How Far Do Box Turtles Roam?

Slow and steady may win the race, but how much total distance can a box turtle cover?

Do they have territories, or do they roam freely from place to place?

Box turtles are fascinating and opportunistic creatures. 

They take advantage of what’s available to them at the moment and are adaptable to a variety of habitats, foods, and activities. 

Their territory range, diet, and daily routines all revolve around their inability to travel long distances.

how far do box turtles roam

How Far Do Box Turtles Roam?

Box turtles can roam about 50 yards (46 m), or even more, in one day. However, they don’t tend to roam from home. They generally spend their whole lives within approximately 250 yards (229 m) of the nests where they were born.

How Far Do Box Turtles Travel In A Lifetime?

Over their lifetime, boxies might travel 2.5 acres, approximately 115,000′ square feet (35 sq km).

Most remain in their home range for their whole life. 

But certain transient turtles will travel in a single direction, quite purposefully, and never look back!

How Fast Are Box Turtles?

With a walking speed averaging at about 0.17 miles per hour, it’s safe to say they won’t be entering any sprinting contests. 

Their highest bursts of speed have been clocked at 0.25 miles per hour.

In comparison, the land tortoise averages a similarly excruciating speed of 0.13 to 0.3 miles per hour!

How Fast Can Box Turtles Swim?

It turns out boxies are even slower swimmers than they are walkers! 

They cannot swim far, or for very long, without needing a rest. 

Their awkward swimming is mainly due to their short and stubby legs.

box turtle in water

What Is A Box Turtle’s Natural Habitat?

There is a wide variety of possible North American habitats, which vary greatly depending on the individual species. 

Most box turtles are land turtles, not aquatic turtles, but they all live near water.

Some habitats include:

  • Mesic woodlands (“mesic” means there is a well-balanced amount of moisture in the environment)
  • Forest floors
  • Woods and thickets
  • Grassland
  • Semi-arid environments
  • Wetland

Box turtles are native to North America. 

The common box turtle is found in both the United States and Mexico. 

With its vibrant yellow markings, the eastern box turtle is primarily in the eastern, central, and southern United States, living in wet meadows, marshes, open woodlands, and pastures.

Do Turtles Stay in the Same Area?

Turtles are creatures of habit. They tend to stick to a certain area for their entire lives, which they call home. This area provides them with everything they need, like food, water, and shelter. 

Some turtles, like sea turtles, might travel far away to lay eggs or find food, but they always come back home. They have a great sense of direction, which helps them find their way back no matter where they go. This skill is crucial for their survival, as it helps them find the resources they need and make baby turtles.

How Often Do Box Turtles Roam?

Most of a box turtle’s time is spent burrowed under leaves, soil, or brush. 

Burrowing allows them to find privacy and stay cool during the summer. 

In scorching weather, boxies will hide out beneath the surface, only emerging at dusk hours to forage or perform daily routines.

Box turtles will hunt and forage for food every few days. 

Between meals, they’ll soak in muddy places, perhaps for days at a time, before reemerging for the next hunt.

Why Do Box Turtles Roam?

There are several reasons why box turtles will wander from a hideout or explore their wider territory.

Rainy Season

When it rains, these animals get more active. 

In many cases, the rainy season marks the end of hibernation. 

The temperature is rising, and they may be hungry after a long period of inactivity. 

Perhaps males are making their way toward mating sites, or females are looking for suitable nesting sites.

Moving Between Bodies Of Water

Boxies will go farther distances to travel between waterways than when they’re solely walking on land. 

They may even map out paths of least resistance to get from one water source to the next.

Foraging and Hunting Food

Whether looking for insects, worms, snails and carrion, or vegetation like berries and mushrooms, these omnivores have an elaborate map of their territory committed to memory. 

They know where food and water will most likely be at any time of the year.

Laying Eggs

A female box turtle will become restless and exploratory when about to lay eggs. 

She will search for a nesting spot with ideal conditions:

  • Loose soil
  • Dampness
  • Warm temperature
  • Direct light

The female will travel to the nest, dig a deep hole, and deposit her clutch of turtle eggs. 

