Unique Habits of Box Turtles in Captivity

Box turtles are an iconic species of reptile that can be found in grasslands and woodlands across much of North America. These hardy animals are unique in that they inhabit a wide variety of habitats, from deserts to wetlands. However, in recent years, the pet trade has increased demand for box turtles, leading to their capture from the wild for use as pets. Despite their popularity, not much is known about box turtle behavior in captivity. Box turtles are a unique species of reptile that can make wonderful pets. As with any pet, it is important to learn about the animal’s habitat and habits so you can provide them with appropriate care. This article will discuss some of the unique habits of box turtles in captivity, including their dietary needs, temperature requirements, and social behavior. Understanding these behaviors is important for successful box turtle ownership and will help ensure your turtle stays healthy and happy in its new home.

Box Turtle Behavior In Captivity:

Box turtles are one of the most comfortable species for pet keeping. But before getting a box turtle, the turtle owner should have minimum knowledge about its behavior. The owner may face a problem later if he does not understand the pet’s comfort zone. Captive box turtle’s behavior is different from the wild one. These differences are reflected because of the environmental inequalities.

I have been raising box turtles for years now. As an owner, I have noticed box turtles captive behavior very nearly. In this article, I will illustrate the captive box turtle’s behavior, and what makes them different from the wild ones.

Behavior Of A Box Turtle In Captive:

Box turtles are diurnal. Diurnal means they are more active in the daytime than at night. They are most active around dawn and dusk. They tend to spend their time foraging and eating. Adult box turtles are sometimes confined in mating. Unlike humans and other species, box turtles can not control their body temperature. We know that box turtles do not prefer extreme temperatures, and they get affected by the surroundings. In extreme heat, box turtles prefer staying inside a shed or hiding place. These places are cooler than most of the enclosures. In extreme cold, they tend to hibernate or burrow. Box turtles do not prefer companions, but they are friendly with humans. Captive box turtles get used to humans, and so they do not bite. They will not bite unless they are stressed, or someone is irritating them, or they are hungry. Sometimes box turtles hurt the owner’s forefinger, thinking it as a meal. Box turtles can not get adapted to the glass. If you are putting your box turtle in a glass tank or an aquarium, it will try to escape. Box turtles think the glass is an invisible wall, and they can go through it.

Box turtles are homesick. If your box turtle is not a breed one, it may show unusual behavior. It can show less eagerness in food, and most of the time, it will be engaged in digging a hole. As I have mentioned before that box turtles prefer solitude, they can engage in fighting, if you are housing multiple box turtles. It occurs mostly for the adult box turtles. Young and female box turtles do not fight. In case of fighting or attacking, the box turtles tend to hide in the shelter or the hiding spot.

Mating Behavior Of Captive Box Turtle:

Box turtles have a definite season for mating, but they can engage in mating if the opportunity arises. Their mating season is summer and mid-winter. But they also do these activities after hibernation and in the autumn season. Captive box turtles are active in mating activities. Adult male box turtles can harass the female box turtles if they want to mate. Many times the turtles dig holes or show stress signals if they want to engage in mating.  I have already mentioned that box turtles are homesick. So they have a tendency to live near where they are born. They never leave the place or roam around it. If you put it in a different area, it will go back to its home anyhow. Different predators attack a wild box turtle. Box turtles are small, so in most cases, they try to hide. Box turtles can seal themselves inside the shell to hide from the attackers. Box turtles are really strong. Its limbs are so strong that you can not make it come out of its shell if it does not want to. Box turtles prefer to stay alone, and most of the time, it avoids companionship. They generally stay inside the log or bush. While hibernating or aestivating, it burrows in sand or mud. As box turtles can not regulate their body temperature, they tend to go into hibernation and aestivation in winter and hot summer.

3 Reasons Why We Can See Differences Between Box Turtle’s Behavior:

Wild box turtles and captive box turtles show some noticeable different behaviors. But why is that? From my point of view, I have found three reasons behind it.

  • Species
  • Environment
  • Nourishment


We know that different box turtles have different habits. Again, most of the time, we choose to breed box turtles to keep as pets.. So it can show different behaviors from a wild box turtle.


It creates most of the differences. A wild box turtle has to live on its instinct. It has to fight for its living, and so it presents more survival behaviors. On the other hand, a captive box turtle lives in an enclosure and gets everything it needs. So they do not have to fight for their survival.


Captive box turtle gets enough food when they need it. They have an enclosure with a comfortable temperature. So they do not fall sick often and live a long life. Wild box turtles survive on their own and do not get any medications for sickness. So they have a short lifespan and behavior pattern.

3 Tips Can Help If Your Box Turtle Is Showing Abnormal Behavior:

Sometimes we can observe unusual behavior in a captive box turtle. For example,

  • Appetite loss
  • Hole digging
  • Less playful

These occur if you do not provide a stable environment to your box turtle or pick up a wild  box turtle to keep as a pet.

