Box turtles are, simply put – fascinating creatures. Found in many different habitats worldwide, they can make for ideal pets that will continue to surprise you for many years.
And while people might be drawn to these tiny reptiles for many different reasons, one of the key selling points is their long life expectancy.
But just how long can you expect your box turtle to live? And what can you do to help ensure its survival?
This article will explore everything you need about a box turtle’s lifespan. We’ll highlight factors influencing their quality of life and share our expert tips on improving their health, ensuring they enjoy a long and happy life with you.
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What kind of box turtle do you have?
Box turtles are a common name for a variety of different turtle species. And while they often follow the same care guidelines, there are four subspecies to be aware of, each of which has slightly different life expectancies.
- Eastern box turtles are the most popular, ranging from 4.5 to 6 inches. They have a high, dome-shaped carapace and often have yellow or orange spots on their shells.
- Gulf coast box turtles are the largest type of box turtle, growing upwards of 8 inches. They are much darker in color, usually dark brown or black, and can have yellow stripes or spotted markings.
- Ornate box turtles are, as their name suggests, the smallest variety of box turtles, measuring a maximum of 4.5 inches. They have a flat carapace with no ridges.
- Three-toed box turtles grow between 4.5 to 8 inches and have signature three-toes on each hind limb. They usually have a brown or olive-colored shell.
Lifespan: How long does a box turtle live?
This largely depends on whether the box turtle lives in the wild or is kept in captivity.
Wild box turtles
Box turtles often live incredibly long in the wild, reaching 40 to 50. Some special turtles have also been known to grow as old as 100 years.
Scientists believe they can reach these ages because of their slow metabolism, hibernation, and unique shell designs. Box turtles have a bilobed plastron (underbelly), which allows them to completely close off their shells, like a box, protecting them from many predators.
Pet box turtles
Pet box turtles, unfortunately, have a shorter lifespan than their wild counterparts for several reasons we’ll explain further on.
Eastern box turtles live between 40-50 years, though sometimes longer with great care. Three-toed and gulf coast box turtles have a slightly shorter 30-40 years span. Given their smaller size, ornate box turtles potentially have the longest lifespan, measuring between 40-60 years with proper care and attention.
Ways to improve your box turtle’s health and well-being
Although incredibly popular as pets, box turtles require care to survive, thrive, and reach the latter parts of their life expectancy.
They are often best suited for pet owners familiar with reptiles and have invested properly in heating devices, suitable enclosures, and substrates. Especially if your turtle lives indoors, you must create the ideal conditions to stimulate it and regulate its energy.
Below are some key areas you need to familiarize yourself with to raise healthy, long-lasting turtles.
1. Nutritious diet
Diet is one of the essential factors in helping keep your turtle happy and healthy and extending its life considerably. While advice varies on the size, age, and type of turtle, you should aim to feed your box turtle daily.
So what exactly should your turtle be eating?
Box turtles are omnivores, meaning they will eat both portions of meat and vegetation. Providing both types of food ensures the turtle receives a rich, varied selection of minerals and nutrients.
For meat, you can consider mealworms, crickets, or earthworms. Some species may eat tiny snails and slugs too. Species like the ornate box turtle enjoy hunting, so placing live insects in their enclosure is a great way to stimulate their mind and keep them agile.
You should concentrate on dark, leafy greens for vegetation, which provide the most nutrition. Vegetables like broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and cabbage work well and are easy to chew and digest. Mushrooms also work pretty well, too.
While some owners like to give turtles fruit, these often contain lower nutrients and minerals. And because box turtles often have a sweet tooth, they may fill up on fruits like strawberries and blackberries rather than vegetables and become nutrient deficient.
Dehydration is often fatal for box turtles and can come about quickly. Early signs of this condition include sunken or closed eyes, poor body weight, decreased skin elastically, and excessive burrowing.
To eliminate this health risk, ensure your turtle has access to fresh water. You can also spray the food with water before feeding, increasing their water intake.
Other measures include misting the habitat to increase the humidity levels and swapping your cage substrate for coconut husks, sand, peat moss, or mulch. You should also strongly consider soaking your box turtle in a couple of inches of water for a short period during the week.
Box turtles can often be the victim of parasites and create severe skin conditions, wounds, and significant damage to their outer shells. Signs may include abscesses and swelling, changes in the turtle’s shell appearance, and unusual stools.
Parasites can also enter your turtle if it was recently burned or bitten. Especially if you have more than one box turtle, males will often bite and wound females on the neck and shells during mating.
The wound created creates the perfect entry route for flies and other harmful insects to lay eggs, causing nearby skin irritation and infection.
Gastrointestinal parasites include roundworms and may result in significant weight loss and diarrhea in your pet. Outdoor turtles can also be vulnerable to ticks, which can be discovered through a physical examination.
Treat parasites through one or a combination of cleaning and medication. But it’s recommended you visit your veterinarian for a formal diagnosis.
As cold-blooded pets, striking the perfect balance between heat and light is essential for your turtle’s survival. Too cold, and your turtle can become “cold-stunned” and immobile. Too hot, and they may become dehydrated, suffer heat stroke, or burn themselves.
Aim for a temperature range of 70-90°F (21-32°C). To reach this range, you can use a reptile heat lamp with an indoor enclosure.
Finally, box turtles need to bask in sunlight to recharge their bodies, produce essential minerals and vitamins, and help regulate their metabolism.
If you’re keeping your turtle outside, give them plenty of choice by providing open and shaded areas. This allows them an opportunity to charge up or protect themselves.
Certain healthy behaviors and characteristics are also dependent on light. For example, female box turtles will only nest and lay their eggs in sunny areas of their habitat.
You should use a 5% UVA/UVB light bulb for indoor turtles. Any less and your turtle may develop a brittle shell, beak, or bones. This should be kept at least 18 inches from the turtle and changed regularly.
Should you hibernate or not?
Hibernation is usually a way the turtle can survive the colder winter months. Many turtle owners don’t realize they have a choice on whether their turtle hibernates, especially if they are exclusively indoors.
Two factors you should consider are:
- When to hibernate: If your turtle shows signs they want to hibernate, such as refusing to eat, you may allow them to burrow. Otherwise, they might lose too much weight.
- When to stop hibernation: On the other hand, if your turtle is sick or recovering from an illness, allowing them to trigger hibernation may be unwise. At any rate, consult with your vet on the best course of action to take.
It’s little wonder that box turtles are a popular pet worldwide. Small, innocent, and carefree, they often are a lifelong friend for any family that adopts them.
But like any pet, their life expectancy can change depending on how well they are cared for. Box turtles can live between 30 to 40 years when treated appropriately.
As our article has shown, by providing enough high-quality food, improving their habitat, and checking them over for parasites, you can be confident your box turtle will be with you for a long time.
Comment below if you still have questions about box turtles or want to share your experiences with these fascinating creatures.
- The four most common species of pet box turtles are eastern, gulf coast, three-toed, and ornate box turtles. Box turtles
- Dehydration and poor diet are the most common causes of premature death.
- Despite their hardiness, regular check-ups with your vet are still recommended.