Box turtles are increasingly becoming popular pets, but caring for them is unlike any other pet. They require a unique diet, special habitats, and are extremely sensitive to temperature. There are some tips that can make box turtle ownership easier, though, and I’ve selected five that I think are very helpful.
Starting off with the most important, box turtles require a very unique diet. You can’t go to a pet store and get a bag of generic ‘box turtle food’, because we frankly don’t know enough about them to know what to put in such a food.
Instead, it’s recommended that you offer box turtles a variety of different foods. You can get bagged mixed salad from the store as one option. Because they are omnivores, though, you can also try worms, crickets, and berries.
Adult box turtles only need a full meal every two days or so. These are meals where you provide food until the turtle stops showing interest. You can give your turtle snacks on the other days, though, but keep it limited to about a quarter of what the turtle usually eats in a full meal.
Box turtles are influenced greatly by temperature. For instance, anything below 65 degrees is too cold for the turtles to digest food. It’s recommended that, for indoor turtles, you get a warming lamp. Coupled with a tank thermometer, this will help you regulate the temperature. It’s okay for it to vary slightly, but it’s advisable to keep it with 15 to 20 degrees, and always above 65.
If your turtle lives in an outside habitat, make sure that your climate allows for fairly consistent temperatures above 65, and have the cage kept in an area that gets strong morning sun. It’s advisable to keep it elevated and out of reach of predators that may attempt to harm the turtle, though turtles are capable of defending themselves by going into their shell and closing the shell around them, keeping most potential predators out.
Your turtles habitat should provide places they can go to alter their own temperature. A flat area is suggested, with a pool they can walk into, an elevated spot they can climb onto, and a secluded cave-like structure they can hide in. Colors don’t seem to have an effect on box turtles, so pick colors you enjoy.
More and more veterinarians are becoming familiar with box turtle care; however it’s still a good idea to call a prospective vet beforehand to make sure they are knowledgeable. Ideally a box turtle should have a check-up with the vet once every two weeks, and more if they show signs of distress or illness. Signs of stress or illness include cloudy eyes, flaky shell, and discoloration of the skin, cuts, or sores.
It is not unusual for a box turtle to go on essentially a hunger strike, where they refuse to eat for over a week. This is generally not cause for alarm. Try offering the turtle a wider variety of food to choose from, and if the strike continues consult with your veterinarian.
Smithsonian National Zoo