Tips to avoid abnormal behavior of box turtles in captivity:

  • Do not buy or pick up a wild box turtle. It is not healthy for the turtle, and also it endangers the species. Always buy breed or harvested box turtles to keep as a pet.
  • Maintain a safe and stable environment for the box turtle.
  • Do not irritate or force your box turtle with anything.

How do box turtles in captivity keep their cool under stressful situations?

Box turtles are a unique species of turtle that have been kept in captivity for centuries. These reptiles have some interesting habits and characteristics that make them well-suited to life in tanks or cages. Box turtles can grow up to 8 inches long, and they come in several different colors, including yellow, brown, olive green and black. They can live up to 40 years in captivity if they’re given the right care.  When it comes to their habits, box turtles like to stay active during the day with plenty of exercise and opportunities for exploring their environment. In addition to this activity, they also enjoy eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Box turtles also require a warm environment with access to damp mud or sand so that they can burrow into it when needed. Box turtles are an iconic species of reptile, characterized by their domed shells that provide a unique form of protection. They make great pets for reptile enthusiasts and are relatively easy to keep in captivity if the proper care is taken. As with any animal, box turtles have some fascinating habits that people may not be aware of.  In captivity, box turtles tend to have different sleeping habits than their wild counterparts. Box turtles kept indoors will often sleep for much longer periods during the day than those living outdoors in natural habitats where nights can be quite cold or predators lurk nearby. Therefore, indoor box turtles may spend up to 14 hours each day asleep as they take advantage of the warmth provided by humans.  Box turtles also display unique behaviors in response to certain stimuli while in captivity.

What unusual habits of Box Turtles have been observed in captivity:

Box turtles are an interesting species that can be seen in captivity. They have a variety of unique habits, some of which may surprise the casual observer. For example, it has been observed that box turtles have the ability to learn their names and respond when called. This is believed to be due to their excellent memory and intelligence. In addition, they also appear to recognize certain individuals and even show signs of affection towards them!

Another unique habit of box turtles is their tendency to explore new objects placed in their enclosure. It has been observed that box turtles will often spend time investigating items such as sticks or rocks, displaying curiosity and problem-solving skills. Furthermore, they can also display territorial behavior by marking areas with pheromones or making vocalizations when disturbed by other animals within the enclosure.

How do breeding box turtles manage to produce live young without sex?

The box turtle is a unique species of reptile, capable of producing live young without the need for sexual reproduction. It is truly remarkable how these animals can reproduce without the need for male and female partners. The process by which the box turtle reproduces in this way is called parthenogenesis, and it occurs naturally in many species of reptiles and amphibians, as well as some insects. The female box turtle simply lays eggs that are able to develop into healthy hatchlings on their own, due to an internal process where two sets of chromosomes combine together during cell division rather than combining with another set from a male partner. This kind of natural reproductive system has been studied extensively by scientists in order to better understand how certain species are able to evolve and survive despite having limited mating opportunities or harsh environmental conditions.

How does a box turtle survive and thrive in captivity?

Box turtles have been kept as pets for centuries, and they are well adapted to life in captivity. Careful attention must be paid to their needs in order to ensure that they remain healthy and happy. It is important to understand the natural behaviors of box turtles, so that their environment can mimic those found in the wild. Providing a warm and humid climate is essential for box turtle survival. They need places to hide, such as logs or rocks, as well as plenty of vegetation for them to browse on during their explorations. Keeping an appropriate temperature range between 75-85°F (23-29°C) also helps them stay healthy. Substrate should be used on the floor of the enclosure like soil or peat moss, with some added water for a moist environment that replicates nature’s conditions.

How do box turtles interact and mate in captivity?

Box turtles are a beloved pet, often kept in captivity by hobbyists and animal lovers alike. But how do box turtles interact with one another in these environments? And what happens when it comes time for them to mate?

In captivity, box turtles tend to be quite friendly and social with their owners and other people or animals around them. If there is more than one turtle in an enclosure, they will often interact with each other – though this can depend on the individual personality of the turtle. Box turtles can also recognize their owners over time and even become comfortable enough to take food from their hands.  When it comes to the breeding season for captive box turtles, things get a bit more complicated. Male box turtles may become aggressive towards each other when trying to court a female partner – leading some keepers to house male and female separately during mating season if possible.

Some Biological facts about Box Turtles in Captivity:

  • Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major)
  • Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)
  • Western Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata)
  • Long lived: 30 to 60 years is typical
  • Box turtles of the genus Terrapene; species commonly seen as pets include:Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  • Male box turtles generally have bright red eyes, a slightly concave plastron (lower-shell), sharply-hooked rear toenails, and their vent lies closer to the end of the tail, beyond the caudal margin of the carapace (upper-shell).
  • Female box turtles generally have brown eyes, a flat plastron, gently-curved rear toenails, and their vent lies near the base of the tail, within the caudal margin of the carapace.
  • Females lay 3-5 eggs, which incubate 70-90 days before hatching.


