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eastern box turtle

Fact File

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina

Classification: Reptilia, Order Testudines, Family Emydidae

Size: 4.5-8 inches

Life Span: 25-35 years

Identifying Characteristics

This is a medium-sized terrestrial turtle that reaches a maximum length of about 8 inches. The shell is highly domed, elongate, and smooth on the rear edge. The rear edge may be flared in some adults. The color is brown, or sometimes black, with orange to yellow spots, blotches or lines, the pattern of which varies greatly. The underside (plastron) may be brown or black and may have an irregular pattern of cream or yellow. The skin of the head, neck, and legs is brown with orange to yellow spots, streaks, or blotches. The adult may have a sharply defined beak on the upper jaw. The box turtle is so named because it has a hinged plastron that enable it to completely withdraw into and close its shell. This species is seldom confused with other Virginia species, except for possibly the wood turtle, Glyptemys insculpta, which lacks the high-domed shell and the hinged plastron and is much less common. The box turtle has a low reproductive rate and is long lived. It requires10-20 years to reach sexual maturity. Box turtles may sometimes live to over 100 years. Nesting occurs between late May and late July, with 2-7 eggs laid in one clutch per year.


The terrestrial box turtle is found in many types of wooded areas, including hardwood forests, mixed oak-pine forests, pine flatwoods, maritime oak forests, hardwood swamps, and agricultural areas.


The box turtle is an omnivore eating a variety of fruits such as wild strawberries, small animals such as grasshoppers and salamanders as well as mushrooms.


This species is found throughout Virginia and in a variety of habitats, including hardwood and pine forests, swamps, stream floodplains and open fields, especially in the edge areas, and occasionally; in caves. It enters water readily, but only temporarily, for summer aestivation, drinking, or dispersal. In hot, dry weather, the box turtle hides in pools of water, mud, or damp ground. It overwinters under several centimeters in the soil beneath leaf piles and grass clumps. These turtles are present throughout most of Virginia.


Box turtles emerge from brumation in early spring and are active until late fall. They eat a variety of plants and invertebrates and are known to scavenge carrion. Nesting occurs from late May through July with 2-7 eggs deposited. Brumation typically occurs in mature forests buried just a few inches into the leaf litter

Did you know?

Box turtle shells are often found at archeological sites in Virginia and were probably being used as food containers or rattles.


The eastern box turtle is a common pet species in many places, but it is illegal to keep one in your home in Virginia due to the significant number of wild caught animals found in captivity. This species is primarily threatened due to the thousands that are caught for the pet trade from the wild each year; although habitat fragmentation and urbanization also account for a fraction of the population’s drop of 32% over the last 100 years.


Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2023. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed at

U.S. National Park Service. Alicia Lafever. Juvenile Eastern Box Turtle.

U.S. National Park Service. Eastern box turtle (Tarrapene carolina carolina), Catoctin Mountain Park, 2014.

Updated 2023: Mara Snyder

Last updated: January 19, 2024

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