Gulf Coast Box Turtle Overview


Gulf Coast Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina major

Gulf Coast Box Turtle
Terrapene carolina major 2” byDawson. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.


Terrapene carolina major, the Gulf Coast box turtle, is the largest of the American box turtles. Its native habitat is, as the name suggests, mostly along the Gulf Coast.

Its appearance is quite variable and it likes wetter habitats than most other box turtles do.

What the Gulf Coast Box Turtle Looks Like

This relatively large box turtle can get up to about 8.5 inches long.

It has a rounded carapace with a raised central keel. The carapace often widens at the back, with the rear scutes flaring outward. The color ranges from a dark olive to brown or black. It may or may not have splotches of yellow or orange color.

The plastron may be a solid color or have dark splotches.

Its skin is brown, but males may have colored scales on their necks and legs. Older turtles may have faded looking heads. Older males may have white markings that look like a mustache and/or sideburns.

Eye color is not as reliable a way to tell males and females apart as it is with many other box turtle sub-species. Although females usually have brown eyes, males’ eyes can be either brown or red.

The back legs have three or four toes.

Where & How the Gulf Coast Box Turtle Lives

This turtle lives, as expected along the Gulf Coast, from eastern Texas to western Florida.

It likes very wet environments, especially the edges of marshes and swamps. It is perfectly happy to go into the water and walk along waterways.

If you keep a Gulf Coast box turtle as a pet, you’ll need to make sure you provide plenty of humidity and shallow water for him to soak in. All box turtles need water and humidity of course, but these guys really like damp conditions even more than most. And its important to try to mimic their natural habitat as much as possible.

These box turtles don’t hibernate regularly, unlike most other subspecies. This is probably because most years the temperatures don’t drop enough for them to need to. Hibernation is a survival strategy, allowing animals to survive through the cold and lack of food winter brings to most areas. When warmth and food are available year-round, the animals can stay active year-round. They will hibernate if the temperature drops too much.

Diet for the Gulf Coast Box Turtle

Like all box turtles, the Gulf Coast box turtle is an omnivore. It eats whatever it can find, including insects, dead animals and plants. Insects make up a good portion of its diet, because they are plentiful in the shallow waters where they live.

You can feed them snails, worms, grubs, grasshoppers and other insects, either ones you buy or ones you catch/breed yourself.

They also eat fungus, fruit, leaves and other plant matter.

Box turtle eating strawberry

Please note: Some states do not allow keeping box turtles as pets. In some cases the ban applies only to certain species/subspecies. Always make sure you know the law in your area before getting a box turtles (and never capture one from the wild).

2 thoughts on “Gulf Coast Box Turtle Overview

  1. Hannah Erdei

    Dear Fellow Box Turtle Lovers,

    My daughter’s one-year-old Box Turtle, Shelley will have to be given away as we are moving overseas. We are not looking to sell her, just trying to find a good place she can call home.

    Let us know at [email protected] or call 415 413 6380 if you can take her in.

    Balazs and Anita Erdei (parents)


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