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eastern box turtle

(Terrapene carolina carolina)


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. It may also be found in pastures, 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.


The box turtle is an omnivore. Fruits include blackberry, mayapple, elderberry, sweet low-bush blueberry, maple-leaf viburnum, muscadine grape, white mulberry, wild strawberry, black cherry, and wineberry. Animals eaten are slugs, terrestrial snails, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, dusky salamanders, slimy salamanders. Mushrooms are also consumed. Captive turtles eat a wide array of food offered, in addition to the above. These include tomatoes, cantaloupes, mulberries, bananas, apples, plums, commercial grapes, earthworms, June beetles, mealworms, cockroaches, and hamburger.