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