Three-toed Box Turtle


COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Terrapene carolina triunguis

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

RANGEUp and down the East Coast from Florida to Southern New York and Massachusetts, and as far west as Eastern Texas

HABITATWoodland and meadows

Three-toed Box Turtle

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Program and General Information

The Three-Toed Box Turtle is found in the South-Central United States near areas of water in woodland habitats. Their life span is typically 20-30 years in the wild, but they have been observed living more than 50 years. The Three-Toed Box Turtle grows to 6 inches in length, on average, and they are brown in color with occasional colored spots. They also have three or four toes on each hind foot, giving them their name. Females lay 3-8 oval eggs, which then incubate in a nest for 75-90 days before hatching. The eggs are vulnerable to predation from birds of prey, coyotes, and raccoons. The adult box turtles are also preyed upon by these animals an also suffer additional pressures from human impact. Many are killed by vehicles, habitat destruction, and involvement in the pet trade. In order to conserve the Three-Toed Box Turtle, we can work to reduce litter and encourage recycling. It is also important to properly research and maintain the animal if obtained as a pet.

Common Physical Features

Three-Toed Box Turtles are typically an olive-brown color with occasional yellow markings, and they range from 4.5 to 6 inches in length. The carapace and the plastron can hinge together and shut completely in order to keep out predators. The carapace is also usually high-domed. As the name indicates, the Three-Toed Box Turtle usually has three toes on its hind feet. Those that are interbred with Common Box Turtles, however, sometimes have four toes instead of three.

Habitat and Global Range

Three-Toed Box Turtles live in woodland and meadow habitats, usually near a source of water as they are semi-aquatic animals. They favor cool, damp weather, and will often find a shady area in which to roam. They are commonly found in the South-Central United States in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Alabama. The Three-Toed Box Turtle is in fact the official reptile of the state of Missouri. They have been found up and down the East Coast from Florida to Southern New York and Massachusetts. Individual Three-Toed Box Turtles are known to migrate to different areas to maintain a preferred level of humidity in their environment.


Three-Toed Box Turtles are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plant matter. The young are predominantly carnivorous and are fond of earthworms and bug, but they become more herbivorous with age. They get most of their meat from insects, which they hunt for in still bodies of shallow water. They eat snails, worms, spiders, frogs, snakes, lizards, small mammals, carrion, and plants. In the zoo, they eat mixed fruit and vegetables every day, and they receive crickets or superworms once week.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Three-Toed Box Turtles are shy, quiet, and non-aggressive. When threatened, the turtle can retreat into its shell, as the plastron is hinged and can shut completely. They are relatively solitary creatures, and they only come together in order to breed. Breeding takes place after they come out of hibernation in June/July, and the female begins looking for a nesting site. The female will lay 3-8 oval-shaped eggs, which then incubate for 3 months before hatching. Box turtles exhibit temperature-dependent sexual determination, meaning that the sex of the offspring depends on the incubation temperature of the nest. Lower temperatures produce male offspring, while higher temperatures produce female offspring.

Fun Facts

  • The incubation temperatures determine the gender of the hatchlings. Lower temperatures encourage male offspring, moderate temperatures encourage mixed offspring, and higher temperature encourage female offspring.
  • The female is capable of laying eggs as long as four years after copulation.
  • In rare instances, Three-Toed Box Turtles can exceed a century in age!

Conservation Messaging

Turtle populations have generally been declining statewide, mainly due to loss of habitat. Thousands of box turtles are also killed on roads by vehicles, and many are starved or killed by humans trying to keep them as pets. In order to conserve Three-Toed Box Turtles, leave turtles in the wild and watch for turtles while driving.

The Lehigh Valley Zoo attempts to conserve this species by properly caring for them and spreading conservation messages to visitors.

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