Caring for an eastern box turtle hatchling is not an easy task. These reptiles require a lot of attention, love, and the right surroundings in order to grow up healthy and strong.
I gave myself the task to provide the ultimate guide on how to care for eastern box turtle hatchlings. I will start with their origins, how to set up their enclosure, lightning, temperatures, and much more. Read on to find everything you need to know about eastern box turtle hatchling care.
Eastern Box Turtle Origins
The eastern box turtle is a land-dwelling reptile that is native to the eastern United States. It gets its name from its hinged shell, which allows it to completely enclose its body. The turtles are typically around 4-6 inches long, with a dark brown or black shell and a yellow or orange stripe running down each side of their head.
Eastern box turtles are mainly terrestrial, meaning they spend most of their time on land, but they will occasionally enter the water to bathe or mate. These turtles are most active during the day and prefer humid environments such as forests or swamps.
They are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals, and typically live for around 40 years in the wild. Eastern box turtles are popular pets due to their docile nature, but they can carry salmonella bacteria, so it is important to wash your hands after handling them.
Box turtles get their name from the fact that their shell is shaped in more of a box-like configuration, as opposed to other types of turtles whose shells might be curled inward or have a different shape altogether. Box turtles are also sometimes referred to as “box tortoises,” although this technically isn’t accurate since they’re members of the American pond turtle family and not the tortoise family. Out of all the different subspecies, these are the ones commonly kept as pets in households within the US:
- 3-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)
- Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina Carolina)
- Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major)
- Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina bauri)
- Ornate Box Turtle (terrapene ornata ornata)
Eastern Box Turtle Hatchling Care – [Ultimate Guide]
In this ultimate guide, you will learn how to care for an eastern box turtle hatchling. Make sure not to skip any step.
1. Choosing the enclosure
When caring for a box turtle, it is essential to choose an enclosure that is large enough and can handle moisture well. Box turtles are semi-aquatic and quickly become dehydrated, so it’s best to avoid materials like wood that don’t hold up in humid environments or those that allow moisture to escape.
While small, a single box turtle hatchling does not require much space; however, as they grow, turtles need an enclosure large enough to accommodate various “furniture,” as well as room to move around and exercise. No smaller than a standard 10-gallon aquarium should house one hatchling; more turtles would naturally need more space.
If you don’t have a suitable enclosure for your turtle, a Rubbermaid bin with opaque sides will work in the meantime. Just be sure to upgrade their home as they grow bigger. You can check out some cool turtle enclosures on amazon.com.
2. Get a substrate that can retain moisture well
If you’re aiming to have a moist environment for your box turtle, it is important to select a substrate that will help retain moisture. Some appropriate selections include coco coir, organic topsoil, fir bark (also known as reptibark or fine-grade orchid bark), and cypress mulch. You could also create a mix of these; however, your goal should be to make your substrate resemble a wet forest floor as closely as possible. An additional upper layer of sphagnum moss or leaf litter would also be beneficial.
When in the wild, newly-hatched turtles will spend a lot of time hiding from predators undercover. The ground should be kept moist through regular misting or watering.
The following choices could be fatal for your hatchling, so avoid them at all cost: sand, paper products, rabbit pellets or other rodent bedding, aspen, corn cob bedding, aquarium gravel or other rocky substrates, and reptile carpet. If you want to encourage hunting behaviors in your hatchling through the addition of live worms or pillbugs then that is up to you. The best substrate mediums to use in this instance are coco coir or soil.
3. They need UV light to grow properly
To ensure that box turtle hatchlings grow properly, they need UV rays. By using a 5.0 UV fluorescent tube for 4 days a week and 8-12 hours each day, they should get adequate amounts of UV radiation exposure. Additionally, weather permitting, it is also beneficial to let them bask in natural sunlight as studies have indicated that not only does this improve their health overall, but it also leads to more colorful shells.
Please be mindful that there are certain types of lightbulbs that should not be used with box turtles. Most notably, spiral coil (CFL) UV bulbs can cause blindness or eye irritation and should never be used. MVBs are also too hot for any box turtle and will dry out their enclosure; reptile spot bulbs have a similar effect. You can check out some amazing UV lights on amazon.com.
4. Temperature is super important
When it comes to temperature, box turtles prefer cooler temperatures than most reptiles. A comfortable range for them would be 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Above 90 is generally too hot, and you’ll probably notice the turtle seeking refuge in water or hiding/burrowing underground. As for basking, there are conflicting opinions on whether hatchling turtles should have a basking spot.
Some do not provide their room temperatures are at least in the low 70s. Some provide a low-wattage incandescent bulb or “moonglow” (blacklight) bulb, positioned for a gentle heat of about 80-85 degrees on one end…some who do this have it on for 8-12 hours per day, while others prefer using it around midday for only an hour each day.
