapene carolina Bell, 1825
  • Terrapene maculata Bell, 1825
  • Terrapene nebulosa Bell, 1825
  • Terraphene clausa Gray, 1825
  • Terrapene virgulata Fitzinger, 1826
  • Emys tritentaculata
    Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1829
    (nomen nudum)
  • Emys (Cistuda) carolinae Gray, 1831 (ex errore)
  • Emys kinosternoides Gray, 1831
  • Testudo irregulata Daudin, 1831 (nomen nudum)
  • Cistuda carolina – Gray, 1831
  • Didicla clausa – Rafinesque, 1832
  • Emys cinosternoides A.M.C. Duméril & Bibron, 1835 (ex errore)
  • Emys schneiderii A.M.C. Duméril & Bibron, 1835 (ex errore)
  • Testudo incarceratastriata A.M.C. Duméril & Bibron, 1835 (ex errore)
  • Cinosternon clausum – Henle, 1839
  • Pyxidemys clausa – Fitzinger, 1843
  • Terrapene carolina maculata
    LeConte, 1854
  • Terrapene carolina nebulosa
    – LeConte, 1854
  • Cistudo carolinensis Gray, 1856 (ex errore)
  • Cistudo carolina Agassiz, 1857
  • Cistudo virginea Agassiz, 1857
  • Terrapene carinata Strauch, 1862
  • Cistudo eurypygia Cope, 1869
  • Cistudo carinata Garman, 1884
  • Cistudo carolina var. cinosternoides Boulenger, 1889
  • Cinosternum clausum
    – Hoffmann, 1890
  • Cistudo cinosternoides
    – Garman, 1892
  • Terrapene eurypygia
    O.P. Hay, 1902
  • Terrapene cinosternoides
    Siebenrock, 1909
  • Terrapene carolina carolina
    Stejneger & Barbour, 1917
  • Terrapene cardlina Proctor, 1922 (ex errore)
  • Terepene carolina – Breder, 1924
  • Terrapene kinosternoides
    – Lindholm, 1929
  • Terrapene caritana Schmidt, 1953 (ex errore)
  • Terrapene carolinensis – Schmidt, 1953
  • Terrapene carolinina Schmidt, 1953 (ex errore)

The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is a subspecies within a group of hinge-shelled turtles normally called box turtles. T. c. carolina is native to the Eastern United States.

The eastern box turtle is a subspecies of the common box turtle (Terrapene carolina). While in the pond turtle family, Emydidae, and not a tortoise, the box turtle is largely terrestrial.[4] Box turtles are slow crawlers, extremely long-lived, and slow to mature and have relatively few offspring per year. These characteristics, along with a propensity to get hit by cars and agricultural machinery, make all box turtle species particularly susceptible to anthropogenic, or human-induced, mortality.

In 2011, citing "a widespread persistent and ongoing gradual decline of Terrapene carolina that probably exceeds 32% over three generations", the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgraded its conservation status from near threatened to vulnerable.[1]


Eastern box turtles have a high, domelike carapace and a hinged plastron that allows total shell closure. Their shell has a middorsal keel that smooths out with age.[5] The carapace can be of variable coloration but is normally brownish or black and accompanied by a yellowish or orangish radiating pattern of lines, spots, or blotches. Skin coloration, like that of the shell, is variable but is usually brown or black with some yellow, orange, red, or white spots or streaks.[6] This coloration closely mimics that of the winter leaf of the tulip poplar. In some isolated populations, males may have blue patches on their cheeks, throat, and front legs. Furthermore, males normally possess red eyes (irises), whereas females usually have brown eyes. Eastern box turtles feature a sharp, horned beak and stout limbs, and their feet are webbed only at the base. Eastern box turtles have five toes on each front leg and normally four toes on each hind leg, although some individuals may possess three toes on each hind leg. Eastern box turtles range in size from 4.5 to 8 in (11 to 20 cm) long.

Eastern box turtle in Florida

Eastern box turtles have many uniquely identifying characteristics as part of the box turtle group. While the female's plastron is flat, it is concave in males so the male may fit over the back end of the female's carapace during mating. The front and back of the plastron are connected by a flexible hinge. When in danger, the turtle is able to close the plastron by pulling the hinged sections closely against the carapace, effectively sealing the soft body in bone, hence forming a "box". The shell is made of bone covered by living vascularized tissue and covered with a layer of keratin. This shell is connected to the body through its fused rib cage which makes the shell permanently attached and not removable.

