Home | Reptile and Amphibian Health | Feeding Box Turtles and Wood Turtles: The Importance of Commercial Diets (and how to trick your pet into accepting them!) – Part 2

Feeding Box Turtles and Wood Turtles: The Importance of Commercial Diets (and how to trick your pet into accepting them!) – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for information on our prepared box turtle diets.

Natural Food Animals
Live mealworms, waxworms or earthworms mixed into canned or pelleted food should encourage your turtle to take a bite. Earthworms are a box turtle favorite and a highly nutritious food in their own right…they can comprise 25% or so of the diet. An occasional pre-killed pink mouse is usually a great hit with box turtles, but is not a necessity.

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. Box turtles avidly consume snails and slugs in the wild…canned snails are nearly always well-accepted by pets. Canned silkworms, grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms should also be offered.

Fruits and Vegetables
Commercial diets should also be supplemented with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including apples, pears, berries of all kinds (berries are a favorite, but should form only a part of your pet’s salad), cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms and others. Sweet potatoes are usually a favorite. Avoid bananas, as turtles often eat these to the exclusion of all else, and they are not a natural food item.

Vitamins, Minerals and UVB Light
A vitamin/mineral supplement should be provided once weekly for adults, three times weekly for youngsters.

Box turtles should always be provided with a source of UVB radiation (via a fluorescent or mercury vapor bulb ) so that they can properly utilize the calcium that is contained in their diets. Please see my article on Reptisun UVB lamps  for further information.

Wood Turtles

Wood turtles can be fed as described above; although some individuals can be picky feeders, they tend to accept a wider range of foods than do most box turtles.

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

You can read about ongoing field research projects involving box and wood turtles in the Northeastern USA at http://www.turtleconservationproject.org/projects.html.



  1. avatar

    this was so cool thank you i have one and it helped alot !!

    • avatar

      Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks so much for your kind words. Please be in touch if you have any questions or observations to pass along.

      Good luck and enjoy your turtle.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    My recently acquired box turtle refuses to eat anything. What can I do?

    • avatar

      Hello Elizabeth, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      Box turtles sometimes go off feed as autumn approaches, even if kept warm. Try providing a warm basking spot (85 F or so) and see if this improves its appetite. Be sure also that you are providing a source of UVB light.

      Box turtles are also quite aware of their surroundings. In the wild, they inhabit very specific territories which they know intimately. Any change in habitat is stressful, even for long term captives. The turtle will be more likely to settle in if it has plenty of room – they really are quite active. Please provide some details as to the size of your turtle and its home when you have a chance.

      Your turtle should also have a secure hiding spot….despite having a protective shell, nearly all turtles need shelters in order to feel secure. The extra large Habba Hut will accomodate an adult box turtle.

      Strawberries, blueberries and live earthworms are box turtle favorites; if it does not accept these, one of the aforementioned factors are likely at play.

      Please also write back concerning the turtle’s activity and appearance…there is always a chance that it is ill.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Nice info, I have a question. Had a new addition to the turtle family, born 9/10/09 baby (Eastern Box) started eating well at three weeks old and would attack any small insects it saw but now for the last 7/8 days does not seem interested at all. is this normal? Thanks

    • avatar

      Hello Chuck, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words.

      Assuming that a change in your house’s ambient air temperature has not affected the temperature within the terrarium, you may be seeing a normal (circadian rhythm), internally controlled behavior. Box turtles born in the fall sometimes over-winter in the nest, and do not emerge until spring. They are, therefore programmed to forgo food right after hatching…the warm temperatures in your home might have sparked it to feed for awhile, but then the internal cycle took over. This is most often seen n turtles originating in the northern parts of the range.

      Also, some temperate zone turtles always cease feeding in winter, even if kept warm. This is usually seen in wild caught animals, but it can occur on occasion in those born in captivity.

      Turtles that cease feeding due to internal “clocks” will remain active, although less so, and continue to drink and bask. They usually lose little weight, do not “appear” sick, and begin feeding on their own in the spring. However, since this is the turtle’s first winter, it is difficult to rule out illness. If it looks well and moves about and drinks, then all ids likely fine, but a visit to a veterinarian and fecal exams are your safest route.

