Box Turtle Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
The best thing you can do for your box turtle here at the Ornate Bird Garden is to soak up as much information as you can get on the particular species of your pet. Read, read, read! Ask questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Here are the most frequently asked box turtle questions that I hear, and my answers. I’ve put them into the following topics, which I’ve arranged alphabetically:
- Appearance & Biology
- Creating Turtle Habitats
- Eating & Food
- Getting a Turtle and Giving Away a Turtle
- Interactions between Turtles
- Interactions with Your Turtle
- Medical Questions
- Sex and Sexing
APPEARANCE & BIOLOGY:
Do box turtles have a sense of smell? Yes, it’s one of their strongest senses. They use their sense of smell to find delicious food and locate water miles away.
Do box turtles smell (stink)? No, they’re not stinky. As long as you keep them outside, or keep their temporary terrarium clean, you’ll have no problems with stinkiness. It’s their droppings that can stink.
How big do box turtles get? Not all that big. De Vosjoli gives the following averages sizes: 
- Eastern box turtle: 4.5 to 6 inches
- Three-toed box turtle 4.5 to 5 inches (my female is 5.5 to 6 inches, 7 if head-to-tail)
- Gulf Coast box turtle: 5 to 7 inches
- Ornate box turtle: 4 to 5 inches (mine are about 4 inches, 6 if head-to-tail).
Now my problem is that I don’t know if he’s measuring them head-to-tail or just the length of their plastron (the bottom part of their shell). Also, my three-toed box turtle is way bigger than 4.5 to 5 inches. Ornate box turtles seem to be the smallest and Gulf Coast the largest.
What does a female turtle look like? See How to Tell Male Box Turtles from Females.
Turtle claws? Yellow eyes? Orange markings on their faces? See How to Tell Male Box Turtles from Females.
Can box turtles climb? You bet. They are fantastic, fearless climbers that will scale vines, cyclone fences, and other difficult surfaces. See Escape-Proof Your Turtle Yard.
Fanning? What is fanning? Female turtle fanning? Fanning is when a male extrudes his penis through the vent in his tail and swishes it around in his water dish. See How to Tell Male Box Turtles from Females. A female doesn’t have anything to fan; it’s a male phenomenon!
How does a turtle get turned back over from being upside down? A turtle that has toppled upside down (or been tipped over by another turtle) will stick his head out and press down on the ground with it, using his strong neck muscles to turn himself over.
What if my female turtle is mounting my male turtle? What if my turtle is mounting another of the same sex? It’s a dominance thing, not anything sexual. See Box Turtle Mating and Other Sexual Situations.
CREATING TURTLE HABITATS:
How to make a turtle basking rock? Your turtle wants a flat surface that’s easy to get up to and that absorbs sun and gets warm. You can put a flat rock like shale or slate in a sunny area. Sink it flush with the ground, or provide some smaller flat rocks to help him climb up. A stepping-stone from a garden center or a big piece of tile will also work fine.
How to make a turtle habitat? See Create an Outdoor Turtle Habitat for Your Box Turtle.
How to landscape with rocks for turtles? Turtles like flat rocks to bask on (see the basking rock question above). You don’t have to sink all your rocks flush with the ground; it can be good to have a few sticking up a few inches to give your turtle a workout as he climbs over it. Just make sure your rocks are solidly planted on the ground and not prone to tipping over and crushing your turtle. Also, make sure you don’t put your rocks too close to the sides of your turtle habitat or he could climb out (see Escape-Proof Your Turtle Yard).
EATING & FOOD:
Do box turtles like mint? Bread? Bananas? Tomatoes? Turtles have individual tastes, but most love bananas and tomatoes, and some will try eating mint and other greens. Since they are omnivores (they eat meat, vegetation, and everything), they might give a piece of bread a nibble out of curiosity, but it’s unlikely. One thing about tomatoes: the tomatoes themselves are a big favorite of turtles, but the tomato PLANT, being closely related to nightshade, is poisonous. So, just to be safe, don’t grow the tomato plants in your turtle habitat because you don’t want them nibbling on the leaves and stems. See Get Your Turtle to Eat.
