Where Box Turtles Live

 

A backyard box turtle habitat can include a pond

Boxie enjoys his backyard pond
Cropped version of photo by Bill Sarver

 

The different species of box turtles live in a variety of different habitats, from forests to deserts.

But they seek out microhabitats that are very similar. For example, whether a turtle is buried in sand or leaf litter, it has found a relatively cool and humid spot.

Box Turtles’ Natural Habitat

What all box turtles need, no matter the species is:

  • heat
  • shade
  • a place to hide
  • room to roam
  • water
  • humidity

Heat

T. carolina species prefer warm, but not hot temperatures, generally around 70 to 85 degrees Farhrenheit (°F). They tolerate temperatures down to about 50 degrees overnight, although 60 degrees or higher is better.

Humidity

T. carolina species need a humidity range around 60 to 80 percent.

T. ornata can tolerate lower humidity, but not by much. It adapts to its drier desert atmosphere by spending a lot of time burrowed into the ground. The humidity is higher under the ground than at its surface.

Room to Roam

A box turtle’s natural habitat can be quite large—up to a few acres—depending on the resources available. As long as resources like food and water are easy to find in a smaller area, it doesn’t really need that much room.

Of course, your box turtle does still need enough space to be able to walk around and explore. Give him as much space as possible.

A Place to Hide

Box turtles naturally burrow and hide under fallen logs or other debris to find humidity and for protection. Captive box turtles may also hide to escape their pen-mates.

Box Turtles in Captivity

You will need to mimic your box turtles’ natural habitat at home as much as possible. If you can, try to keep them outside. You can build a pen in the yard with a sunny area, a shady area, a shallow water source, and small branches to hide under. In general, this is enough to keep him happy.

Females will also need an area where they can burrow to lay eggs. If the ground is not soft enough, add a layer of sandy soil to one area of the pen. It should be about 8 inches deep, so she can create a suitable nest cavity.

Even if you’ve had your female box turtle for a while without contact with a male, she can still lay eggs. make sure she has a suitable spot to do that. If she can’t find a spot she likes, she may refuse to lay and become egg bound.

You may also need an indoor pen for your box turtle. Big plastic storage tubs or fish tanks (at least 30 gallons) make good indoor pens. If you do use a fish tank, cover the lower portion so your turtles can’t see out.

If you live in a cold climate, the indoor pen may be your only option. If your winters are cold, you can keep your turtles outside during warm months, or at least give them outside time when the weather allows. Even a few hours each day or during weekends is helpful. Then you can bring them inside for the winter.

Even indoors, your box turtles will need a temperature gradient (warm and cool areas), a soft substrate to dig in or other hiding spots and the right humidity levels.

Box turtle eating strawberry

One thing you should not do is let your box turtles roam loose in your house. Temperature and humidity conditions around your home are not suitable for turtles. Also, they could get lost and be left without food and water until you find them … which is not always easy.

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