      You can read a bit more about this in my article Autumn’s Effect on Reptile Appetites.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Hello, it’s me again, the one with the northern water snakes. This time I have a box turtle concern, and this blog seemed the most appropriate to post on. My first concern is when I was shifting through his substrate, which is a coconut fiber mixed with a bit of soil, for any buried food, I noticed there are tons of tiny, white bugs, that are round and smaller then a pin head, all over his tank, climbing on the glass, and crawling on him. I also noticed some other small white bugs, that are long and thin instead, hopping around in the water. My second concern was when I was looking at his shell, which is normally smooth, there’s a small rough area that looks like a very thin piece of shell chipped off. I was wondering what any of this was and if it’s a cause for concern and a vet visit. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

    • avatar

      Hello Jen, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you again; this or any similar post is article is fine, thanks for searching. Please also feel free to email me if you are searching for articles on any particular topic; search engine is not always 100%.

      You are most likely seeing mites that arrive with the substrate – they usually turn up sooner or later in just about every terrarium and are harmless scavengers. Those on the turtle are eating any sort of organic material they might find there. They can conceivably cause problems to animals with wounds, or if populations are high enough to cause discomfort, but otherwise are not dangerous. Drying out the substrate or baiting them into a container works, but American box turtles do best in humid surroundings. Please see this article for a bit more info.

      The hopping bugs are probably springtails – wingless, primitive insects that are also harmless.

      Scutes are sometimes shed, but these are thin and plastic in appearance. Small chips often fill in without incident – you can dab betadine or an over the counter pharmacy triple antibiotic on the area to prevent infection. Infections that take hold in shells are serious, as they can travel unseen below the scutes.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Thanks so much for your advice. I was also told earlier by a friend of mine to let the substrate dry out, but his skin always seems to get real dry and pale whenever the bedding has gotten dry before when he is shedding. I was wondering if any kind of mite strips that I can find at a local pet store, or a complete cleaning of the tank
    with hot water might also work.

    • avatar

      Hello Jen, Frank Indiviglio here.

      My pleasure; good observation concerning the skin. Actually, its common for people to keep box turtles under conditions that are far too dry. I’m not sure that is due to their “tortoise-like” appearance, or an inn ate hardiness that allows some to survive; however, a range of common ear and eye ailments have been linked to arid conditions, and field studies have shown that nearly all populations favor very moist surroundings (I’ll be posting a related article soon). A large water bowl and daily spraying, along with a moisture retaining substrate, is ideal.

      Mite strips have not been well-tested with turtles, and in any event are not formulated for the species you likely have encountered (designed to kill snake mites). Cleaning will get rid of them (rinse the turtle also); they may re-colonize in time, but they are not nearly so hard to eliminate as are snake mites.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar

    Hello, me again. With another turtle problem unfortunately. After cleaning out the tank to get rid of the mites a few days ago, which I was able to do without the use of soaps or mite sprays, he seemed real lethargic upon placing him back in the tank and didn’t do much besides sit in the pool all day, even slept in there. It lasted about 2 days. Then today he was finally active but I noticed he was acting pretty odd, he’s been “wagging” his tail side to side and using its back legs to rub it’s rear and will go over and put his lower half in the water. When looking at it to see what was going on, I noticed the area above it’s tail was pink and puffy, kind of like a rash. I can’t find anything about it on the internet, and my friends that keep turtles have never seen it. What do you think this is? Normally I would have taken him straight to the vet, but the only one around here that does reptiles wants alot of money just for an exam.

    • avatar

      Hello Jen, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Sorry for your troubles; unfortunately, it’s not possible to diagnose or treat at home based on your turtle’s symptoms. A bacterial skin and or internal infection may be involved, but there are other possibilities as well (females with retained eggs may act as you describe, but I believe you have a male…).

      Sadly, high fees are typical just about everywhere; here in NYC costs for retile care often exceed that for dogs and cats.

      I would address this soon, as infections often spread rapidly and are usually fatal if untreated.

      Please let me know if you need any further information, and please let me k now how all goes.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    hello, it’s been awhile since I’ve last commented, I’m here today, because I have decided to put some plants in my box turtles cage to give it a more “natural” feel for him. I wanted some advice as to which plants to plant and which to avoid. As well as if it would be ok to use a bit of dirt underneath his regular substrate to keep the plants rooted. I was also wondering, concerning cabbage and carrots, would you say it is ok to feed them to box turtles? I’ve read numerous sites, some say yes, others say no, so im very confused on this matter.

