Caring for Your Box Turtle

Filed Under: Reptiles, Diet & Nutrition, General Care, Turtles

Box turtles are one of the most popular amphibian pets, particularly for children. This is partly due to their reputation as an easy pet to care for. When treated well and housed properly, box turtles are very easy to care for, and easy to love. But as easy-going as they seem to be, box turtles do need proper and attentive care.

Box turtles get their moniker from their unique hinged shell, which allows them to completely withdraw their head and limbs, closing their shell like a box.

Box turtles are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Earthworms, slugs, snails and other invertebrates are what your turtle would munch on left to his own devices, but low-fat, semi-moist dog food may be substituted for the squirmy portion of a box turtle’s diet. Fruits for turtles include berries, bananas, pears, peaches, papayas, and guavas. For vegetables, mixed vegetables, squash, yams and mushrooms are all great choices. Whole animal or animal-substitute food should provide 1/2 to 2/3 of the diet, while fruits and vegetables should make up the remaining portions.

If you’re concerned about your turtle’s vitamin intake, commerical powdered supplements intended for reptiles can be sprinkled each day over moist food. Occasionally feed your turtle small portions of cottage cheese, chopped hard-boiled or scrambled egg, grated cheese and yogurt to provide a little extra calcium and Vitamin D.

The best environment to house a turtle is a large, fenced yard. Box turtles are escape artists and can be very good climbers, so be sure to turtle-proof your yard before letting these little guys run free. Turtles love to have a pile of dry leaves to burrow through and low bushes to provide some privacy. Section off a shaded area with a small, shallow pool where your turtle can take a relaxing soak.

If you’re planning on keeping your box turtle indoors, the turtle enclosure should be quite large, with high wooden sides and indoor/outdoor carpeting for the floor. Terrariums or aquariums are much too small for anything but very temporary housing. Use a large ceramic or terra cotta saucer to hold drinking water, and scatter some branches, leaves and grass throughout the enclosure, not only to mimic a natural environment but to provide a few secret hiding spots for your turtle. Turtles like their privacy, particularly while eating, and having some natural elements to hide under will make your pet feel more secure.

Artifical sunlight must be provided when turtles are housed indoors for long periods of time. Household lamps, plant grow lights and filtered sunlight through a window are not acceptable alternatives, and will lead to calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies. Turtles, like all reptiles, need ultraviolet light for Vitamin D metabolism and calcium utilization. Specialty reptile lights, like the Vita-Lite, provide the required spectrum of light. Household lamps, plant grow lights and filtered sunlight through a window are not acceptable alternatives, and will lead to calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies.

One thing prospective turtle owners should know before getting their first boxy friend is this: if you treat him well, your friend is going to be around for a long time. The average lifespan of a captive box turtle is 30-40 years. Some turtles can live to be over 100 years old. Make a great home for your box turtle and you two can grow old together!

Topics: aquariums

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