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 such as the native eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), box turtle scutes continue to grow throughout the turtle's life and develop growth rings. Water turtles typically shed their scutes as they grow.

Females' rear claws are longer and straighter. Males have longer and thicker tails.[7]


As ectotherms, Eastern box turtles must maintain temperature homeostasis by seeking cover, such as shaded forests or streams, when body temperatures are high and by finding basking locations when body temperatures are low, in order to increase their metabolic rate for foraging and digestion [8]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

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 northern 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. The eastern box turtle is considered uncommon to rare in the Great Lakes region; however, populations can be found in areas not bisected by heavily traveled roads. In the Midwest, they are a Species of Concern in Ohio, and of Special Concern in Michigan and Indiana. Eastern box turtles prefer deciduous or mixed forested regions, with a moderately moist forest floor that has good drainage. Bottomland forest is preferred over hillsides and ridges. They can also be found in open grasslands, pastures, or under fallen logs or in moist ground, usually moist leaves or wet dirt. Terrapene carolina is known to burrow in leafy debris, brush, or soil. These burrows are called "resting forms" and they are used to regulate temperature or hydrate.[9] They have also been known to take "baths" in shallow streams and ponds or puddles, and during hot periods may submerge in mud for days at a time. However, if placed in water that is too deep (completely submerged), they may drown.[10] Many Eastern box turtles try to avoid stressful environmental conditions. When winter is in season, these turtles will burrow into the soil and stay dormant until the temperature rises.[11]

Eastern box turtles are known to have high site fidelity and remain in the same home range for a very long period. Some have been known to stay at the same site for upwards of 32 years, which is highly uncommon for reptiles.[12] They have a very strong homing instinct and will rarely travel more than 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from their home territory. When they are relocated, they will still try to find their way back to their original home range.[13] Home ranges of relocated turtles can be up to be 3 times larger than resident turtles in an area.[14]

They are exclusively in North America.[7] When in an isolated habitat they move less.[15] They prefer an enriched habitat over a barren habitat.[9] They are also more active in the morning.[16]


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 does not drive their appetite; instead, they can just lessen their activity level, retreat into their shells, and halt 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, weeds, fallen fruit, berries, mushrooms, flowers, duck weed, and carrion. Studies at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland have also shown that eastern box turtles have fed on live birds that were trapped in netting. Many times, they will eat an item of food, especially in captivity, just because it looks and smells edible, such as hamburger or eggs, even though the food may be harmful or unhealthy.[17] Diet varies very little between seasons, with box turtles consuming plant matter and invertebrates during every feeding season, and mushrooms and snails during certain months.[18] Young are primarily carnivorous and adults are mostly herbivorous.[7]


Female digging a hole
Female digging a hole with her back legs to lay eggs

Reproduction for the eastern box turtle can occur at any point throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall months, but egg laying is most likely to occur in May and June, when rain is frequent. After finding a mate (there is no pair bonding, and mate-finding mechanisms are unclear), which can be a difficult task in areas where mates are sparse, the couple will embark on a three-phase courtship event. Following fertilization, the female finds an appropriate nesting site. Nest site selection is vital to egg development, as predation and temperature are primary concerns. Temperature affects the sex of offspring (Type I temperature-dependent sex determination), developmental rate, and possibly fitness. Females will use their hind feet to dig a shallow nest in loose soil; this process can take two to six hours. Eggs are generally deposited shortly after the digging phase, and each egg is deployed into a particular position. Eggs are oblong, 3 cm (1.5 in) long, creamy white, and leathery. Nests are then concealed with grass, leaves, or soil.[19] A female can lay anywhere from 1 to 5 clutches of about 1 to 9 eggs in a single year, or even delay laying her clutch if resources are scarce. There is a theory that clutch size increases with latitude, but more studies are needed to confirm this.[20] Females exhibit delayed fertility, wherein sperm can be stored in oviducts for several years until conditions are favorable for fertilization and laying. Incubation ranges widely depending on temperature, but averages 50 to 70 days.[21][17]

They have very low reproductive success.[22] Females can lay fertile eggs up to four years after a successful mating.[7]


Thousands of box turtles are collected from the wild every year for the domestic pet trade, although there are captive-bred individuals available. Buying a pet box turtle captive-bred rather than wild-caught helps discourage collection from the wild and helps preserve wild populations. The eastern box turtle is protected throughout most of its range, but many states allow the capture and possession of box turtles for personal use. Captive breeding is fairly commonplace, but not so much that it can supply the market demand.

