What Kind of Box Turtle Do You Have?


Eastern Box Turtle

image adapted from photo by Jonathan Zander


There are several different types of box turtles around the world, but only a few are commonly kept as pets.

It’s not really necessary to know which species of box turtle you have. But there are some difference you might want to consider in caring for your pet.

Wild-Caught Box Turtles

It can be hard to identify specific species of box turtle you find in the wild. Their ranges tend to overlap, markings can be similar, and subspecies can interbreed.

It’s also not a good idea to capture a wild box turtle to keep as a pet. Their populations are shrinking in many areas, partly because of people taking them to keep or sell. Some species are actually endangered, and some states regulate the sale or possession of these species. Check with your state department of wildlife to be sure you follow any regulations or permit requirements.

If you already have a wild-caught turtle and you’re not sure what kind it is, don’t worry too much about it.

Pet-Store Box Turtles

If you’re planning to get one from a pet store, they should be able to tell you what kind it is. If they can’t, it might be wild caught. Please ask them to consider selling only captive-bred box turtles.

Species of American Box Turtle

American box turtles live in the eastern, central and southwestern parts of the U.S. and in eastern Mexico. They are part of a large family of turtles called Emydidae. This family is subdivided by genus, and the American box turtle belongs to the genus Terrapene. The Terrapenes are further divided into species and, in some cases, subspecies.

Common Box Turtles

The most common pet box turtles belong to the species, Terrapene carolina (from now on, this is abbreviated as T. c. or T. carolina), often called Common Box Turtles. This species has six subspecies, four in the U.S. and two in Mexico. The two most people keep as pets are U.S. species:

  • T. c. carolina— the Eastern box turtle, sometimes also called the common box turtle
  • T. c. triunguis—three-toed box turtle (which doesn’t always have three toes!)

Two other subspecies of T. carolina in the U.S. are also kept as pets, but less often. They are:

Two more subspecies live in Mexico. They are:

These two types of box turtle are very rare as pets.

One more subspecies of T. carolina is extinct: Terrapene carolina putnami.

Western Box Turtles

The ornate or Western box turtle belongs to Terrapene ornata. It has two subspecies:

Mexican Box Turtles

Two more species of box turtle live in Mexico. They are their own species, different from the T.c. subspecies that’s also called the Mexican box turtle.

These two species are:

  • Terrapene nelsoni—the spotted box turtle
    Some people divide this species into two subspecies:

    • T. n. clauberi (the Northern spotted box turtle), and
    • T. n. nelsoni (the Southern spotted box turtle)
      It is not clear that they are really two different subspecies.
  • Terrapene coahuila—Coahuilan box turtle
    Unlike other Terrapenes, this box turtle is aquatic.

We really know very little about these last two species.

To find out more about each type of box turtle, click on its name. It will take you to a page describing the species or subspecies in more detail.

Asian Box Turtles

There are also Asian box turtles. They belong to the family Cuora.

There are five species and several more subspecies of Asian box turtle. Some are also kept as pets.

Box turtle eating strawberry

For the moment, this site is focusing on the American box turtle. Care for Asian box turtles is very different, so please, if you have an Asian box turtle, the information on this site is not for you. We may add a section on Asian box turtles later.

3 thoughts on “What Kind of Box Turtle Do You Have?

  1. Samantha strong

    Hello I live in Sheridan arkansas. I have found 2 box turtles. The first turtle I caught I’ve had about 6 months and I call him or her Mr. Turtle lol. And today Sep 19,2016 I was driving down the road and seen another box turtle in the other lane that almost got run over so I pulled over scooped him or her up and brought him or her home. I plan on letting the second turtle go soon but I’m just curious on what kind of turtle it is. Both turtles come out of Sheridan but they look completely different. Is there any way I can upload a picture of both turtles to figure out what species they are. Mr. Turtle my first has done become humanized I can pick him up and he doesn’t close up anymore I pet his head and let him crawl around in my kitchen floor on the linoleum. Of course I clean up and wash my hands after handling him. But I’m having a hard time taking what type of turtle they are. So please help me I’m a turtle enthusiast and I would love to learn.

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Samantha,

      Just below the submit button under the comment box you should see an option to select an image for your comment. Click that and you should be able to select an image to upload. I’m not sure if you can select more than one image for a given comment (never tried that!).

      If they’re box turtles native to Arkansas, I think they must be either three-toed or ornate. I’m pretty sure those are the ones that live in Arkansas.

      When you do let the 2nd turtle go, please let him (or her!) go where you found him. Boxies will try to get back home if you let them go somewhere else. Also, put him on the side of the road where he was headed, otherwise he might try to cross the road again.


    Greetings! I would like to buy a Box turtle, Sulcatas and redfoot in Puerto Rico. If you know someone who can distribute me these, I’ll be very grateful


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