What Do Box Turtles Live In?

What are the most essential elements of a box turtle’s habitat?

Can box turtles live in tight spaces like apartments or small aquariums?

Before considering pet adoption, know this; caring for a turtle is quite a commitment. 

Box turtles have long lives. 

They can live anywhere from 20 to 100 years, depending on the species and the quality of husbandry. 

Each species of box turtle has its own set of living requirements, but all of them need a large amount of space for their habitat.

what do box turtles live in

What Do Box Turtles Live In?

Outdoor pens or garden ponds are, by far, the best options. If your turtle must live indoors, it should live outside for at least part of the year. An enclosure of 3′ feet long x 2′ feet wide x 1.5′ feet High (.9 m x .6 m x .45 m), or a 75-gallon aquarium, is the minimum size requirement for one Eastern box turtle.

Because there are many species of common box turtles, this article will focus on the specifics of eastern box turtles, which mainly reside in the eastern United States. 

They are popular pets with distinctive yellow markings and dome-shaped shells. 

If you are interested in another turtle species, make sure you check their habitat requirements. 

They may very well be different than the details we give here.

Outdoor Housing For Box Turtles

An outdoor pen or garden pond in your very own backyard will give your turtle access to many of the natural resources it needs to survive and thrive.

When building an outdoor enclosure for your turtle, make sure your walls are at least 18″ inches (46 cm) high and include an overhang. 

This will prevent your turtle from escaping. 

Border the pen with fencing or bricks. 

Common box turtles can’t climb too high, but they may attempt to burrow to escape.

Make sure your outdoor enclosure is protected from predators. 

You won’t be able to tend to your turtles at all times. 

Everything must be safe and secure, so you are comfortable leaving your turtles without fearing attack or escape.

Indoor Housing For Box Turtles

If it’s not possible for you to host your turtle outside year-round (perhaps because it gets too cold in the winter), it should still spend as much time as possible outside. 

Box turtles have better longevity and a noticeably better quality of life when they spend time outdoors.

The eastern box turtle requires a paludarium (which is an aquarium with a combination of terrestrial and aquatic habitats) at least 75 gallons in size. 

For each additional turtle, 40 to 60 gallons more are needed.

Turtles become quite anxious when they sense movement on the other side of a glass aquarium. 

For this reason, it’s much better to have an enclosure with opaque walls, such as:

  • Kiddie pools
  • Sandboxes
  • Large tubs
  • Large Rubbermaid containers
  • Other large plastic or plywood containers

Glass aquariums are not the best choice for turtles, both because of the stress they cause the creatures, and because of the sheer size of the habitat must be.

Habitat Requirements For Box Turtles

These are all the factors to consider when creating a habitat for a common box turtle:

  • Daytime and nighttime temperatures, absolutely no lower than 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C), and no higher than 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
  • Basking areas must be the hottest spots in the enclosure with the most direct and unfiltered light.
  • Humidity must be controlled, and the air must not get too dry.
  • Include both sunny and shady areas.
  • Substrate must allow for burrowing.
  • Water must be wide enough for a swim or soak but shallow enough so the turtle doesn’t drown.
  • Lighting must be natural and unfiltered (or 5% UVA/UVB lighting if indoors)
  • Low places to climb.
  • Places to hide and have privacy.

Let’s get into more detail on each of these elements. 

We’ll discuss their importance and how to achieve each of these in your enclosure setup.


Every reptile is cold-blooded. 

If they get too hot, they must find shade or water to cool themselves down. 

If they get too cold, they must find an external heat source to warm themselves up before they develop an illness or are forced into dangerous hibernation.

Your turtle’s enclosure should provide access to a range of temperatures, with one side of the habitat being warmer than the other. 

For eastern box turtles, the cool side should be between 70-80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C). 

The warm side should be between 80-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).

This means you must have enough distance in your enclosure for temperatures to change.

