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:
- T. o. ornata—also called the ornate box turtle
- T. o. luteola—desert ornate box turtle, or just desert box turtle
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.
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.