    • avatar

      Hello Jen,

      Nice to hear from you again; I hope all is well. Nice idea, but unfortunately box turtles usually try to burrow beneath plants, for shelter, or else trample them. Snake Plants (“Mother-in-law’s Tongue”) are usually sturdy enough to stand up to them, and are non-toxic, but they have shallow roots. If your cage allows, you might attach some pots to the upper edge (aquarium air pump shelves can be used, or small pots equipped with hooks) and use some plants with hanging foliage. Some folks put pots into large enclosures, again so that foliage hangs down but the plant itself remains protected.

      Toxicity is a tough one…not much has been done with box turtles; This list, which was prepared for use with tortoises, should be helpful. Incidentally, eastern Box Turtles seem immune to at least some toxic mushrooms, but may store the toxins…there’s evidence that, in times past, Native American people have died from these toxins after consuming box turtles.

      Large plastic plants secured at the top of the enclosure and hanging down to floor level make naturalistic retreats…turtles often prefer them to caves. Please see this article for some other ideas (link to plants is in Part II, under Aquatic Bottom Dwellers).

      Spinach and some cabbages may block vitamin absorption, but I’ve had no problems with bok choy for tortoises…most box turtles will not take it, however. Carrots are fine in small amounts (yams as well)..I cook them to soften and mix in with fruits and other favorites; frozen vegetable mixes often have a nice variety of types that may be taken.

      Some of my box turtles really like Reptomin, if it is sprinkled on moist food; good source of nutrients.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  8. avatar

    Hi Frank.
    I’ve been asking questions about the musk turtle and I did mention my boxy.
    He is the one with the pink tint on his bottom. I realized you have this site for the ground turtles.
    I have had this turtle since he was hatch ling size. I have always kept him outside in the summer and bring him in for the winter. (I knew diddly squat in the earlier years.) He never wants to eat during the winter even with the rep light on. I get worried about him, especially last year because it was such a long horrible winter.
    As spring came and the light was on, he would seem to enjoy it, but as warm as the room was, he would not eat. I thought maybe it would be better to not offer him any light and just let him hide under the leaves? He would bask in the water bowl at different times also. When he was very little I did not offer him a light and he just hibernated/brumated? Only offered him room temps or a chilly room. He has always done well it seems. I have never had to take him to the vet except recently for the pinkish color on bottom. That turned out ok. He is around 15. It concerns me that he seems to exert so much energy to be out and about for the light and wont eat over the long haul. what should I do?
    Also. I have a couple of other box turtles that stay out all year. We have a long wooden rectangle box that has an entrance way in the middle, and the top has roofing and has hinges so I can open it up to get to the turtles. For years I have always put leaves in it for them to burrow year round. Until this year, the leaves were left dry. Then I decided to wet them this summer every day as the hot weather would dry them out. There is dirt underneath. The turtles have all done fine over the years, no health issues. But I was wondering. Is it better for the leaves to be dry over the winter, or should I slightly moisten them before the turtles go into hibernation? I guess it dawned on me that in the wild, the turtles have all kinds of weather falling on the place they burrow. I Feel that what I’ve been doing might be ok, but if there is a better thing to do for them I want to do that. I always get so excited to see them again in the Spring.
    (Sorry so long) Many thanks, Shirley

    • avatar

      Hi Shirly,
      great questions and ideas, thanks.

      Keeping active over winter and hibernation both have risks. I’ve done well indoors as you mention, also by keeping in a cool room – 64 F or so by day, 58-60 at nite, but with a basking light on by day (50-60 wt); many temperate reptiles will bask, move but not feed…seems controlled by circadian rhythms…some Cap Born will adjust and feed, however. We’ve weighed gharials (fish-eating crocs) at the Bx Zoo that go off feed for 3-4 months, ywt swim, bask etc and are kept very warm..almost no weight loss..seems same for others; they have unique abilities to regulate metabolism..check out this article:http://bit.ly/1tG2hQv

      I’ve also left outdoors as you describe, several species…mine were in leaf-filled pits open to weather, but I wouldn’t change anything as you’ve done well.

      Some theorize that since metabolism is slow but not “down” at 60F, certain pathogens may become a problem ….but we see losses outdoors also, even in wild; leaving a basking light on seems to be an “insurance” policy..we do this for some snakes at zoo as well…no real research either way, but you have some fine longevities there and I wouldn’t change much (I have a 45 year old musk turtle living mainly on trout chow…no longer considered best diet, but I’m not changing a thing at this point!). Best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Thank you Frank. Shirley

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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