What do box turtles drink? Fresh water. Since they often like to have a soak and sometimes make droppings in their water dish, you’ll need to change it daily.
How to stimulate turtle appetite? Appeal to his sense of sight and smell. See Get Your Turtle to Eat.
What if my turtle won't eat vegetation? Do you have an ornate box turtle? Ornates, out of all the box turtle species, prefer meat (usually in the form of insects and worms) as their favorite food. Also babies and young turtles need protein and will prefer meat over vegetables. Just keep including greens alongside the dogfood or live prey you’re offering your turtles. You can try pureeing vegetables and mixing them with dogfood. Also, landscape your outdoor turtle habitat with edible greens like parsley and mint and lettuce. They will snack on these greens as they would in the wilderness.
GETTING A TURTLE & GIVING AWAY A TURTLE:
How to tell if a box turtle is wild? Your best clue is where you found it. If in the wilderness while camping or down by the river, it’s probably wild. NEVER capture a wild turtle. This is illegal in most states and is immoral as well: because it takes box turtles so long to reach sexual maturity and breed, you could be destabilizing wild populations by capturing turtles. Besides, wild-caught turtles will usually stress out so much in captivity that they die.
What is the best small turtle for a pet? Ornates are the smallest box turtles, but they’re not the best for a pet because they are among the most sensitive and least-adaptable turtles. I’d recommend the three-toed box turtle, which is a calm and sturdy turtle. It won’t get bigger than 7 inches at most.
Where to get a box turtle? Your best bet is to adopt an unwanted turtle from your local reptile rescue organization or turtle society. Plenty of turtles need good homes. You could also look in the classifieds of your local paper and see if people are giving away their pet turtles. Your next choice would be buying one from a reputable breeder or reptile shop. Last choice would be getting one from your average pet shop: pet shops are horrible places and they often poach turtles out of the wild and then mistreat them until the poor things are ill or stressed out to the point of death. NEVER capture a box turtle out of the wild. If you find one strolling around your neighborhood streets, it might be an escaped pet and you could adopt it.
How to choose a pet turtle? You want a bright-eyed, energetic turtle with clear eyes and nostrils (no pus or runny discharge from nostrils). He should have strong reflexes: when you pick him up, he’ll either pull everything into his shell and close up swiftly, or he’ll flail his legs about. You don’t want a turtle that seems listless and doesn’t do anything when you pick him up. If you want a male or a female, there are ways to identify which is which. See How to Tell Male Box Turtles from Females?
Should I keep my pet box turtle? If you can’t keep your turtle outside, you shouldn’t keep him. If you can’t escape-proof your yard, or build him a safe outside habitat that will protect him from kids and dogs, you shouldn’t keep him. If you think your life will be characterized by lots of change and moving from place to place over the next forty years, you probably shouldn’t keep him. Also if your health is severely compromised for some reason, you might not want to keep a turtle due to the risk of salmonella infection. See Practice Turtle Hygiene to Prevent Salmonella Infection.
Where can I give away a box turtle? Place him in good hands with your local reptile rescue or turtle society. Never release a pet turtle into the wilderness; this could transmit diseases to the wild populations, plus your captive-bred turtle may not survive.
INTERACTIONS BETWEEN TURTLES:
Can I put two males together? Better not, especially if you don’t have a lot of room. The little guys will struggle for dominance. If you have more than one male in a huge backyard, this will relieve some pressure, but you still risk the bigger males bullying the smaller every time they run across them.
Can I put two females together? Groups of females usually get along together just fine. Watch them to make sure you don’t have that rare aggressive female who will bully the others.
INTERACTIONS WITH YOUR TURTLE:
How to train your box turtles? The poor little devils aren’t known for their intelligence, so there’s not much that you can train box turtles to do. Food is a big motivator, and they will learn to associate you with treats. You can get them to show up at the feeding area (for example, your back porch) at the same time every day, and get them to eat out of your hand.
What supplies do you need to care for your turtles? You’ll be keeping your turtles outside like you’re supposed to, so you won’t need much. A water-dish big enough to soak in for each turtle you have. A food dish big enough for your turtle to climb into. A sponge to clean out the dishes. (Dishes and sponge should be dedicated exclusively to your turtles. See Practice Turtle Hygiene to Prevent Salmonella Infection.) An escape-proof habitat. Some hollow logs or flowerpots to hide in. Dogfood, worms, fruits, and vegetables.
