Do Box Turtles Bite? What Would It Feel Like?

Do box turtles bite?

Whether you already own a pet box turtle or are thinking about bringing one home, their bite might concern you.

Key Takeaway:

Yes, box turtles can bite, but only do so if provoked or stressed.

A happy box turtle is a turtle that likely won’t bite. The followings are a few reasons a box turtle may bite you and tips for avoiding it.

Do Box Turtles Bite Humans?

Yes, box turtles bite humans if they feel threatened. While box turtles are known for their cute personality, they are wild animals with no problem hissing, snapping, and biting if they feel they’re in danger.

This can present a bit more of a problem for parents of small children since they have tiny fingers that easily hurt.

Attacking when threatened is a natural reflex all animals have, including the box turtle.

woman holding turtle

What Does a Box Turtle Bite Feel Like?

All turtles bite, but the box turtle’s bite isn’t as bad as other species. If you decide to adopt a turtle, you can expect to get bitten at least once. But what will the bite feel like?

The pain you’ll feel is dependent on where they bite you. The most common spots that turtles bite are the hand and finger. This is especially the case when you’re feeding your pet turtle.

If a box turtle bites you, you likely won’t feel much pain or discomfort. Their bite is not that strong. Your skin may turn red and stay that way for a little bit. After a few minutes, the discomfort and the change in your skin hue subsides.

The smaller the turtle, the less discomfort you’ll feel from the bite.

Because box turtles aren’t instinctually aggressive, the likelihood of being bitten repeatedly is low. They also don’t clamp down and hold like other turtle species. They let go as soon as they realize your finger isn’t food.

However, if you’re in a situation where they don’t let go, you may need to head to the vet’s ER. It’s very rare when it happens, but if they do manage to hold on for dear life and refuse to let go, you could end up with some bruising around the bite. You must carefully detach them from your finger, hand, or foot. Be sure to see a doctor if they puncture the skin, though, as it could cause an infection.

Are there other reasons why a box turtle might bite its owner? Let’s look at 5 scenarios that could instigate a turtle bite.

5 Reasons Why Box Turtles Bite

Remember, box turtles aren’t naturally aggressive like other species, such as snapping turtles. Keep the following in mind to prevent provoking a bite attack from your box turtle.

#1. They Feel Threatened

A box turtle that bites probably feels threatened. They are docile, friendly turtles, but if pushed, they attack. A feeling of danger can come from anything like a loud noise to concern over losing their lunch to a would-be competitor. Keep your hand away from their cage when they’re eating to reduce the chances of being bitten.

#2. They’re Stressed

Like all animals, box turtles experience stress. That stress can come from being underfed, being placed in a new environment, or during mating season. The mating season can lead to stress over competing for a mate. Signs of aggression include hissing, panting, and retracting into their shell. If your turtle is over 5 years of age, they experience the mating season. It starts in spring and lasts until fall.

#3. Protecting Eggs & Babies

Every animal has maternal instincts to protect its young. Box turtles, too, become overly protective around their eggs and hatchlings. As their owner, it’s crucial you respect this time in their lives by giving them plenty of room to be a mom. You might have a strong urge to pick up box turtle eggs or hatchlings, but don’t! Let your turtle mom care for her babies and avoid a bite by leaving her alone.

#4. Mishandling

Box turtles know when you’re being gentle and when you’re handling them roughly. And they prefer to be handled with care. Gently holding and caring for your pet box turtle makes for a receptive pet. Being rough with them can lead to a bite. They’re essentially saying, “Hey! I don’t like to be touched like that. Stop!” This is another reason why young children should be supervised around turtles. Avoid the head and mouth area to reduce your risk of being bitten.

#5. Hunger

Hungry turtles don’t make the best pets. If they see your hand sticking inside the cage to pick them up, and they haven’t eaten the proper amount of food, they may bite you! We all get hungry, including pet turtles! Keep them fed, and you’ll lessen the likelihood of a bite. Check out our “how to” guide to determine the best way to feed your box turtle.

box turtle eating worm

Is A Box Turtle’s Bite Dangerous?

No, most box turtle bites don’t pose any danger to humans. However, there are some things to remember if you get bitten.

Do Box Turtles Carry Diseases?

The eastern box turtle does carry diseases. In particular, they carry salmonella, which can lead to infections in children. Salmonella is a zoonotic disease, which means it is easily transmitted from animals to humans. To prevent illness, wash your hands thoroughly each time you handle your turtle.

Do Box Turtles Bite Each Other?

Yes! Box turtles do bite other turtles. However, they always have a reason to do so. Even with other turtles, if they are pushed past their comfort zone, their friendly demeanor changes.

You may see your turtle bite its tank mate, for example, due to territorial aggression. If they have limited resources, they may bite their tank mate. Just like some humans, turtles need lots of space for themselves. They get anxious when they’re surrounded by other reptiles.

If your turtles are biting each other often, it could mean you need a bigger tank or should move them into separate enclosures.

What Are The Most Aggressive Turtle Breeds?

Box turtles are far from the most aggressive turtle breed. Curious about which turtle breed is the most likely to bite you? Check out our brief list below.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

The alligator snapping turtle has one of the worst bites of any turtle. As one of two snapping turtle breeds, the alligator snapper lives in the southeastern U.S. and is an aquatic turtle breed. They are native to Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Florida, and Kansas and spend their entire lives in the water. Females do leave the water to lay their eggs, however.

Their large head and hooked beak give them a unique advantage when biting. Their thick shell also has distinct ridges that look similar to the skin of an alligator, giving them their name.

Softshell Turtles

Softshell turtles don’t have tough beaks, but they do have the ability to pack a powerful bite thanks to their strong jaws. They are carnivorous and tend to be aggressive, and have no problem biting you if they can. Despite this, they are popular pets. They have tough leathery shells.

Musk Turtles

These unique turtles are aggressive and common house pets. They look innocent, but they deliver powerful bites. Avoid bringing these turtles home if you have young children.

Pond Slider Turtle

Sliders are one of the most popular turtle pet species. They are native to the U.S. and Mexico. There are multiple types of sliders, including Cumberland sliders, which are native to the Appalachian Mountains. They tend to be aggressive, but their bites aren’t particularly powerful compared to other turtles.

What Are the Friendliest Turtle Breeds?

If you’re looking for turtles that make suitable pets, without all the biting, the following list might help!

The Reeve’s Turtle

The Reeve’s turtle is among the most social turtles you’ll find. When cared for properly and given plenty of patience, they love being held. However, do so sparingly, and remember they are wild animals.

Spotted Turtle

The spotted turtle is a beautiful aquatic turtle easily identified by its spotted shell. With the right environment, they can live indoors or outdoors. They live for over 100 years, so it’s important to keep that in mind when adopting them.

Mississippi Map Turtles

If you want a beautiful and unique turtle as a pet, then consider the Mississippi Map Turtle. Also known as the sawback, maps don’t need a large enclosure to be happy. They live for about three decades and are shy at first. But if you reduce handling and give them the right environment to live in, you’ll find them to be a friendly companion.

mississippi box turtle

Be A Good Turtle Owner & Don’t Get Bitten!

Regardless of which turtle species you make your pet, it’s important that you set them up for success. A happy turtle is less likely to bite, and most box turtles rarely bite their owners.

It’s up to you as a pet owner to keep them well-fed and create an environment where they can feel less stressed.

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