Captive turtles may have a life span as short as three days if they are not fed, watered, and held in a proper container. Although box turtles may make hardy captives if their needs are met, and are frequently kept as pets, they are not easy turtles to keep, owing to their many specific requirements. Eastern box turtles require high humidity, warm temperatures with vertical and horizontal thermal gradients, suitable substrate for burrowing, and a T5 HO fluorescent UVB lamp of appropriate strength. A basking area at one end of the enclosure is important to offer the turtle the ability to warm itself and is critical to sexually mature males and females for development of sperm and egg follicles, respectively.

Water should be fresh and clean and available at all times. A large, easily accessible water dish for bathing and drinking is important to their health.

Captive diets include various live invertebrates such as crickets, worms, earthworms, beetles and grubs (beetle larvae), cockroaches, small mice as well as wild strawberries, and fish (not goldfish). Mixed berries, fruit, romaine lettuce, collard greens, dandelion greens, chicory, mushrooms and clover are suitable for box turtles as well. While some high quality moist dog foods may be occasionally offered, whole animals are preferable. Commercial diets such as Reptilinks, Mazuri Tortoise Diet, Repashy Veggie Burger, and Arcadia OmniGold can be used for variety and additional nutrition. Because box turtles seldom get the nutrients they need to foster shell growth and skeletal and skin development, they also require a multivitamin supplement and access to a cuttlebone for calcium.

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. Insufficient access to full sunlight is likely to cause the color in the keratin layer to fade. In addition to providing UVB lighting, providing a varied diet complete with a carotenoid supplement can help sustain a pet's vibrant colors.[citation needed]

In captivity, box turtles are known to be capable of living over 100 years, but in the wild, often live much shorter lives due to disease and predation.[17]


Eastern box turtles are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Species Red List. They are currently fairly common, especially in the southern part of their range, but many populations are declining rapidly. Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation caused by urbanization or other human use is the main cause of this species' vulnerability.[23] Eastern box turtles have also been found in urbanized areas where they are threatened by collisions with vehicles, mowing activity, and people removing them from the wild either out of a concern for the turtles’ safety or to keep them as pets.[24] Diseases are another factor that threaten eastern box turtles. Ranaviruses, for example, have been found in eastern box turtles in Illinois since 2014.[25]

State reptiles[edit]

"The turtle watches undisturbed as countless generations of faster 'hares' run by to quick oblivion, and is thus a model of patience for mankind, and a symbol of our State's unrelenting pursuit of great and lofty goals."

North Carolina Secretary of State[26]

The eastern box turtle is the official state reptile of two U.S. states: North Carolina (which gives rise to the species and subspecies name carolina carolina) and Tennessee.[27][28][29] In Pennsylvania, the eastern box turtle made it through one house of the legislature, but failed to win final naming in 2009.[30] In Virginia, bills to honor the eastern box turtle failed in 1999 and then in 2009; a core reason is the creature's close links to North Carolina.[31]