Will a turtle die if I pick him up? He’ll be fine, but try not to do it because he won’t like it much. If you must, place one hand under his feet so he won’t flail his legs in space as you carry him and get exhausted. Wash your hands after you handle him. Even babies can be picked up, but be careful because their shells will not yet be fully hardened and they could be injured if you drop them.
How can I find my turtle if it escaped? See if you can identify where he escaped your backyard. Is there a gap he could have squeezed through under your side-yard gate? Go into your front yard and search along the edge of your house under the eaves. Box turtles will rarely cross an open space such as your front lawn or driveway; they feel safer creeping along the edge of a structure such as your house or in your plantings against your house. Check with your neighbor closest to the side-yard from which your turtle escaped. Turtles will often get out through your side-yard and then keep on going in that direction.
What if my turtle can't open his eyes? The poor little guy probably has a staph infection or a virus. Get him to an experienced reptile vet right away.
How to care for a dehydrated turtle? This happens sometimes especially when he’s just come up from hibernation. See Post-Hibernation Turtle Care. Rinse the dirt off him under a faucet. Put him in a mixing bowl with high sides that he can’t climb out of, and fill it with warm water up to his plastron (the bottom part of his shell). He should be able to rest comfortably in the water without having to hold his head up to keep it out of the water. Let him soak and drink, and replace the water every 15 minutes with fresh warm water. This is because he may start urinating or defecating in the water. A severely dehydrated turtle may need to go through this soaking routine for a few hours, and it’s not unusual for one to double his weight after soaking. 
How to care for a turtle that’s too cold? Usually it’s best to build your turtle’s habitat outside in a location that has sunny spots and shady spots so that he can handle his own warming up. But sometimes your turtle has just come up from hibernation, and is too cold and you’d like to get him eating again. I’d put him in a mixing bowl of warm water up to his plastron (the bottom of his shell), and let him soak. Make sure he’s in a warm bathroom. Then pat him dry with paper towels. Depending on how warm it is outside, either put him out in a sunny area in his enclosure so he can bask, or put him in a temporary terrarium under a heat-lamp. If you’re taking a turtle to the vet and don’t want him to get too cold you can put him in a box on top of a hot water bottle wrapped in a pillowcase. The warm surface should keep him warm.
What if my turtle has a staph infection? Get him to an experienced reptile vet right away.
How to prevent salmonella in box turtle? How to prevent getting infected by salmonella from your box turtle? See Practice Turtle Hygiene to Prevent Salmonella Infection.
How to make a turtle bask? Your turtle should be living outside, and if he is, he’ll bask when he feels like it. You just need to provide him with a flat rock in a sunny area in his enclosure. If he’s inside being kept temporarily in a terrarium, make sure he has a basking area. You should use a heat-lamp that you clip onto the side of your terrarium to focus heat down into one corner of your terrarium. Place a tile or small, flat rock there to soak up the heat. Never use those electric heat-rocks; they can burn turtles. If you provide an appealing area for basking, your turtle will go there to bask when he feels like it.
What if my turtle is in a comatose state? What is the cause of this state? Are the days getting shorter as fall approaches? He might be following hormonal cues and getting ready to hibernate: this usually involves slowing down, digging holes, and sitting in them sometimes face-down. Has he just come up from hibernation? See Post-Hibernation Turtle Care. Have you been keeping him inside for too long? Get him outside into the sunshine and fresh air in a well-built enclosure. Does he look bad with closed-eyes and runny nose? Get him to the experienced reptile vet immediately.
REPRODUCTION, SEX, SEXING:
How to hatch turtle eggs? See How to Hatch Box Turtle Eggs
How to tell a turtle's sex? See How to Tell Male Box Turtles from Females?
How can you tell if turtles are mating? See Turtle Mating and Other Sexual Situations
 The Box Turtle Manual by Philippe de Vosjoli, Advanced Vivarian Systems, Inc. 1995, p.9.
 ibid, p.62
The Box Turtle Manual by Philippe de Vosjoli is available on Amazon through this link: