Are you considering a box turtle as a pet but unsure what needs to go in their habitat?
Pets like this are overwhelming for many new owners, but this is precisely why we started this site:
To help people get into the joy of owning oddly cute pets!
Let’s get into what you’re going to need.
Table of Contents
What Do You Need For A Box Turtle Habitat?
Box turtles need a large enclosure with the correct supplies, mimicking their natural habitat to provide a healthy living environment. Box turtles do best in environments with higher humidity and plenty of light to help regulate their body temperature.
Having a Box Turtle as a Pet
Box turtles make wonderful pets, but it’s essential to understand the proper way to care for one.
It’s also not advisable to get box turtles for children.
Box turtles can carry diseases, like salmonella, and children are more susceptible to getting sick since they don’t wash their hands.
It’s essential to thoroughly wash not only your hands but any surfaces your box turtle may have touched.
As with any pet, you should plan to visit your veterinarian at least once a year to check for any parasites or other health conditions.
As an important note, wild box turtles should never make pets.
Taking a box turtle out of its natural habitat is illegal in most states and is unfair to the animal.
When turtles are taken from their environment, they are more prone to stress and early death.
Box Turtle Housing Needs
Whether you plan on having an indoor turtle or an outside one, you need to consider what type of enclosure you will put them in.
While keeping your box turtle outside is ideal, indoor enclosures are acceptable, pending you provide with them a sufficient amount of space.
Remember, the best type of enclosure is one mimicking their natural environment.
An indoor box turtle can live in a reptile aquarium.
However, all glass sides aren’t ideal for private reptiles.
If you decide to go the aquarium route, a 20-gallon tank should be the minimum size you get.
However, something larger, like 55 gallons, is more suitable for a box turtle enclosure.
In addition, you likely have seen plastic reptile cages at your local pet store.
While these are suitable for turtles, they will end up being too small once your turtle is grown.
Build Your Own
Box turtle pens ideally should be at least 4’x4′ feet (1.2 m).
While this is hard to achieve inside, it should be the guideline for outdoor box turtles.
If you are handy, just get some plywood and easily build your turtle table.
Make sure to waterproof the insides if you do build an enclosure from wood.
To ensure your turtle doesn’t escape, make sure the sides are at least 16″ inches (40 cm) tall.
If you have more than one box turtle, you likely want to make it around 20″ inches (51 cm) tall.
One turtle will have no problem climbing on the other to escape.
For outside turtles, make sure you have a cover over your enclosure to prevent predators from coming in.
Wild animals like raccoons will gladly feast on your turtle.
Ants are a threat as well, especially to a baby box turtle.
If DIY projects aren’t your thing, there are several high-quality enclosures on the market providing a right amount of space for your box turtle.
I recommend the Aivituvin Wooden Tortoise House.
It is made from 100% solid wood and has a screen cover for protection.
In addition, one side is covered for your box turtle’s privacy.
Other Ideas for Enclosures
Box turtles don’t need anything fancy; they just need a place to live with the proper supplies.
A kiddie pool or large plastic container will work as well.
As a note, if you purchase anything second-hand, make sure to thoroughly sterilize it before setting it up for your box turtle.
Sometimes you are able to get a good deal on Craigslist or at a yard sale.
It’s a great money saver, but it’s also essential to make sure the enclosure is clean before putting your box turtle in it.
What Goes Inside My Box Turtle Habitat?
You have your box turtle enclosure ready, but what now?
It’s important to stock it with all the appropriate supplies to achieve an ideal box turtle habitat.
The proper living environment is critical in having healthy turtles.
As a pet owner, it’s your job to make your box turtle happy!
Box turtle substrate, or bedding, helps retain moisture and heat in your enclosure. Ideal humidity levels are between 80-85%.
Investing in a humidity gauge will help you keep an eye on the level of humidity in your turtle’s enclosure.
Box turtles need to dig to help both their physical and mental health.
I recommend the Zoo Med Eco Earth.
To ensure turtles have no problem digging, mix it with some organic soil as well.
The substrate should be about 3-4″ inches (10 cm) deep.
Other suitable substrates include sphagnum moss and peat-based potting soil. Be sure all soil is free of pesticides and other chemicals.
Avoid sand, walnut shells, gravel, and wood shavings.
They are difficult to clean and can cause GI issues if your turtle decides to snack on them or if they are accidentally ingested.
Finally, plan on cleaning out the substrate weekly.
If your box turtle is living in an outdoor enclosure, make sure to put their pen in a partially sunny spot in the yard.
The reptiles will move back and forth between the shade and sun to regulate their body temperature.
An indoor box turtle requires a heat lamp to help regulate their body temperatures.
A low body temperature can cause them to go into hibernation.
In addition, turtles will stop eating and become lethargic.
Heat sources in turtle habitats should be on for roughly 10-14 hours a day.
During the summer, 10 hours is usually plenty.
Keep in mind; you may adjust those times based on the needs of your turtle.