  1. ^ a b van Dijk, P.P. (2011). "Terrapene carolina". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2011: e.T21641A97428179.
  2. ^ "Appendices | CITES". cites.org. Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. ^ Fritz, Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 197–198. doi:10.3897/vz.57.e30895. S2CID 87809001.
  4. ^ Fredericksen, Todd S. (2014). "Thermal Regulation and Habitat Use of the Eastern Box Turtle in Southwestern Virginia". Northeastern Naturalist. 21 (4): 554–564. doi:10.1656/045.021.0406. S2CID 84530318 – via UGA.
  5. ^ Powell, R., Conant, R., Collins, J. T., Conant, I. H., Johnson, T. R., Hooper, E. D., Taggart, T. W., Conant, R., & Collins, J. T. (2016). Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and amphibians of Eastern and central North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  6. ^ "Eastern Box Turtle – Care Tips and Facts". 8 January 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d Niedzielski, Steven. "Terrapene Carolina (Florida Box Turtle)". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 25 March 2024.
  8. ^ Fredericksen, T. S. (2014). "Thermal regulation and habitat use of the eastern box turtle in southwestern Virginia". Northeastern Naturalist. 21 (4): 554–564. doi:10.1656/045.021.0406.
  9. ^ a b Case, Beth C.; Lewbart, Gregory A.; Doerr, Phillip D. (August 2005). "The physiological and behavioural impacts of and preference for an enriched environment in the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)". Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 92 (4): 353–365. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2004.11.011. ISSN 0168-1591.
  10. ^ "North American Box Turtles (Terrapene) - Steve Zuppa".
  11. ^ DeGregorio, B. A.; Tuberville, T. D.; Kennamer, R. A.; Harris, B. B.; Brisbin, I. L. (2017). "Spring emergence of Eastern Box Turtles ( Terrapene carolina): influences of individual variation and scale of temperature correlates". Canadian Journal of Zoology. 95 (1): 23–30. doi:10.1139/cjz-2016-0149. OSTI 1839068.
  12. ^ "There's No Place Like Home for the Eastern Box Turtle". Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  13. ^ "There Is No Place Like Home – Turtle Homing Instincts". Fox Run Environmental Education Center. 14 April 2019. Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  14. ^ "Effects of Relocation on Movements and Home Ranges of Eastern Box Turtles".
  15. ^ Iglay, Raymond B.; et al. (2007). "Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) movements in a fragmented landscape". Journal of Herpetology. 41 (1): 102–106. doi:10.1670/0022-1511(2007)41[102:ebttcc]2.0.co;2.
  16. ^ Walden, Margarete (2017). Hibernal phenology of the eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina (MSc thesis). University of Rhode Island. doi:10.23860/thesis-walden-margarete-2017.
  17. ^ a b c Dodd, C. Kenneth (2001). North American Box Turtles: A Natural History. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806135018.
  18. ^ Figueras, M. P., Green, T. M., & Burke, R. L. (2021). Consumption Patterns of a Generalist Omnivore: Eastern Box Turtle Diets in the Long Island Pine Barrens. Diversity (14242818), 13(8), 345.
  19. ^ Congello, Karin (1978). "Nesting and egg laying behavior in Terrapene carolina". Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. 52: 51–56.
  20. ^ Willey, & Sievert, P. R. (2012). Notes on the Nesting Ecology of Eastern Box Turtles near the Northern Limit of their Range. Northeastern Naturalist, 19(3), 361–372.
  21. ^ Burke, Russell L. (2011). "Nesting ecology and hatching success of the eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina, on Long Island, New York". The American Midland Naturalist. 165: 137–142. doi:10.1674/0003-0031-165.1.137. S2CID 85210016.
  22. ^ Belzer, Bill (2009). "The newsletter of Chelonian conservationists and Biologists". Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter. 2009 (13): 2–35. doi:10.2744/1526-3096-13.1.2.
  23. ^ Kimble, Steven J. A.; Rhodes, O. E. Jr.; Williams, Rod N. (2014-03-19). "Unexpectedly Low Rangewide Population Genetic Structure of the Imperiled Eastern Box Turtle Terrapene c. carolina". PLOS ONE. 9 (3): e92274. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...992274K. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092274. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3960240. PMID 24647580.
  24. ^ Henriquez, M. C.; Macey, S. K.; Baker, E. E.; Kelly, L. B.; Betts, R. L.; Rubbo, M. J.; Clark, J. A. (2017). "Translocated and resident Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene c. carolina) in New York: Movement patterns and habitat use". Northeastern Naturalist. 24 (3): 249–266. doi:10.1656/045.024.0303.
  25. ^ Rayl, J. M.; Adamovicz, L.; Stern, A. W.; Vieson, M. D.; Phillips, C. A.; Kelly, M.; Beermann, M.; Allender, M. C. (2020). "MORTALITY INVESTIGATION OF MONITORED EASTERN BOX TURTLES (TERRAPENE CAROLINA CAROLINA) IN CENTRAL ILLINOIS, USA, FROM 2016–18". Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 56 (2): 306–315. doi:10.7589/2019-01-016. PMID 31750775.
  26. ^ "Eastern Box Turtle – North Carolina State Reptiles". North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State. Retrieved 2011-02-13.
  27. ^ Shearer, Benjamin F.; Shearer, Barbara S. (1994). State names, seals, flags, and symbols (2nd ed.). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-28862-3.
  28. ^ "Official State Symbols of North Carolina". North Carolina State Library. State of North Carolina. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
  29. ^ "Tennessee Symbols And Honor" (PDF). Tennessee Blue Book: 526. Retrieved 2011-01-22.
  30. ^ "Regular Session 2009–2010: House Bill 621". Pennsylvania State Legislature. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
  31. ^ "Virginia House crushes box turtle's bid to be state reptile". NBC Washington. Associated Press. 2009-02-20. Retrieved 2011-02-25.

External links[edit]