She will then cover up the eggs with soil and depart.

box turtle laying eggs

Brumation (Hibernation)

During the winter months, boxies who experience low-enough temperatures will brumate (the reptilian version of hibernating). 

Brumation can last as long as 12 weeks, and the turtles will not be active, nor will they eat, during this time. 

As the winter approaches, they’ll travel further into the forest and burrow to stay warm. 

They may travel as much as one-third of a mile to get to their brumation location. 

This burrow is frequently in the same or similar location year after year.

Do Box Turtles Have Territory?

These turtles do have territories, or home ranges, which vary in size. 

In harsher habitats with lower population densities, the sites for each animal are larger. 

Conversely, in a more desirable environment with a higher population density, the sites are smaller.

The eastern box turtle averages a home range with a 328′ feet (100 m) radius. 

Their territory is small compared to many predatory mammals from the same habitat, like skunks, raccoons, and minks. 

But considering how slowly they move, it would take them at least two days to walk their territory on a straight-line diameter.

Box turtles possess a strong homing instinct, which leads them back to their range daily. 

Scientists have even tested their homing instincts and navigation abilities, finding they are better than white rats at finding their way through a maze.

Egg-laying adults choose nesting sites but do not have a sense of territory. 

Instead, they lay the box turtle eggs and leave them behind. 

Can Box Turtle Ranges Overlap?

Box turtles are socially tolerant. 

They live near each other, and their territories often overlap one another. 

Sometimes, they will even spend time in groups of three or four friends.

Boxies are generally not aggressively territorial creatures. 

Fighting is rare, except when males compete with one another during the mating season. 

In these cases, males will attempt biting one another’s shells but will typically not cause any damage.

Can Turtles In Captivity Be Returned To The Wild?

The only circumstances in which it’s appropriate to release a box turtle back into the wild is if:

  1. It was born in the wild and wild-caught in the first place (perhaps it was a rescue animal you were rehabilitating).
  2. It can return to its original territory.

The homing instinct in box turtles is so strong; they’ll attempt to get back home even if they’re removed from the area in entirely different surroundings. 

If they’re only a couple of miles from their range, they can probably make their way back. 

But if they’re farther away, they will continue going even if it’s hopeless.

Many turtles can’t be “returned” because they never came from there in the first place. 

You must never release Captive-bred turtles into the wild. 

There are many reasons why it isn’t a good idea.

The winter season is very tough on any turtle, let alone a captive-bred turtle. 

Brumation is hard on the body, and many wild turtles don’t even survive it. 

A previous pet turtle would be at great risk when entering brumation for the first time in its life.

Natural instincts won’t be nearly as strong as wild turtles after being raised in captivity. 

This puts your pet turtle at serious risk.

It is illegal in most U.S. states to release a captive-bred box turtle into the wild because:

  • It could be a non-native species.
  • It could spread illness.
  • It could disrupt wild turtle populations.
  • It could create food scarcity.

It is irresponsible to introduce any captive-bred turtles into the local box turtle population for all of the reasons above. 

Plus, the responsible thing to do as an owner is to continue to care for your pet, not get rid of it, and putting it in a high-risk situation where it probably won’t survive the winter or be killed by a predator.

Many boxies are killed by human intervention, like when they’re taken from their wild habitat to be a pet or hit by a car while crossing roads. 

Habitat fragmentation caused by urban development is another unfortunate risk of releasing a pet into the wild.

If you must get rid of your pet turtle, please consider the consequences of your actions. 

Take the time to rehome it with another human who promises to take good care of it.

Final Thoughts

Box turtles travel neither far nor fast, and they have an overall tiny territory.

However, they have a powerful and devoted attachment to home.

If it were up to them, they would never leave it. 

They prefer to remain close to their birthplace and get to know all the ins and outs of the landscape.

Because of this connection to their home range, people need to respect boxies in their natural habitat. 

People have contributed to unhealthy conditions and habitat destruction, making it ever-more vital for us to understand and respect these creatures as much as we can. 

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