Eastern Box Turtle
Terrapene carolina carolina
The North Carolina State Turtle
The Eastern Box Turtle is truly one of my favorite turtle species. This turtle is the only “land turtle” found in my state. There are so many things that set the Eastern Box Turtle apart from the rest of the State’s species of turtle. I am glad this little guy was chosen to represent our State.
The Eastern Box Turtle is a subspecies of the “Common Box Turtle”. The Box Turtle currently has six living subspecies and one known extinct subspecies. Four subspecies in the United States and the other two subspecies are found in Mexico.
Common Box Turtle Subspecies
- United States
- Florida Box Turtle, T.c. bauri
- Gulf Coast Box Turtle, T.c. major
- Three-toed Box Turtle, T.c. triunguis
- Eastern Box Turtle, T.c. carolina
- Mexican Box Turtle, T.c. mexicana
- Yucatan Box Turtle, T.c. yucatana
- The Extinct Box Turtle of Georgia
- Putnami Box Turtle, T.c. putnami
This article is focused on the Eastern Box Turtle. It is the most dominant subspecies and is believed by most scientist to be the primary bloodline of Common Box Turtle. We hope to eventually get the other members of this species online soon. Many of the Eastern Box Turtles traits can be found in the other members of the species.
The Eastern Box Turtle is a bilobed, or double hinged plastron, turtle. This allows the turtle to close its shell completely. This ability to completely inclose it’s self within its shell is one way it can be identified against mud and musk turtles. The carapace is a highly domed, rounded shell that has variable markings. In most specimen, the Eastern Box Turtle’s markings are vivid. The upper jaw is slightly hooked and many have a significant overbite. The Toes are slightly webbed.
Eastern Box Turtles tend to get slightly larger than other members of the species. They typically max out around 8 inches but some have been found just over 9 inches. Males and females are very easily distinguished in Eastern Box Turtles.
How to Distinguish Male and Female
- Males tend to be larger in overall size and weight
- Males tend to have red or orange eyes and females tend to have tan, dull yellow, or brown eyes.
- The female has a more highly domed carapace than males.
- The plastron of males are concave while the female plastron is flat.
- Males tend to have more color splashes on the head and feet than females. Color on the carapace is usually equally colored.
Feeding and Diet:
Eastern Box Turtles feed on a number of things. They are omnivores, meaning eater of plant and animals. The Eastern Box Turtle will eat insects, worms and caterpillars, fruit and berries, mushrooms, and even carrion (dead animals). The Young start out with a higher protein diet (meat) and gradually shift to more veggies as they mature.
I have found Eastern Box Turtles feeding on mushrooms regularly. They also love cucumber gardens! I have found them on strawberry farms as well.
In my opinion, the Eastern Box Turtle is one of the most predictable turtles in my home range. I can tell you before I even leave the house if they will be out or not. They are fully terrestrial (North Carolina’s only one). They do however love the occasional bath. They are diurnal, or day time exclusive. I find Eastern Box Turtles out within the first hour of daylight and the last couple hours of daylight more than any other time.
The Eastern Box Turtle is a very shy turtle. They are very quick to go inside their shell and close up. I have seen them stay in the shell for several minutes. I have discovered that old males will sometimes stay out of their shell when picked up.
The Eastern Box Turtle is regularly hit by cars on the road. Just to give you an example, one morning I left for work. We had a very dry spell up to this particular day. It hadn’t rained any real amount in 15 days. The rain came in just before I began my travel to work. The sun was also just coming up.
On this 8 mile stretch of road between work and my home, I encountered 11 box turtles. Of the 11 that I seen, 4 were freshly hit. (I did move the others to safety. More on this later).
The Eastern Box Turtle can be found in many different kinds of habitat. They can live in wooded areas, fields, parks, swamps, and sandhills. Although they are terrestrial, they frequent streams, creeks, and ponds.
The Eastern Box Turtle matures very slow. Most do not reach maturity until they are 7 or 8 years old. There are many that do not reach maturity until they are 10 or 11 years old. The Eastern Box Turtle mates in early Fall. The mother will lay 3-6 eggs the following spring. The young, if the nest survives, will hatch late summer early Fall. The baby Eastern Box Turtle will only be a little over an inch at hatching.
The Eastern Box Turtle deserves credit for a lot of neat facts. So here it goes:
- Males and females are very easily distinguished as pointed out earlier in this article.
- The Eastern Box Turtle has a very small range. Most turtles can be seen in the same field or seen crossing the same paths year after year.
- The Eastern Box Turtle has a homing drive. If this turtle is moved away from its home, IT WILL TRY TO GET BACK HOME.
The Eastern Box Turtle is a creature of habit. Once you learn a turtle you can easily predict his/her next move. When I was younger, there was an Eastern Box Turtle i seen day after day, year after year. I hope he is still doing well.
- Cruising the roads, at dawn and dusk, on rainy days yield good results. I love looking for them when conditions are right because I want to get them out of the road. (***If you find a Box Turtle in the road, carry him/her off the road in the direction he/she was headed***)
- Look along creeks, pools, ponds, and streams. Especially when it has been dry for several days.
- Look in the underbrush.
- LISTEN….. I have found many Eastern Box Turtles just investigating the rustle of leaves and pine-straw.
Special Note of Concern***
The Box Turtle (including all subspecies) are homing turtles. DO NOT try to relocate. If found in an unsafe area such as a road, move the turtle to a safe spot in the direction the turtle was heading. A turtle that has been relocated will very likely die trying to get back to its home. Especially if crossing a road is required to get home.
** This is a quick observe, leave where you found species **
In many places, it is against the law to disturb Terrapene carolina. Know the laws in your area.