I would begin by avoiding using heat for the first year, or only employing heat for one hour each day. The exception to this rule is if you’re sure that your temperatures are regularly around 70 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and you have observed a decrease in activity; if this is the case, then bury a low-wattage heating pad beneath 6-8 inches of substrate. This will cause gentle heat to radiate upwards, providing warmth for your hatchlings. Be cautious not to cover the area where the cord meets the pad.
Since hatchlings are delicate and can dehydrate quickly, too much heat can exacerbate the issue. Be mindful of your setup and regularly check on your hatchling(s). Use your best judgment to decide if any extra heat is necessary. Check out heat lamps on amazon.com.
5. Provide a shallow dish filled with clean water
It is very important to provide a dish filled with clean water for your hatchlings to soak in. This will allow them not only to drink the water they need to stay hydrated but also soak up some water through their skin. It’s okay if you see your babies soaking in it a little or a lot; they know how often they need to do it. They may even just be shy and do it when you’re not around. Just make sure that the water is shallow enough that they are able to stand on the bottom of the dish and hold their head out comfortably.
A terra-cotta saucer, glazed or unglazed, can work well for this. The edge of the buried dish should be flush with the substrate to allow easy access. If you surround your dish with moss or flat stones, it will help them wipe their feet clean and trackless substrate into the dish. Water should be replaced once daily at a minimum; however, replace more often as needed. For every additional hatchling after one, provide two water dishes.” See some cool turtle dishes on amazon.com.
6. Create hiding places
Your reptile needs a safe place to hide in its enclosure…a spot where it feels secure. This could be half logs, clay pots on their sides, or other reptile caves and hides from pet stores that will all work well. I like to provide a couple in my enclosures so they can choose where they want to be. If you have more than one hatchling, you should provide more than one hide.
Eastern box turtles are shy, reclusive creatures that prefer to spend most of their time hiding in the underbrush. In the wild, they will use any available cover to conceal themselves from predators and escape the heat of the day. When kept as pets, it is important to provide Eastern box turtles with hiding places in their enclosure so that they can feel safe and secure. If you wish to buy a hiding place for your box turtle, you can do it on amazon.com.
If you want to make your enclosure more pleasing to look at and also provide some privacy, consider adding plants! You can use live plants (which will help keep the air moist by releasing water vapor) or silk/plastic plants. Both types work well. If you go with live plants, just make sure they don’t have any fertilizer or bug spray on them.
The best way to grow organic plants is from seeds. You should also double-check that the plant is edible if your kids are likely to nibble on it. For extra flair in your child’s enclosure, feel free to add decorations, but be sure they won’t create a flipping hazard for your hatchling. Bury any decorations securely in the soil to avoid this possibility.
8. Box turtles love to swim
Box turtles adore swimming! Although, it’s essential to remember that they are not aquatic turtles. Their method of swimming includes doggy paddling with an infrequent short dive. The best way to let them swim is by using a Rubbermaid container; it should be tilted at a barely noticeable diagonal to create a shallow and deep end.
This activity is perfect for letting them soak up some UV rays and extra moisture! While they’re swimming, never leave box turtles unsupervised as drowning is plausible if somehow they can’t reach “land” or flip over, etcetera. For hatchlings, the depth of the “deep” end mustn’t exceed a couple of inches. Here are some cool swimming pools for turtles on amazon.com.
9. Proper diet for eastern box turtle hatchlings
When young, box turtles are mostly carnivorous, but they should also be fed greens and fruit. However, you will probably notice that these food items are ignored until the turtle is around 6-12 months old.
Some appropriate sources of protein for your eastern box turtles can include: Live worms or insects (red wigglers, chopped up nightcrawlers, small mealworms, small crickets, pillbugs, slugs), boiled eggs, boiled plain chicken, raw beef heart (but no other beef products), raw ground turkey. Hatchlings will particularly be intrigued by the movement of live bugs and worms.
The following plants and fruits are ideal: A spring mix salad blend, various lettuces (no iceberg though, and only moderate amounts of romaine), radishes, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, dandelion leaves/flowers, hibiscus leaves/flowers, grapevine leaves; blueberries, strawberries, raspberries; bananas; apples; cantaloupes; watermelons pure pumpkins squash fruit/leaves/flowers.
Diet foods like Mazuri can be given occasionally, but remember to soak and soften pellets before giving them.
A “mash” diet, a few times a week, helps variety in their diet since they only want to eat the wiggly things. For example, one recipe is banana, Mazuri tortoise diet, ground turkey, and peas and carrot blend put through a food processor. You could then mix this with fresh veggies or berries or even add worms for attention. Switch the “mash” recipe every week or so.
Protein should make up approximately 70-80% of the diet while young, with the rest consisting of leafy greens/plants, vegetables, and fruit. Even if they do not want to eat non-protein foods while young, that is alright but continue trying!
Supplementing calcium+D3 should be done very conservatively, approximately 1-2 times a week. This can be done by dusting the live protein on food or mixing it in with the mash.