Eastern Box Turtle


Eastern box turtle at the Brandywine Zoo

Eastern box turtles prefer deciduous forests and mixed forests, but are sometimes found in grasslands or pastures.

Exclusively North American, box turtles are found in the eastern United States, ranging from southern Maine to Florida along the East Coast, and west to Michigan, Illinois, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Omnivores – snails, insects, berries, fungi, slugs, worms, roots, flowers, and eggs. Juveniles are more carnivorous (preferring insects, worms, and snails), while adults are more herbivorous (preferring berries, mushrooms, and plants).

All eastern box turtles have a bridge-less, hinged plastron that allows box turtles to close their shells almost completely. They have a steep, margined, keeled, high­-domed, rounded carapace with variable markings. Black or brown with streaks or spots of red, yellow, orange white. Its distinct coloring camouflages it among the damp earth, fallen leaves and other debris found on the floor of moderately moist forests.

Usually up to 50. However, they can live much longer. The oldest known was thought to have lived over 100 years.

Box turtles are commonly collected from the wild as pets; because of this, box turtles are now threatened across their home range.



Eastern box turtles have an internal homing ability, which is why if they’re removed from their home range, they will attempt to return to it, often having to cross hazards such as roads.

Eastern box turtles are important seed dispersers for may apples (AKA maypops or mandrakes), the small, umbrella like plants that are commonly found in woodlands of Delaware in the spring.

Home ranges for box turtles average the size of one football field for their entire lives.

Part of the box turtle’s diet is poisonous mushrooms which don’t hurt the turtles, but can kill people! The toxins accumulate in the turtle’s body and if you eat the turtle, it can be deadly.

In the northern regions, they go into a period of dormancy called brumation in October or November. To hibernate (brumate), they burrow as much as two feet deep into loose earth, mud, stream bottoms, old stump holes, or mammal burrows.

What are AZA Zoos doing for Box Turtles?

Some AZA zoos have box turtle monitoring programs, such as the Maryland Zoo of Baltimore. Many have box turtles in their collections that are relinquished pets or have come from wildlife rehabilitators.

Eastern box turtle in mud