Eastern Box Turtle

STATUSVulnerable

COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Terrapene carolina

DIETSnails, worms, insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, lizards, small mammals, carrion and plants

RANGEFrom southern Maine, south to Georgia, and west to Michigan, Illinois and Tennessee

HABITATPrefers open woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows

Eastern Box Turtle

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Program and General Information

The Eastern Box Turtle is a vulnerable species of turtle found in the Eastern United States. They grow up to 8 inches in length and have a hinged plastron that allows them to close their shell completely after retracting their limbs. This keeps them safe from predators.

The turtles inhabit open forests, fields, and marshy meadows and will make an internal map of their range, rarely straying farther than a male or two from this location.

The number of Eastern Box Turtles is decreasing because of habitat destruction, fragmentation, and the pet trade. People can support wildlands and forests by not littering, and only purchasing pet turtles from responsible, reputable captive breeders.

Common Physical Features

The Eastern Box Turtle is a relatively small turtle, growing up to 8 inches in length. Their shell is high and domed. The coloration is dark with yellow and orange splotches, developing into a pattern across its carapace, which fade as the individual turtle matures. These patterns are unique enough to use for distinguishing between individuals in a population. The front feet have five toes while the hind feet only have four toes. The bottom of the shell, called the plastron, is hinged, which allows for the Eastern Box Turtle to completely shut its shell. The male Eastern Box Turtles have a concave plastron and red eyes, differentiating it from the female. The Eastern Box Turtle has a low metabolic rate, allowing this species to survive when there is a scarcity of food.

Habitat and Global Range

The Eastern Box Turtle is found in the Eastern United States. It is found from Southern Maine to Georgia and westward to Michigan, Illinois, and Tennessee. The preferred habitat is open fields and woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows. Eastern Box Turtles are often found in moist habitats, like leaves and surface soils. They can be found soaking in puddles, seeps, and springs. Their preferred temperature is between 70 and 85 degrees, but they will tolerate colder nighttime temperatures.

Diet

Eastern Box Turtles are omnivorous, but at a young age they are predominantly carnivorous. Their diet includes small snails, worms, insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, lizards, and even small mammals. As they mature, they become more herbivorous and their diet is focused on land plants. These turtles can eat mushrooms that are toxic to humans, but they remain unaffected.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Eastern Box Turtles will form ranges of foraged areas up to the size of two football fields over their lifetime. Not yet mature turtles, or un0estaqblished m al e turtles will move more vastly, but only in one direction. Some turtles’ territories will overlap and can often be found in groups. During the winter in northern regions, the Eastern Box Turtle will hibernate in soil, mud, or abandoned mammal burrows.

It takes over five years for the Eastern Box Turtle to reach sexual maturity. Young box turtles are covert and rarely seen. After a single mating, a female Eastern Box Turtle can store the sperm for up to four years. The eggs are laid in holes about four inches deep, in sun warmed soil. Three to six eggs are laid and then recovered with soil to incubate for two to three months.

Fun Facts

  • Eastern Box Turtle females can lay eggs up to four years are copulation.
  • Box turtles form internal maps of a range about 1 to 2 square miles and will remain in this location for the majority of their lives.
  • Male Eastern Box Turtles have red eyes while females have yellow or brown eyes.
  • The temperature of the box turtle nest will determine the sex of the hatchlings, 72-81 degrees and the turtles tend to be male, 82 degrees and above, the hatchlings tend to be female.
  • Box turtles hibernate through the winter months.
  • These turtles can consume poisonous mushrooms and remain unaffected, but their makes their flesh poisonous to predators.

Conservation Messaging

The habitats of the Eastern Box Turtles have been widely destroyed, leading to a decline in the number of turtles. Supporting wildlands and forests that are habitable to this species is of utmost importance. They are often collected from the wild to be pets in the pet trade. Do not collect these turtles as pets, as it reduces the population numbers in the wild. If purchasing a box turtle, make sure it is from a reputable, responsible breeder. If you see a box turtle attempting to cross a human-trafficked area where it is in danger, like a road, put it on the other side in the same direction it was moving.