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Box Turtles Care

By: Dr. David Nieves

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Box turtle care includes having an enclosure that measures at least 36 inches by 12 inches by 15 inches if built or bought. Thirty-gallon aquarium tanks or larger are adequate as long as husbandry is properly maintained.

Another alternative is concrete mixing containers that are made out of plastic and sold in hardware stores. It is essential that there be a substrate within the shelter for the turtle to dig and burrow, namely potting soil without vermiculite or perlite, peat moss, orchid or fir bark, or alfalfa hay/pellets, or a combination of the above. These substrates should be changed weekly to avoid bacterial contamination and buildup.

Newspaper or brown paper is also acceptable due to ease of cleaning and economy, but a burrowing area still needs to be provided. Artificial turf or Astroturf is another viable option, but it needs to be changed daily with a new piece since it takes 48 hours to completely dry after cleaning. Unacceptable substrates include kitty litter, sand, ground corncobs, walnut shell, wood chips (especially cedar, since it may be toxic), aquarium gravel, or pea gravel – basically anything that may be ingested and cause an gastrointestinal obstruction.

A hiding area should also be provided; this can be as simple as a cardboard box with a doorway cut into it, pieces of hollowed-out wood, or as fancy as rounded cork bark available from reptile dealers.


Heat is an essential component for keeping the turtle happy, healthy and eating. In general, the daytime temperature should range between 85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking area being five degrees warmer. The nighttime temperatures can range between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

All environmental temperatures should be monitored with the aid of one to two thermometers properly placed in the various zones. Methods of heating the enclosures include heat strips or heating pads under the habitat, subtank heating units, and an overhead incandescent light or spotlight over the basking area or hot zone.


Light cycles should follow the normal photoperiod found in the wild. Therefore, in the summer, the light should be on for 14 hours with 10 hours of darkness. In the winter, the light should be on for about 10 hours, and it should be dark for 14 hours. A timer will help to maintain the proper cycles.

Full spectrum lighting is also of paramount importance to maintain a healthy box turtle. Natural, unfiltered sunlight is the best but for those who live in areas of infrequent sunlight, an artificial source of ultraviolet light (UV-B) is essential for both behavioral and psychological benefits as well as the activation of vitamin D-3. Vitamin D-3 is needed for the absorption of calcium from the gastrointestinal tract and is vital to sustaining life.

Some commercially available fluorescent bulbs, which provide the UV-B spectrum, are Dura-Test's Vita-Lite, Vita-Lite Plus, ZooMed's Iguana light, and Active UVHeat. These bulbs should be within 12 inches of the turtle and no glass or Plexiglas should separate them. It is also important to replace the bulbs every 6-12 months even though the bulbs are still producing light because the UV-B production diminishes with time, and this phenomenon is not observable with the naked eye.

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