Home | Reptile and Amphibian Health | Feeding Box Turtles (Terrepene spp.) and Wood Turtles (Clemmys insculpta): The Importance of Commercial Diets (and how to trick your pet into accepting them!)

Feeding Box Turtles (Terrepene spp.) and Wood Turtles (Clemmys insculpta): The Importance of Commercial Diets (and how to trick your pet into accepting them!)


Wood TurtleBox and wood turtles are well-known for both their suitability as pets and the unusual degree of intelligence that they display.  Unfortunately, they often put their brain power to use in thwarting their owners’ efforts to provide them with a balanced diet.  More so than most other species, box turtles (and, to a lesser degree, wood turtles) very often become fixated upon certain foods, and can be very stubborn about switching.  As a result, they sometimes end up living on inappropriate diets composed of 1 or 2 favored items, such as strawberries and cooked chicken.

Prepared Box Turtle Diets

Prepared foods formulated specifically for box turtles, supplemented with a variety of natural foods, provide the best means of assuring that captive box turtles are consuming a balanced, nutritious diet.  Zoo Med’s Canned  or Pelleted Box Turtle Food, or Bug Company’s Box Turtle Pellets should form the bulk of your pet’s diet. Taste is a big factor with box turtles, and each of these foods has a different fruit-base and taste, so be sure to experiment a bit.

Tricking Your Turtle

Keeping turtles a bit hungry is useful when attempting substitutions, but most captives carry plenty of reserve fat and so can usually wait out their owners.  There are a few tricks that can be used to increase the palatability of prepared box turtle diets.

Especially effective is spreading blueberry or strawberry jelly over the prepared diet.  The fruits themselves can also be used, but turtles tend to be very good at picking out only what they want and leaving the rest…covering the food with jelly forces the turtle to consume everything.

Canned Snails and Insects

Canned insects and invertebrates offer an excellent means of increasing dietary variety while adding to the attractiveness of commercial turtle foods.  We’ll take a look at using canned and live invertebrates, as well as the importance of fruits and vegetables, in Part II of this article.

Further Reading

Please see my article Providing a Balanced Diet to Reptile and Amphibian Pets  for further information on reptile and amphibian nutrition.




  1. avatar

    Hello Again Frank,

    I’m considering adopting a Three Toed Box Turtle from a local shelter, is there any specific way to age these turtles? I’m told or read rather you can count the plates to get a general idea?

    I have a 4x3x2 setup that a friend had built planned for a rabbit but they changed there mind so I acquired it would this be a good setup?. As always, excellent articles.



    btw, I did acquire that blue tongue skink. She’s kind of hissy.. but I guess or hope she’ll get better with time!. 🙂

    • avatar

      Hello Dave, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you again.

      You can judge a wild turtle’s age fairly accurately, up to a point, by counting the growth rings on the shell’s scutes (scales, plates). The growth rings appear as irregular but generally circular rings within each scute. Each line roughly represents one year of growth in a wild turtle from a temperate region (tropical species sometimes lay down more). However, long-term captives, which are usually overfed and not given a hibernation period, will lay down many rings each year, distorting the count…I once counted 38 growth rings on a 6 year old captive spur-thighed tortoise (which weighed 65 ponds by that tender age)!.

      After age 20 or so, the earlier growth rings begin to fade…especially on the plastron (lower shell) but on the carapace (upper shell) as well. Eastern box turtles have reliably been documented as living in excess of 100 years (via tracing the owners of several well-identified specimens on Long Island, NY), so you may have your 3 toed for some time!

      The enclosure you describe would be ideal, assuming it does not have a screen bottom as is often the case with rabbit hutches…if so, just cover it with Cypress Bark or another sturdy substrate. If the cage has no floor and you are keeping it outdoors, turn up the soil – the turtle will forage for worms and sowbugs; you can also throw in handfuls of dead leaves to encourage foraging. Be sure to guard against raccoon predation – they can kill even an adult box turtle.

      Male box turtles become very restless when ready to breed – if the cage’s sides are screened, you may need to attach smooth plastic or something similar around the bottom, or the turtle will continually climb and fall.

      Please also check out our Box Turtle Care Book, and be sure to write back if you need anything further.

      Good luck with the skink also,

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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