Turtles also require a basking area, which should be the hottest part of the enclosure (between 85 and 90).

If there is ever a drop in temperature below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C), you must bring your outdoor turtle indoors or provide your indoor turtle with indirect heat sources other than a heat lamp (you must keep the lights off at night). 

Use a heating pad or heating tape, but nothing capable of burning your turtle’s skin, like a heating rock.

Products like this under-tank heating pad on Amazon are a great choice.


Appropriate humidity levels depend on the species of turtle. 

Eastern box turtles require 60% to 80% humidity.

Maintaining humidity is easier to do indoors but also more consistently needed than it is for outdoor enclosures. 

Certain types of substrates retain moisture and help control humidity levels inside the tank. 

Daily misting will keep the cage bedding damp.

If the air is too dry, they may crack a turtle’s shell (also known as a carapace). 

Their skin may also dry out, or they could experience eye problems. 

They could also develop respiratory diseases. 

If you notice these symptoms in your turtle, they are obvious signs of a humidity problem.

Lighting And Shading

Natural and unfiltered sunlight is by far the best for turtles. 

For indoor turtles, 5% UVA/UVB lighting is required. 

UVB lamps will also provide daytime heating for your enclosure, but at night, the light must be turned off. 

Turtles require distinct days and nights, whether they live indoors or outdoors. 

Box turtles typically don’t enjoy direct light unless they’re basking. 

Be sure there are plenty of dark areas of the enclosure, hiding places, or under shade from plants. 

Outside, you could make use of naturally growing vegetation like tall greens or berry bushes.


A shallow water supply should always be available for swimming and soaking. 

The bowl should be wide enough to fit the turtle’s entire body but no deeper than your turtle’s shell. 

It’s possible for turtles to drown if the water is too deep.

Turtles will often defecate in their water dish. 

You’ll need to change out to clean water often.

For a larger body of water, filtration systems are important in a turtle’s enclosure. 

It’s much more practical than completely replacing the water when it gets dirty. 

Plus, it prevents the water from stagnating, keeping it cleaner.

Check out this canister filter on Amazon, a great option for your turtle’s tank.


Substrate, or bedding, should mimic the turtle’s natural habitat. It benefits your pet in many ways.

Texture helps gain traction and eases movement around the enclosure. 

The right substrate won’t scratch or irritate a turtle’s skin.

Humidity is much easier to control with the appropriate substrate in the enclosure. 

The best substrate will absorb and retain moisture, slowly releasing it throughout the day and keeping the air humid.

Burrowing and nesting are instinctual behaviors of box turtles. 

The ability to burrow is essential to pet box turtles’ wellbeing. 

Female turtles will also build nests several inches below ground level. 

If you want your adult turtles to breed babies, this is another consideration.

Waste management and cleanliness are better controlled with the right substrate. 

Products like this Zoo Med Eco-Earth Coconut Fiber naturally break down waste in the turtle’s enclosure. 

Spot cleaning is still necessary, but natural-soil substrate will do a lot of the dirty work for you.

Most keepers like to combine several types of substrate to create a more natural forest-floor feel. 

Organic, fertilizer-free soils, leaves, and sphagnum moss are all good options. 

A layer of at least 4″ inches (10 cm) for babies and 6″ inches (15 cm) for an adult is best.

Box Turtle Habitat Design And Enrichment

In addition to the basics above, the best habitats have a unique flair and realistic design with items like greens, brush, rocks, limbs, and logs.

Make sure any wood is non-toxic by purchasing it from pet stores in person or online.

A hiding place is an absolute necessity. 

Experts agree; a healthy turtle needs privacy.

Final Thoughts

Pet turtles require specific environmental conditions which mimic their natural habitat in the wild. 

By practicing proper husbandry, your turtle will live happy and healthy.

Caring for box turtles is involved. But if you’re able to spare the time and space, it’s well worth the effort. 

You could very well have a friend for life!