How to Keep Your Three-Toed Box Turtle
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Three-Toed Box Turtle Factoids

Origin

States south of Iowa

Max Size

8 inches.  5 to 6 more likely

Temp Likes 80 degrees

Housing

Bigger the better

Security

Will hide 

Attitude

Hissy at first

Foods

Likes variety

Water

Change daily


LA
We call them box turtles because their shells close up like a box when threatened.

LA
Once they get to know you, they relax and come out to see what's going on.

In the wild, box turtles go through some pretty harrowing experiences:

·         Winter

·         Dry spells

·         Dog attacks

·         “Road trips”

·         Lack of food

And still these intriguing creatures manage to survive.

 

You can’t say they escape due to their agility.  If you’ve ever watched one cross a road, you know they have no agility.  Considerate drivers need to be the ones with agility.

You also know that these guys are not the Einsteins of the reptile world.  Their road trips should convince you of their general cluelessness during the spring breeding months.

Why did the box turtle cross the road?  Peer pressure?  Nope.  Every box turtle in that neck of the woods for untold generations before him probably crossed that same stretch of land for the same reason -- to breed.

Our ancestors’ wives in covered wagons probably said, “Watch it, honey.  Don’t run over that box turtle.  He’s so cute.”  Probably the buffalo learned to walk around them also.  Everyone likes box turtles.  There’s just something fascinating about a critter that’s learned to travel around in its own retirement mobile home at such an early age. 

Very few vacationers can drive past a box turtle on the road.  They can’t resist the temptation to take it home with them.  Of course, the people in the southern states where box turtles roam freely consider them a worse pest than grasshoppers -- much like us and our cottontail rabbits.  In Oklahoma they call them “tamater-eatin’ terrapins.”  

LA
We can't sell the ornates in Iowa.  Trim that beak.

LA
Here's a box turtle with the same freaky beak problem.  We fixed it with side-cutters.

LA
The ornates have four toes.

Iowa Law.  Ornate box turtles grow wild in southern Iowa.  (Although, weve never actually seen one down there.)  This makes them illegal for us to sell or you to own.  For this reason, we specify three-toed box turtles when we order our turtles.  Confidentially, the ornate ones are prettier, but we can’t run the risk of being caught red-handed with a concealed ornate box turtle.  There’s no time off for good behavior.

Explanation.  Since Iowa ornate box turtles are relatively rare, the state wants to protect the few that exist from you unscrupulous people that want free turtles. 

Federal Law.  Federal law requires all turtles we sell to be at least four inches end to end.  That’s why you never see any little baby turtles these days (legally, that is).  You can keep them at home, but we cannot sell them (legally).

Explanation.  There really is a reason for this particular law.  Turtles kept in dirty water can carry salmonella.  Little kids put little turtles in their little mouths (in addition to sand, rocks, dirt, shoes, socks, chewed on dog toys, dogs, or anything else graspable).  The feds pretty much put most turtle farms out of business.  But salmonella continues unabated.

LA Pic
This male three-toed box turtle is not cheery either.

We do not recommend putting raw turtles in your mouth.  We also recommend washing your hands after handling turtles or any other animal.  Also, wipe your nose and don’t run with scissors.  You can avoid many diseases by washing your hands frequently.

Turtle Toughness.  If three-toed box turtles were on the sickly side you would never see them.  The ones you buy are usually 10-15 years old.  They are very hardy critters to survive that many years outside in the elements without earmuffs, scarves, or nine-buckle goulashes.  Box turtle requirements are minimal:

·         Food

·         Water

·         Warmth

·         Some sunlight.

As critters go, they need next to nothing to survive.

 

They Need UV Light.  In the wild, three-toed box turtles get plenty of sunlight.  Reptiles need sunlight to help them manufacture vitamin D3 which they use to assimilate calcium into their bones.  These very slow-growing creatures need very little to meet their needs.  If you feed them a commercial turtle food or give them fruits and veggies plus an occasional reptile vitamin supplement, you meet their needs easily.  A full-spectrum bulb or occasional sunning is also helpful.  Use sun light with caution.  You can kill these guys if you leave them in the hot sun.  Provide some shade -- perhaps a cabaña?

LA
Some sweet corn and shredded carrots double up on the vitamin A..

LA
Shredded carrots and diced cucumbers on the thee-toed box turtle buffet today.

Vitamin A seems more critical to box turtles than to other reptiles.  Maybe that’s why they like muskmelons, sweet potatoes, and corn.  Anytime they get their “puffy eye syndrome,” you can usually clear them right up with Vitamin A drops and heat.

Warm Your Turtle.  Speaking of heat, three-toed box turtles gotta have it.  They will die without heat.  In the wild, they hibernate before their heat runs out.  Cool weather stresses them a great deal.  They’re not really tropical creatures, but they do need heat.

LA
Three-toed turtles basking in the light.  One guy checking us out.

In the summer, room temperature works fine.  As the season cools, three-toed box turtles need 80o to maintain their appetites, metabolism, and health.  They don’t need it day and night, but that 80o during the day makes all the difference in the world to them.  It will add decades to their lifespan.

