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Box Turtle

Scientific name: Terrapene carolina

This is the turtle that you are most like to see on the ground, as opposed to in the water. Most box turtles spend their entire lives within 250 yards of the nests where they were born. A box turtle knows exactly where and when to find food in its home territory. If moved, it will make every effort to return. Please do not move a turtle from its home! It may well die trying to return to its home range.

Unlike many other turtles, the box turtle can close their shells entirely. They have a high dome-like upper shell (carapace) which varies in color. It is usually brown or black but often is quite colorfully decorated with spots or streaks of yellow, red, orange or white.  Skin color is also variable. The lower shell, called the plastron, is hinged, which allows the shell to close. This is how the box turtle got its name.

This turtle is relatively small, no larger than 6-8 inches. They have five toes on each front foot and four on the back, with webbed bases. Their beaks are sharp and horned; they have stout limbs.

The Maryland Zoo In Baltimore Photos by Jeffrey F. Bill 07/4/07 Eastern Box Turtle 3 Digital Photograph JFB_7259
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They are omnivores, meaning that they will eat a variety of plant and animal material. Their diet includes earthworms, snails, slugs, grubs, beetles, caterpillars, grasses, fallen fruit and berries, mushrooms, flowers and carrion (dead animals). You might find them munching on beetles in your garden or eating a fallen grape!


Found in open fields and forests. It will only go into the water or submerge in the mud when it is hot and dry. Home ranges for these turtles may overlap and they are not aggressive to each other, tolerating others of their species well. As a result they are often found in groups.

Life Cycle

Females usually start laying eggs when they are between 7-10 years of age.They lay 6-8 eggs each spring. Newborn turtles are only an inch or so long!  If their habitat is not disturbed or eliminated, they may live to be 25-30 years, although they may live up to 100.

Human Connections

If you move a box turtle from his home, it may not survive. They have mental maps of where all the food is in their home ranges. Please encourage others to never take a wild turtle home. In case of an emergency, such as a turtle that has been hit by a car, please call a wildlife rehabilitator. They can often be saved, even if their shells are broken. Even if they are dead, if they are females, their eggs can be harvested, incubated and safely returned to the wild!

Fun Facts

Male have red eyes, and females have brown eyes.

How You Can Help

This is a species of special concern, primarily due to habitat loss. Learn more about all the turtles found in New York State here.

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