Eastern box turtles have a high domed shell which is round on top. They have orange and yellow marking across this upper part of the brown shell. The underside of the shell is dark brown. This coloration is useful for camouflaging them among fallen leaves and other debris on the ground.
Their name comes from the hinged plastron (underside of the shell) which gives them the ability to close the shell almost completely.
Unlike most other turtles and tortoises they have the ability to regenerate their shell if it is damaged.
Males tend to be larger than females and have a shorter, thicker tail. Males hind claws are curved while those of females are straight. The eye of males is red.
On average they measure 10-15cm (4-6in) long with a weight of 0.5-0.9kg (1-2lbs).
Eastern box turtles are omnivores. They feed on aquatic vegetation, berries, fruit, fish, eggs, insects and carrion. Juveniles tend to be more carnivorous while the adults are mostly herbivorous.
They are able to eat mushrooms which would be poisonous to other species.
Terrapene carolina carolina
Wild 50 years
Captive 75-80 years
— AD —
North America is the native home of the eastern box turtle. As their name suggests they are found in the east of the continent to Michigan and Maine in the North, Florida in the south and Texas in the west.
They make their home mostly in damp habitats such as meadows, floodplains, open fields, woods and moist, forested areas. In some areas they are seen in backyards.
Hibernation can occur in soil, mud or an abandoned mammal burrow.
Most of their life is lived within 250 yards of their birthplace. They have a mental map of their territory and if removed from this area they make every effort to return there.
Mating takes place starting in spring which is when they emerge from hibernation in the north.
Males will take part in a display for potential mates in which they extend their limbs and neck. Pairs of male may also undertake rare disputes but these are mostly non-threatening.
Once a female accepts the male he will begin mating with her which can last for several hours. Once they start she may drag him around while he finishes mating with her.
Females have the ability to retain sperm from a single mating to produce fertile eggs for up to four years.
They will deposit between three and six eggs in the soil which incubate for between two and three months.
The gender of the hatchlings is determined by temperature. Lower temperatures lead to males while higher temperatures will lead to females hatching.
Young tend to spend more time in or near the water.
Sexual maturity is reached at seven years old.
Eastern box turtles are active by day with an increase in activity after rain. During warm weather they will take cover or they cover themselves in mud. They will bask in the sun throughout the day,
In northern areas the eastern box turtle will complete a hibernation starting in October. In southern areas they are active year round. During these hibernations they may cohabit with up to ten individuals.
Predators and Threats
There are few natural predators of adults with most of the predators taking young. These include racoons and birds of prey.
To defend against predation they can draw their head and legs in to the shell and close the hinged plastron to keep safe.
Humans affect their population through the use of agricultural pesticides due to malformed eggs. They are collected for the pet trade and suffer due to habitat destruction and fragmentation. Often they fall victim to vehicle strikes.
Tennessee and North Carolina both recognize the eastern box turtle as their state reptile.
Some of these reptiles have lived for as long as 100 years in captivity.
While often mistaken for tortoises the closest relative of the eastern box turtle is the turtles.
Oaklandzoo.org. 2021. Oakland Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.oaklandzoo.org/animals/eastern-box-turtle> [Accessed 7 January 2021].
van Dijk, P.P. 2011. Terrapene carolina (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T21641A97428179. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2011-1.RLTS.T21641A9303747.en. Downloaded on 07 January 2021.
Lehigh Valley Zoo. 2021. Eastern Box Turtle – Lehigh Valley Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.lvzoo.org/animals/eastern-box-turtle/> [Accessed 7 January 2021].
Baltimore, T., 2021. Eastern Box Turtle | The Maryland Zoo. [online] The Maryland Zoo. Available at: <https://www.marylandzoo.org/animal/eastern-box-turtle/> [Accessed 7 January 2021].
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