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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Fish & Wildlife > Nongame & Endangered Wildlife > Eastern Box Turtle Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtle

The usage of the phrase “box turtle” refers to the Terrapene carolina species and all its subspecies.

1. What is an eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina)?

Description

The eastern box turtle is considered a “land” or terrestrial turtle. It has a large domed shell that varies in color from orange to yellow with an olive to brown background. The top of the shell exhibits a repeated brightly colored palmate or “blotchy” pattern on a drab background. The body of the box turtle can be withdrawn completely into its shell. Male box turtles commonly have red eyes and a concave area on the bottom of their shell. Females typically have brown eyes and a higher domed shell without a concavity.

Behavior

Eastern box turtles are typically active from April to October. Box turtles can be seen during the day and retreat to resting areas by night. In the spring and fall, box turtles are active throughout the day. They will bask in the morning and forage throughout the afternoon. However, during the heat of summer, eastern box turtles usually move about only during the morning and after heavy rainfalls. Throughout the year, box turtles commonly use wooded habitats for shelter. During winter, box turtles will hibernate under stumps, logs and shrubby areas. Wet areas are also utilized in the warmer months of summer. Box turtles will use pools of standing water or mud to cool themselves when temperatures get too high.

Reproduction

Unlike other animal species, visual cues are critical for finding potential mates. In other words, a male must physically see and recognize a potential mate before it will approach her. Therefore, high adult population density is critical for successful reproduction. Female box turtles may retain viable sperm for years, but the proportion of infertile eggs increases as access to males declines. Even if a female does lay eggs, the eggs and hatchlings rarely survive. Box turtles do not reach sexual maturity until they are eight to ten years old.

2. Why is there a need to regulate box turtle possession in Indiana?

Nationwide research reveals that eastern box turtle populations are in trouble. Current research also indicates that previously unnoticed declines in box turtle populations have become apparent. What were often regarded as ‘good numbers’ in box turtle density, have been determined to be insufficient for healthy population growth and survival. Indiana, like many other states, is taking proactive measures to protect and preserve these vulnerable animals before they become threatened or even endangered. Although Indiana does have a few healthy populations, these populations are widely scattered. New developments, environmental changes, chemical pollution, captive breeding and possession all negatively impact the long-term survival of box turtles in Indiana.

Disease

Displaced box turtles, either escaped or released, have a hard time surviving. Those that might survive pose a threat to our native populations. Diseases occurring in captivity may spread rapidly in wild populations. When foreign turtles interbreed with wild turtles, genes are introduced that are less suitable for our local conditions and weaken the overall box turtle population.

Longevity

The long life expectancy of turtles, in general, makes owning one as a pet a long-term responsibility. The keeper is obligated to care for it long after childhood interest wanes. Unfortunately, most individuals do not consider the long-term care required for owning a turtle and promotes individuals to turn them loose when they are no longer wanted.

Collection as a Pet or for Profit

Continued collection of wild box turtles greatly reduces another box turtle’s chance of reproduction and removes one more viable turtle from the breeding population. To ensure long-term survival, eastern box turtle populations in Indiana cannot sustain additional losses.

3. May I collect a box turtle from the wild?

No, new regulations that became law in the fall of 2004 do not allow the collection of box turtles from the wild in Indiana. If you wish to collect one in another state, you must follow all rules and regulations of that state.

4. Can I possess a box turtle as a pet?

Only if you acquired it legally, such as from another state.

5. What should I do if I already have a box turtle or box turtle remains (such as a shell)?

If you have a box turtle and no longer want it, please contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife or e-mail Linnea Petercheff.

Do not release the turtle into the wild. Its chances of survival are unlikely and it could transmit a disease to a wild box turtle population.

6. Can I possess a box turtle egg, carapace (shell) or other parts of a turtle?

The eggs of all native reptiles (including box turtles) are protected by law and cannot be taken from the wild in Indiana. The shell or any other part of a box turtle is included in the protection of box turtles in Indiana.

7. What should I do if I find an injured or sick box turtle?

Sick or slightly injured box turtles should be left in the wild. Box turtles are surprisingly resilient to damage and disease. If left alone, they will, more than likely, heal on their own. If a box turtle appears severely injured, it can be given to a licensed rehabilitator or licensed veterinarian. You cannot possess an injured turtle for more than 24 hours to transport it to a licensed rehabilitator.

You can obtain the name(s) of licensed rehabilitators in your area by contacting one of the following:

Call a wild animal rehabilitator permitted by the DNR, the list is available at http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/5492.htm.

Call DNR law enforcement at 812-837-9536.

Call the DNR, Division of Fish and Wildlife, in Indianapolis at 317-232-4080.

Call a licensed veterinarian for immediate medical assistance.

8. What do I do if I find a nesting turtle, nest or eggs?

Leave them alone. If a nesting turtle is encountered, do not approach them. Box turtles can easily be scared away from nesting sites. Box turtles may start digging several nest sites before deciding on a suitable location. A mesh fence may be placed around a nest to protect the eggs from predators. This enclosure should be checked daily to ensure that newly emerging turtles are not caught. Do not try to excavate a turtle nest on your own. Disturbing the position of turtle eggs may kill the turtle embryo. If you see a nest that is about to be destroyed because of new development, you may contact a local rehabilitator for assistance. A licensed rehabilitator can raise the young and release them back into the wild. Do not try to save the eggs or nest yourself. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to save every nest.

9. What can I do to help box turtles in the wild?

Leave leaf litter and fallen woody debris on the forest floor.

Protect and/or promote the protection of turtle habitat.

Obey speed limits to allow appropriate stopping time if a turtle is on the road.

If you see a box turtle trying to cross a busy road, you can pick it up and move it to the other side of the road in the direction it was facing. The turtle cannot be kept or moved to any other location.

Do not burn large areas during peak activity times for turtles.

Thoroughly check yards before mowing or burning brush piles.

Report any collection or sale of box turtles to the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 317-232-4080 or the Division of Law Enforcement at 812-837-9536. This can be done anonymously.