How To Breed Box Turtles

Are you a box turtle keeper looking to expand the family? 

Are you interested in learning the best and safest way to breed your turtles?

As a box turtle owner, it’s up to you to responsibly breed and care for your pets. 

This how-to article will show you all the ins and outs of how to breed box turtles.

 We’ll discuss what supplies you’ll need, how to prepare your turtles for breeding, and how to raise baby box turtles. 

We’ll also get some helpful and creative suggestions from a box turtle expert.

Let’s dive in and see what we can learn!

how to breed box turtles

What You’ll Need To Breed Box Turtles

For your turtles’ enclosure:

  • Wide and shallow freshwater dish or outdoor pond.
  • Hiding places (for indoor enclosures, a hide box like this would work).
  • Optional cardboard, or similar opaque material, to cover up any transparent enclosure walls.

For your turtles’ nesting box:

  • Organic, fertilizer-free topsoil such as this Minute Soil.
  • Large plastic or rubber container (25 gallons or larger).
  • A lid for the container (if it didn’t come with the container, use cardboard or even a towel).
  • Water spray bottle.
  • Store-bought logs, branches, or rocks.
  • Turtle ramp (or make one from scratch)
  • Mesh netting, or another similar material to wall-in the turtle ramp.

For the eggs:

For the hatchlings:

  • Plastic 16-quart (approximately) containers.
  • Substrate like sphagnum moss or natural forest floor material.
  • Water spray bottle.
  • Heat lamp and other heat sources, like a heating pad.
  • Hide box.

How To Breed Box Turtles: Step-By-Step Instructions

When you’re not breeding your turtles, it’s essential to keep the males and females in separate enclosures, both safe from predators. 

This will prevent any unwanted mating and fighting from happening.

When it’s time to breed your turtles, follow these steps to do it right!

Step 1) Check The Ages Of Your Turtles

Box turtles reach sexual maturity when they’re between 5 and 7 years old. 

But how can you tell how old they are?

There are two relatively reliable methods for determining a box turtle’s age.

  • Counting rings: Pick a scute (shell plate) and count the rings. Then divide by 2 to get your turtle’s approximate age in years.
  • Size charts: Measure your turtle from head to tail. Then, compare it to a size chart for your turtle’s species to determine an approximate age. For example, adult eastern box turtles average 4.5 to 6″ inches (15 cm) in length.

Step 2) Verify The Sexes Of Your Turtles

It is relatively easy to identify the sex of adult box turtles. 

Look for the following physical features:

  • Females have dark brown eyes; males have pink, orange, or red eyes.
  • Females have brown heads; males have green or yellow heads.
  • Males typically have more vibrant colors than females.
  • Males’ tails are thicker and longer than females’.
  • Males’ hind claws are shorter, wider, and more curved than females’.

To be sure of a box turtle’s sex, take it to the veterinarian.

Step 3) Select A Breeding Pair

You must have one male and one female box turtle of the same species and unrelated to one another.

However, to significantly increase your chances of the turtles breeding, follow the proper partner ratio guidelines of 2:5. 

For every two males, there should be at least five females in the enclosure.

The partner ratio prevents male infighting. 

It also prevents males from becoming too sexually aggressive with anyone female. 

Too much aggression can leave a female sick, injured, or exhausted.

Step 4) Ensure Your Turtles Are In Good Health

It’s important to practice good husbandry in the months and years leading up to breeding your box turtles. 

Proper diet and correct environmental conditions like temperature, humidity, lighting, proper substrate, and water access will keep turtles healthier and more robust. 

Before breeding your turtles, we recommend taking them to the vet to ensure they’re in good health.

Pro tip! Female box turtles with damaged shells may have pelvic injuries. It is best to select female breeders who have healthy shells.

Step 5) Create Cool Conditions To Mimic Winter

Box turtles’ mating season is after the winter season, beginning around March and continuing through October.

To imitate nature, maintain a temperature between 50-60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C) for three months, approximately December through February.

It’s important to still provide daily food for your turtles, but don’t be surprised if they don’t eat. 

They may hibernate during this time.

Pro tip! Turtles don’t need to hibernate, and they should be in good health before they’re allowed to do so.

Step 6) Return To Spring and Summer Temperatures

Ideal temperature varies by each box-turtle species. 

Generally, make sure it doesn’t dip below 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) during the day and 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C) at night. 

The basking area should be the warmest spot in the tank, between 85 and 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C) in most cases.

Pro tip! Don’t shock your turtles. Gradually raise the temperature over a week or two to mimic a more realistic change in seasons.

Step 7) Wait And Watch

Box turtles can’t be forced into breeding. 

Just practice good husbandry to provide the best conditions possible and hope it happens!

Keep close watch over your turtles.

As soon as they mate, it’s important to separate the female breeder from the other turtles in the enclosure.

Pro tip! While waiting for your turtles to mate, move on to Step 8 to set up your nesting box.

Step 8) Create A Nesting Box

The nesting box is a separate “room” or enclosure with ideal conditions for laying eggs. It should:

  • Have soft and deep substrate. It should be 8″ inches (20 cm) or deeper and consist of topsoil, with or without sphagnum moss.
  • Include environmental decor like rocks, logs, and branches.
  • Have a hide box.

If you intend to use this nesting box as your female box turtle’s main enclosure, it must also have all of the proper environmental factors like heating, UV lighting, a shallow water dish, etc.

