How Cold Can A Box Turtle Survive?

What are the box turtle’s temperature needs, and how much cold weather can a box survive? 

To keep your pet healthy, happy, and thriving, it’s essential to understand the various temperatures a box turtle will need in its habitat, as well as how cooler temperatures and basking will affect your turtle’s growth and habits. 

Providing the right temperature in its enclosure is vital in creating the ideal living space for your turtle.

how cold can a box turtle survive

How Cold Can A Box Turtle Survive?

Box turtles are reptiles and cannot self regulate their body temperature – they use their environment. A pet box turtle should not experience temperatures below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C). 

If temperatures are too low, and the animal cannot find a place to warm up, it triggers their body to go into hibernation. 

With prolonged exposure, your turtle will become sluggish, stop eating, and eventually starve to death. 

Additionally, since hatchlings, juvenile, and adult turtles do not grow for weeks during hibernation, frequent temperature drops below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C) will affect growth.

Wild Habitat Of Box Turtles

In the wild, western and eastern box turtles will hibernate through below-freezing temperatures. 

You should never force your turtle to hibernate without experience or guidance from your vet. 

Even in the wild many box turtles do not survive the winter. 

If your turtle is stressed, young (such as hatchlings), or underweight, it has even less of a chance of surviving frigid temperatures. 

Remember, while hibernating, a turtle can’t get enough heat to keep its metabolism up and is just barely surviving. 

Turtles in the wild or outdoors have time to adjust to changing conditions and to find a suitable shelter – in logs, under fallen trees and brush, or under deep substrate. 

If you subject your pet turtle to sudden drops in temperature, you risk putting your eastern box turtle into shock or stressing it enough to lead to death.

The best way to keep a box turtle is to provide a safe temperature gradient year-round to regulate its temperature and never let the temperature drop below this amount. 

Box Turtle Temperature 

Below is a table to help visualize the ideal daytime temperature set up in your turtle’s enclosure:

AREADegrees FahrenheitDegrees Celsius
Ambient temperature 70 – 80° degrees Fahrenheit21℃ – 27℃
Shade75° degrees Fahrenheit24℃
Basking Area85 – 90° degrees Fahrenheit29℃ – 32℃
Water75° degrees Fahrenheit24℃

The Ideal Temperature For An Eastern Box Turtle

You’ll want to provide a gradient in your turtle’s enclosure, so it can regulate its temperature according to the table above. 

Give your turtle a shaded area around 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C), and a cool, shallow dish of water. 

Temperatures in your turtle’s enclosure may be cooler at night, around 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).

Your turtle will appreciate a warm place to bask. 

85-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C) is a good temperature for a basking area. 

Use an incandescent bulb above a rock for the perfect basking area for your pet. 

Turtles do not do well with a heated rock – it can hurt their sensitive underbellies.

At night, you’ll need to turn off the lights. 

If temperatures around the enclosure are going to dip below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C), you should use heat tape or a heating pad underneath the substrate in the habitat, or use an aquarium heater or heat the entire room.

If your enclosure is outside, you’ll need to bring your eastern box turtle indoors if it’s too cool.

Why Temperature Is Important For You Box Turtle

Like all reptiles, box turtles are ectotherms (cold-blooded), so they need a heat source to control their body temperature. 

You will need to create a gradient, so the turtle has warm and cool places to go to control its temperature. 

Too hot or too cold will cause problems, including death. 

Turtles can overheat if not given shade, and if temperatures get too cold, it can spell trouble for your turtle’s growth and well being.

For your turtle, there should be a bright place it can sun itself. 

Turtles will want to bask right after eating to help with digestion and UVB exposure to produce vitamin D. 

Prolonged basking may signal a problem – the turtle might have an infection, or its enclosure temperature is just too cold. 

Turtles can quickly overheat, too, so take the temperature just above the spot where your turtle likes to bask. 

Overhead heat sources are the ideal way to heat your turtle’s enclosure, as it mimics what they would experience in nature.

Box turtles will likely spend about two hours a day soaking in shallow water. 

It’s essential to make a shallow pool so your turtle can submerge itself up to its chin. 

Cool water is essential for proper hydration and internal temperature control for your pet.

How To Create An Ideal Temperature Range For Box Turtles

When setting up your box turtle’s enclosure, keep in mind whether you’ll set it up indoors or out, what the harsh weather is like in your home and outside, and the size and shape of its home, winter months especially. 

Turtles are very sensitive and challenging to keep, and the perfect environment is essential to a long and happy life for your pets. 

Here are some great ways people may ensure your turtle will maintain an optimal body temperature at all times.


If you plan to keep your box turtle indoors, you’ll need a more regulated set-up. 

Box turtles are quite active, and in the wild, can cover 50 miles in one day. 

Your turtle’s home should be at least three feet long, and the bigger, the better.  

A single box turtle will need at least a 75-gallon tank, and each additional turtle will need at least 40 gallons more. 

An aquarium tank is not ideal – box turtles don’t like to be out in the open, and being surrounded by the glass will stress your turtle. 

Cover at least three sides of the tank to give it some security.

A large wooden ‘turtle box’ is a better way to house your box turtle – make one of your own or find one available commercially. 

Just make sure the walls are at least 12″ inches (30 cm) high – box turtles are incredible escape artists – and the bottom of the box is waterproof.

If the space around your box turtle’s enclosure will naturally stay around 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) at night, then you’re all set there – turn its light off in the evening. 

Otherwise, you’ll need to heat the whole room or invest in an aquarium heater. 

While you may use heat pads underneath your turtle’s bedding, it is not ideal. 

It’s better if the substrate stays cool and the air in the tank is heated from above.

The water provided for your turtle should not be too close to the heat source. 

It should remain cool. 

If you’re using a light source to heat the tank or box, put the water at the opposite end.

The turtle’s basking area is created with a UVB and heat lamp or incandescent bulb 12″-18″ inches (46 cm) over a flat rock.

 Keep your turtle’s light on 10-12 hours a day to mimic when it would naturally have the opportunity to sit out in the sun. 

No products in your turtle’s environment should be hot to the touch, and make sure your heat source is not causing other parts of the enclosure to be too hot. 

Box turtles rely on the sun for vitamin D production, so if you are not taking your turtle outside part of the time, you will need a UVB lamp or reptile light to keep it healthy.

Always provide shade and a place for your turtle to hide and cool off during the day. 

Anything from a commercial aquarium cave to a partially buried flowerpot will work.

 They also need this due to their instinctive need to hide from predators. 


Ideally, your turtle will spend part of most of its life outside. 

A small backyard pond is a great environment for a box turtle, as long as there is natural shade. 

Your turtle will naturally benefit from sunlight, and outdoor enclosures can afford to be a little bigger. 

If a pond isn’t feasible, provide a water source just like in an indoor enclosure. 

If you find the water is getting too warm during the day, move it to a shaded area. 

Outside, humans can create shade with plants, shrubs, or a little home-made cave.

Final Thoughts

Box turtles are a challenging yet rewarding pet to keep. 

Not everyone is up to providing the exact conditions and temperatures a box turtle needs to thrive, but if you are planning to raise a box turtle, close regulation of its enclosure is essential. 

Neglecting part of your turtle’s temperature requirements could put undue stress on your turtle, affect its growth, and shorten its life. 

Remember its four major temperature needs – basking area, ambient temperature, shade, and water, and never let your turtle’s home get colder than 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C). 

If possible, give your turtle a place to spend time or live outside where it can roam and get natural sunlight. 

With a little work, create a livable environment for your pet to give it the best chance for a long, stress-free life.


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