Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtle (Terapene carolina carolina)

Eastern box turtle

Eastern box turtle./J.D. Mays

General: The eastern box turtle is the most common land turtle in the eastern United States. Box turtles are found from southern New England south to northern Florida. Individuals are 4.5 to 6 inches long, dark brown to olive in color, with bright orange or yellow markings. Their upper shell, or carapace, is high and dome-shaped, and their lower shell, or plastron, has a hinge that lets the turtle close up inside its protective shell. Box turtles need a mosaic of habitats, including open areas for basking, and patches of shrubby or herbaceous vegetation that offer protective cover, food, and shade. Box turtles eat wild fruits and other plant matter, plus many insects and other invertebrates. In hot weather they may cool themselves down by soaking in a stream or puddle. Nesting females lay their eggs in shallow pits dug in open areas; sunlight reaching the ground lets the eggs develop and hatch. Females generally site their nests near a forest edge, with low herbaceous or woody vegetation nearby. During winter, box turtles hibernate under the soil or leaf litter, among woody debris, or in old mammal burrows.

Status: Much box turtle habitat has been erased by sprawling cities and suburbs, and populations have fallen steadily over the past several decades. Many box turtles are killed as they try to cross roads while traveling to find the resources they need. As of 2015, 15 eastern states listed the box turtle as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

How to Help Box Turtles: Prime box turtle habitat includes a mix of old fields and deciduous woods with sandy, well-drained soil, not far from a small stream or pond and not fragmented by roads. Young forest benefits box turtles, since such habitat often includes sunny openings and thick, low vegetation that provides cover and plant and animal foods. Management plans should emphasize creating and maintaining open areas with understory vegetation such as fruiting shrubs and herbaceous plants. Box turtles should never be removed from the wild, since the loss of even one breeding adult can harm a local population.
box turtle range map
Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

Learn more about the eastern box turtle at http://www.boxturtles.com/eastern-box-turtle/

For more detailed information about the eastern box turtle, including references to scientific papers, download Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within this species' range to increase your chances of seeing box turtles and other wildlife that use young forest.