Pro tip! Connect the nesting box to the main female box turtle enclosure. 

Use a turtle ramp to connect the two tanks and mesh netting (or similar material) to wall-in the ramp and make it safe for your turtle to walk on.

Step 9) Move The Female Turtle To A Separate Enclosure

As soon as the pet turtles have mated, separate the female from the males. 

Put her back in her enclosure so she can get some much-needed rest and privacy.

Spray water daily to keep the air humid and the soil moist. 

Likewise, make sure the nesting box stays humid with damp soil.

Pro tip! In the nesting box, make sure there are several spots where direct light hits the soil near a rock or log. 

This is the most likely spot where a female box turtle will lay her clutch of eggs.

Step 10) Separate The Eggs And Female

When the female box turtle is ready, she will dig deep into the substrate and lay her eggs. 

Then, she will use her hind feet to cover the eggs back up with soil. 

It’s crucial to gently but thoroughly check for the eggs daily because you may not even notice them once she buries them in the substrate.

Once the eggs are laid, remove the female from the nesting enclosure.

Pro tip! If the nesting box is connected to the main enclosure, you won’t have to remove the female. 

She should leave her eggs behind on her own accord. 

Turtles don’t tend to their eggs!

Step 11) Optional: Set Up An Incubator

Only experienced breeders need to worry about incubators. 

If you want to give it a shot, make sure to use a commercial incubator which maintains a steady temperature.

First, disinfect the incubator. 

Then fill it with substrate to partially bury the box turtle eggs. 

Moist vermiculite and perlite are by far the best options for incubator substrate.

Set up the correct environmental conditions and test for 24 hours before putting the eggs in the incubator.

Pro tip! Temperature can influence which sex the babies are! 

Incubation at 70-80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C) will result in more males, while temperature above 82° degrees Fahrenheit (28° C) will result in more females.

Step 12) Optional: Move The Eggs

If you are using an incubator, you’ll have to relocate the eggs. 

Be cautious! 

A turtle egg is soft and easily breakable, so you must be very gentle.

Before moving the eggs, use a marker to show the top of each egg. 

Never turn a turtle egg upside-down. 

There is an air bubble at the top, which allows the baby to breathe inside.

Step 13) Care For The Eggs Until They Hatch

Mist the substrate with distilled water every 2 days, or more often if the soil starts drying out.

The baby turtles will hatch in 8 to 12 weeks. 

Not every egg is a fertile egg, so they may not all hatch.

Pro tip! Eggs laid in a shallow nest, near the surface, or in water, are probably infertile eggs.

How To Raise Baby Box Turtles

So, your turtles have mated. 

But now what? 

What should you do with the babies? 

How can you take care of them?

Responsible Breeding

Whenever possible, breeding your box turtles should be an intentional and well-informed decision. 

You must be able to care for the babies or find them responsible keepers. 

Each turtle needs 6 to 12′ square feet (3.6 sq m) of space as an adult, along with food and other necessary resources. 

Releasing captive-bred turtles into the wild is illegal in most U.S. states. 

This is because it disrupts the natural balance of animal populations and the wild box turtle population. 

It could result in spreading illness or food scarcity.

YouTube Video: How To Raise Baby Box Turtles

This video has some great suggestions on how to raise baby box turtles.

Let’s explore some of the main points from this video!

Collecting Hatchlings And Bringing Them Indoors

It’s a good idea to have newborn box turtles inside. 

They can grow and become less vulnerable before they are released into their outdoor enclosure among the other turtles.

When the hatchlings are fully formed and have absorbed their yolk sac, remove them from the incubator. 

Rinse off their bodies with a quick bath under running water. 

Then, place them in their baby enclosures.

Creating Baby Enclosures

A small tub filled with shallow water, with or without sphagnum moss, makes a great starting place for hatchling box turtles. 

Make sure you include a hiding space and some store-bought leaves or plant matter.

This tub should go inside a large reptile enclosure, which can easily retain heat and moisture. 

Baby box turtles get dehydrated very easily; their enclosures must have a high humidity level between 80% and 90%.

Keep these enclosures warm but not hot:

  • Low-to-mid 80° degrees Fahrenheit (28° C) during the day
  • 55° degrees Fahrenheit (13° C) or more at night

Gradually change the temperatures from day to night to imitate a natural change of times.

Provide Babies A Varied Diet

Babies need a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, and insects like earthworms, mealworms, crickets, and grasshoppers. 

To feed hatchlings their insects, it’s best to chop up the worms and remove the back legs of the crickets and grasshoppers.

As the baby turtles get older, fruits and vegetables become more important. 

Dark leafy greens should be the largest part of a box turtle’s vegetation intake, but fruits like berries are also important and tasty additions to their diet.

With a varied diet, mineral supplements are not necessary for hatchlings.

Release The Babies

Once they have grown to a less vulnerable size, release the hatchlings back into the main turtles’ enclosure.

Conclusion

Ideally, this article has left you more confident and better informed about how to breed box turtles, so you’re able to enjoy the journey with your box turtle family.

Box turtles are cute and fascinating creatures who deserve the very best love and care. 

It is essential to understand the implications of breeding and how to do it responsibly. 

We hope you take what you’ve learned here and can put it to good use!

Leave a Comment