  • Box turtles are omnivores. Diet in the wild includes insects, grubs, worms, snails, slugs, crustaceans, eggs, carrion, mushrooms, flowers, fruit and other plant material.
  • Captive box turtles may be fed a diet that is 50% mixed fresh vegetables with some fruit, and 50% low fat protein like canned low-fat dog food. Ideally the protein should be whole live foods like earthworms, mealworms, beetles, grubs, crickets, slugs and snails.
  • Are attracted to brightly colored fruits and vegetables: tomato, squash, carrots, red bell peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe.
  • Dark, leafy greens such as romaine, kale, collards, dandelion, mustard greens, and broccoli are preferred over iceberg lettuce.
  • Variety is the key to a healthy appetite and good health.
  • Supplement the diet with a weekly dusting of a phosphorus-free calcium powder such as RepCal or ground cuttlebone.
  • To prevent ingestion of cage substrate/bedding, all food should be placed on a plate, flat rock or brick paver.
  • Fresh food and water should be provided daily.


  • North American box turtles are listed as a threatened species. Only those turtles that have been raised in captivity should be kept as pets.
  • Enclosures should mimic the natural environment of your box turtle. Adjust the type of enclosure to best fit the type of box turtle you have.
  • The best habitat for box turtles is a large outdoor enclosure, bounded by siding, wood, bricks or cement blocks at least 18 inches high with an overhanging ledge to prevent climbing out. The pen must provide a variety of environments including sunny and shaded areas and places to hide. Turtles regulate their core body temperature by behavior and need to have a choice between sun and shade.
  • If an outdoor enclosure cannot be provided, a large indoor enclosure can serve as housing. Box turtles generally do not thrive in a glass tank. Plastic children pools, sandboxes or concrete mixing tubs can make inexpensive habitats. Temperatures should range from 70-90°F (21-32°C) to enable the turtle to regulate its temperature. A 75–100 watt heat lamp or ceramic heat emitter is necessary to provide a basking area that is warmer than the rest of the container. Ideal basking area temperature is 85-90°F (29–32°C).
  • Absorbent flooring material such as clean top soil, leaves, moss or cypress mulch should be provided and changed regularly. Substrates that dry out or get powdery should be avoided. Cedar and pine chips are irritating and should not be utilized.
  • A shallow water dish large enough for the turtle to soak in is required, as is an area that the turtle can hide in for a sense of security.
  • Box turtles require natural, unfiltered sunlight for their health and wellbeing.
  • Indoor turtles need at least 5% UVA/UVB lighting. Light bulbs should be changed every 6-9 months, as the UV output will decrease long before the light bulb burns out.
  • Box turtles may hibernate in the winter depending on local conditions. Only healthy turtles should be hibernated. Information on this phenomenon should be sought in other literature.
  • Supervise any other pets when around your turtle.

Preventative Care

  • Routine physical examination every 6 to 12 months
  • Consult a veterinarian with experience treating exotic pets if you have any questions or concerns about your box turtle’s health.
  • Annual fecal examination for parasites
  • Blood tests as recommended by your veterinarian

Common Medical Conditions

  • Pneumonia
  • Swollen eyes
  • Ear abscesses
  • Parasites
  • Skin problems
  • Retained eggs
  • Trauma (vehicle, predator)

Frequently Asked Questions:

Its distinct coloring camouflages it among the damp earth, fallen leaves and other debris found on the floor of moderately moist forests. The underside of its shell, called its plastron, is dark brown and hinged. All box turtles have this bilobed plastron, which allows them to almost completely shut their shell.

  • There are six species of these turtles.
  • A turtle's shell is attached to its body, specifically by its rib cage.
  • These creatures stay under bushes and trees to keep cool on a hot day.
  • Many of these turtles die when they try to cross a road and are run over by passing traffic.

Box turtles can make great pets if cared for properly. Before bringing any pet – reptile or other - home, be sure to do research to learn about its requirements, so that you can properly care for it. Most box turtles do not get very large (unlike tortoises).

The best habitat for box turtles is a large outdoor enclosure, bounded by siding, wood, bricks or cement blocks at least 18 inches high with an over hanging ledge to prevent climbing out. The pen must provide a variety of environments including sunny and shaded areas and places to hide.


In conclusion ,box turtles can make great companions in captivity when provided with the proper care. Proper housing, heating, humidity, and good nutrition should be taken into account when considering their environment. It is important to remember that box turtles will hibernate naturally in winter months and require a temperature drop for this process. In addition, research should be done prior to obtaining a box turtle to ensure you are prepared to meet all of its needs. Box turtles need the correct environment with plenty of space and access to natural sunlight. They also require proper nutrition with the right balance of vitamins and minerals in their diet. With the correct care and attention, they can live up to 50 years in captivity and provide many hours of delight.

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