If your three-toed box turtle slows down or goes off his feed, warm him up.  If he acts a little puny, warm him up.  If his eyes get puffy, warm him up.  If he loses weight, warm him up.  To cure most turtle problems, warm him up to 90o until the problem clears up.

Water Dishes.  Change their water daily.  Turtles take in quite a bit of water for their size.  They don’t sweat it out like we do, they use it to flush out their digestive system.  They suck water in one end and empty their pipes out the other end.  

LA
Frequent soaks in warm water perk three-toed box turtles up and clean out their pipes.

LA
Recently, these specialized turtle water bowls have appeared on the market.

In a shallow bowl of warm water, the two processes occur almost simultaneously.  When Martha soaks several new box turtles in our large sink, she has to keep flushing them with new water.  We don’t want them drinking “used water.”  These daily “soaks” in their mini-hot tub really perk them up.

For soaking small quantities of three-toed box turtles, we like glass pie plates.  Box turtles can get in and out easily and cannot tip them.  Change their water after they access their toilette.

LA   
If you feed commercial food, feed your three-toed box turtle at least two different brands.

If you feed frozen, canned, or “natural foods,” three-toed box turtles get a lot of water from their food.  Remember that when you feed commercial pelleted food, your turtle will not need to eat as much -- probably only 20-25% as much because it contains much less water.

Box Turtle Housing.  You get your best mileage out of your three-toe when you let it run around the house.  They like wandering about -- probably looking for a highway to cross.  At night you might want to cage yours.  Some people do not want to hear a herd of three-toes clomp, clomp, clomping across their hardwood bedroom floor at 3 am.

Box Turtle Foods.  Commercial pelleted box turtle foods take the guesswork out of feeding the little varmints.  Each pellet contains everything they need in the proper proportions.  It doesn’t spoil -- unless it gets wet.  It’s convenient.  It’s economical.  Still, it’s always fun to feed them fruits and vegetables because they love the darn stuff.  Three-toed box turtles have to eat quite a bit of it to get the same nutrition.

Here’s some favorite fruits:

·         Muskmelon

·         Watermelon

·         Strawberries

·         Bananas

·         Grapes

·         Peaches

In the vegetable category:

·         Leaf lettuce -- especially romaine

·         Tomatoes (We know its really a fruit)

·         Peas  

LA
Three-toed box turtles are not dainty eaters.  If they can walk in their food, they will.

If you don’t mind slicing and dicing or grating, they’ll also eat “hard stuff” like: 

·         Apples

·         Corn (off or on the cob)

·         Squash

·         Carrots

·         Cucumbers

·         Sweet potatoes (cooked or grated)

We don’t recommend buying a whole watermelon or chicken for your box turtle.  But if you’re eating one yourself, give your turtle a bite.  How much?  Few three-toed box turtles will eat more than one or two tablespoons of any food.  That’s what makes the commercial pellets so convenient.  You can feed them for less than a dollar a week.  

Three-toed box turtles like occasional meat treats also.  In a solid-walled cage they can catch crickets.  Turtles are quicker than you may think.  They also enjoy low-fat meats like small bits of chicken.  At 98.6o we have no problem digesting animal fats.  Box turtles on the other hand can’t get animal fat into their systems at their lower body temperature.  

LA 
If you have a hinge- back tortoise, treat him the same.  They walk knock-kneed.

LA 
His back end hinges down to close.

We recommend feeding more than one type of food though.  A little change of pace has got to brighten their day.  Few turtles subscribe to cable.

Substitute Foods.   An occasional feeding of dry dog food won’t hurt.  They probably can’t digest the fat and they’ll get way too much protein, but in the short run no prob.  Soak it in water to make it easier to eat.

Cat food makes them smell funny.  Really.  They like the semi-moist kind but over the long haul it could hurt them.  If yours eats some cat food every so often, no harm done.

Iguana foods are a perfect substitute.  Nutritionally, iguanas and three-toed box turtles have many of the same needs.  Look for the adult iguana foods, they contain less calcium (still way more than box turtles need).

LA 
Nothing like a herd of three-toed box turtles to make you smile.

HOT.  HOT.  HOT.  Remember, if your three-toed box turtle has a serious problem:

·         Injury,

·         Bleeding,

·         Runny nose,

·         Swollen ears,

·         Gaping mouth,

·         Difficulty breathing.

You probably need to see your vet.  However, you can prevent most of these (except injuries) by keeping your turtle at 80o.

LA 
If your three-toed box turtle is active and bright-eyed, you're treating her right.
 

LA
20-year-old female looking very strange in the face.

LA 
And if your three-toes decide to breed, You're probably taking good care of them.

LA
From the looks of things, box turtles are going to be around for a long time.

LA
Males more colorful.

LA
Females are less colorful.

LA
Some turtles use the hot tub.

LA
same guy at worl three days later.

LA
A week later he's not picky at all.

LA
He's hooked into the side of her shell.

LA
After pulling them apart, he finallygets it right.

LLA
About three weeks later, these eggs showed up.

LA
A "double-yolker" found in the water dish.

LA
Naturally, when a half dozen turtles tromp across them, turtle eggs suffer.

LA
Here's one that survived.  They usually lay 6 to 12.

LA 

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