Their basking spot should be between 85 and 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
Daytime temperatures should be between 70-80° degrees (27° C).
At night, temperatures can drop to between 65-75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
I don’t recommend using a heat rock to keep your turtle warm because it can quickly burn the underside of your pet.
In addition, heating pads which go under the tank don’t mimic the natural habitat for box turtles, so they shouldn’t be your top choice.
An indoor box turtle doesn’t have access to sunlight and requires a UV lamp.
Sunlight emits both UVA and UVB rays, which your turtle will not get inside your home.
UVB rays provide them with the much-needed Vitamin D3, which will aid in calcium absorption.
Calcium is needed for shell development.
Without the necessary mineral, your turtle can suffer from illness, including metabolic bone disease (MBD).
MBD can cause bone fractures and damage to their overall skeletal structure.
You may also notice bowed legs, limping, and hard lumps along their legs.
In addition, UVA rays keep up the appetite in your turtle and their desire to mate.
Even if you keep your enclosure by a window in your house, it will not provide sufficient light.
If you require both a heat lamp and UV lamp, I recommend the Zoo Med lighting kit, as it includes both lights.
Bulbs should be changed every 6 months or so, even if they have not burned out.
The UVA/UVB output decreases over time.
Water and Food Dishes
Turtles require clean water daily.
Their water dish should be big enough for your pet to fit in but shallow enough, so he doesn’t drown.
It’s essential to provide fresh water because turtles enjoy bathing in their water dish.
I like the Exo Terra Water Dish.
It is stable and comes in multiples sizes, so you are able to pick the one fitting your turtle’s needs.
You don’t want water bowls to tip over while your turtle is getting in and out.
A flat rock is an excellent choice to hold their food.
The rock has the bonus of trimming your turtle’s beak.
The only downside to the rock is the mess turtles make with it.
They aren’t the neatest of eaters, and since there are no sides, they likely will get food in other areas.
Once you have your basics, it’s time to add some decor.
The decor is a vital part of keeping turtles mentally and physically healthy.
Turtles like their privacy, so it’s crucial to provide them with hiding spots.
A rock cave is a great option because it allows them a place to be covered and not feel like they are out in the open.
If you have some branches or rocks from your yard, you are able to add those to give your pet a place to climb.
Climbing is a good exercise for turtles and also provides mental stimulation.
Food for Box Turtles
Now your enclosure is set up, and it’s time to understand what a box turtle should and shouldn’t eat.
Box turtles are omnivores and require a diet consisting of both insects and a variety of vegetables, with some fruits mixed in.
A box turtle in the wild will feast on snails, slugs, worms, and other insects.
In captivity, you should also be feeding your turtle protein-rich insects, like crickets and earthworms.
In addition, plant materials, like kale and mustard greens, should be offered.
Turtles like brightly colored vegetables, such as bell peppers, squash, tomatoes, and carrots.
While fruits shouldn’t be offered as often, turtles do enjoy strawberries, bananas, and peaches.
Babies and adults have different dietary needs, so it’s important to adjust their diet as they grow.
Baby box turtles will eat daily, but adults will only need to eat a few times a week.
Vitamin supplements are available to ensure your turtle is receiving the proper amount of calcium in its diet.
Simply sprinkle it over their food a couple of times a week.
I recommend the Rep-Cal supplement.
It is a phosphorus-free calcium carbonate containing the much need vitamin D3.
Should My Box Turtle Live Inside or Outside?
Box turtles do better in an outside enclosure because it is easier to mimic their natural habitat.
However, in some instances, an outside enclosure is not possible.
As long as you have the proper setup, your box turtle can live a healthy, happy life inside.
You are able to take your indoor box turtle outside on occasion.
It gives them the opportunity to reap the benefits of natural sunlight.
Finally, hatchlings should be kept indoors for at least the first 6 months, and then you are able to move them outside.
They are much more prone to predators, so it’s important to keep them safe.
Can I House More Than One Turtle?
If you’ve considered adding additional turtles to your home, there are several things to consider.
First, you will need a bigger enclosure, ideally at least 12′ square feet (3.7 sq m).
Turtles are solitary animals in the wild, so it’s essential to give them adequate space.
I do not recommend keeping two males together.
Males tend to be more aggressive when put together.
Any aggressive turtle should be separated for its own protection.
Two females typically have no problem living together.
If you house a male and female, just know they could end up mating.
Finally, turtles shouldn’t have to share their food and water dishes, hiding spots,
What Do I Do With My Outdoor Turtles in the Winter?
If you live in a place where it gets frigid in the winter, you need to prepare your box turtle for the frigid temperatures.
They will need to be able to dig below the freeze line.
In the wild, some box turtles have been known to dig 2′ feet (.61 m) underground in order to hibernate.
For turtles in captivity, it may be a good idea to build a hibernation den to ensure they keep safe.
I hope all this information has helped you understand what you need for a box turtle habitat.
When given the proper habitats, box turtles can hang around for a long time.