Three of the 4 species in the genus Terrapene – the Eastern, Three-Toed and Ornate Box Turtles – as well as several of the 10 subspecies, have long been popular in the pet trade. However, they should not be classified as “beginner’s turtles”…in fact, their dietary and other requirements are quite strict, and most captives die long before their time. Today I’ll discuss feeding, and will focus on other aspects of their care in future articles.
Note: Box Turtle populations everywhere have declined drastically due to habitat loss and over-collection, and they are now legally protected in most states. Please be sure to determine that box turtles offered for sale have been captive bred, and are legal to keep in your state.
The first step in providing a proper diet is to accurately identify the species and subspecies that you are dealing with (please see article below). The following recommendations will prove useful for most of the commonly-kept types, but please write in for specific info, as certain subspecies have unique requirements (this applies to temperature and other care aspects as well).
Box Turtles often eagerly consume 1-2 food items to the exclusion of others; adults, at least, may survive on these limited diets for years. However, individuals that are not fed properly-balanced diets invariably expire well short of their potentially 100+ year life-spans.
Hatchling and juvenile Box Turtles are largely carnivorous. As they mature, they add increasing amounts of plant material and mushrooms to the diet. Certain species and populations vary in this regard – for example, the highly aquatic Coahuilan Box Turtle, Terrapene coahuila (a rare species not usually seen in private collections), remains a confirmed meat-eater into adulthood.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Youngsters and, it appears, adults, have high Calcium and Vitamin A requirements. I powder most meals with supplements, alternating among Reptivite with D3, ReptiCalcium and ReptoCal. Please write in for age-specific details.
Hatchlings and Juveniles
Young Box Turtles should be fed a diet comprised largely of whole animals. I use earthworms for at least 50% of this part of the diet. Snails and slugs, which can be collected from pesticide-free areas, are an important food source in most wild populations. Food market land snails and canned snails are excellent alternatives.
Other nutritious additions to the diet include pre-killed pink mice, super mealworms, sow bugs, waxworms, grasshoppers, mealworm pupae, grubs and crickets. Commercially-reared insects should themselves be fed a nutritious diet before being used as food for your turtles. Cicadas may be an impotent food item during the fall; certainly turtles in my collection relish these (please see article below).
Low fat canned dog food (preferable to higher-fat cat foods) can also be tried. Recently I’ve replaced this with pelleted and canned Box Turtle Diets, and have always added moistened Reptomin Food Sticks to most meals.
Approximately 50% of the diet for adult Box Turtles should be as described above. The balance should be comprised of salads containing chopped berries, kale, dandelion and other seasonally available greens, yams, apple, mushrooms, carrots and other produce. Berries of all kinds are a great favorite, so take care that your turtle does not consume these to the exclusion of other foods. All-fruit strawberry jelly can be used to entice your turtle to consume foods that are not favored.
Drinking water, humidity, UVB radiation and a host of other factors also greatly affect Box Turtle nutrition. Please write in for further information.
Florida Box Turtle image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jonathan Zander
Eastern Box Turtle image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Matt Reinbold
Three-toed Box Turtle image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Carnopod