Box turtles are basically land-dwelling reptiles, but sometimes cool themselves in woodland pools and puddles. They live in damp forests, fields and floodplains. Although most kinds of turtles can withdraw into their shells, a box turtle can close up more completely than other species because its plastron, or lower shell, is hinged, the front and rear sections can bend upward so that the edges of the two shells meet.
Distribution & Habitat
Exclusively North American, box turtles are found in the eastern United States, ranging from southern Maine to Florida along the East Coast, and west to Michigan, Illinois, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Due to its popularity as a household pet, the Terrapene carolina is sometimes found far outside its normal geographic range.
The Eastern Box Turtle has adapted to deciduous forests (also called temperate forest; in a temperate forest, most of the trees lose their leaves in the winter) where it feeds extensively on mushrooms (including the poisonous death cap, Amanita phalloides), to which it is immune.
Terrapene carolinas are dangerous to eat due to the possibility of being poisoned, presumably due to the turtle having eaten poisonous mushrooms that don’t hurt it, but that retain their ability to poison humans.
They sometimes cause damage to tomato, lettuce, cucumber, cantaloupe, and strawberry crops. They sometimes destroy the eggs of ground-nesting birds. They may carry the western equine encephalitis virus in their blood.
They are renowned for their longevity. Although some individuals have reportedly lived for more than a hundred years, estimates of a turtle’s age are not always reliable. Dates scratched into the shell indicated little more than the personality of the person doing the carving. Counting the growth rings that develop on the plates overlaying the shell can also be misleading. The rings do not develop equally each year, and after 10 or 15 years they may largely disappear.
Box Turtle Species
- Terrapene carolina (Common Box Turtle, Eastern Box Turtle)
- Terrapene coahuila (Coahuila Box Turtle, Aquatic Box Turtle, Coahuila Turtle, Water Box Turtle)
- Terrapene nelsoni (Nelson’s Mexican Spotted Box Turtle, Spotted Box Turtle)
- Terrapene ornata (Ornate Box Turtle, Western Box Turtle)