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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Common box turtles are predominantly terrestrial reptiles that are often seen early in the day, or after rain, when they emerge from the shelter of rotting leaves, logs, or a mammal burrow to forage. These turtles have an incredibly varied diet of animal and plant matter, including earthworms, slugs, insects, wild berries (2), and sometimes even animal carrion (4). In the warmer summer months, common box turtles are more likely to be seen near the edges of swamps or marshlands (2), possibly in an effort to stay cool. If common box turtles do become too hot, (when their body temperature rises to around 32° centigrade), they smear saliva over their legs and head; as the saliva evaporates it leaves them comfortably cooler. Similarly, the turtle may urinate on its hind limbs to cool the body parts it is unable to cover with saliva (5). Courtship in the common box turtle, which usually takes place in spring, begins with a 'circling, biting and shoving' phase. These acts are carried out by the male on the female (4). Following some pushing and shell-biting, the male grips the back of the female's shell with his hind feet to enable him to lean back, slightly beyond the vertical, and mate with the female (6). Remarkably, female common box turtles can store sperm for up to four years after mating (4), and thus do not need to mate each year (6). In May, June or July, females normally lay a clutch of 1 to 11 eggs into a flask-shaped nest excavated in a patch of sandy or loamy soil. After 70 to 80 days of incubation, the eggs hatch, and the small hatchlings emerge from the nest in late summer. In the northern parts of its range, the common box turtle may enter hibernation in October or November. They burrow into loose soil, sand, vegetable matter, or mud at the bottom of streams and pools, or they may use a mammal burrow, and will remain in their chosen shelter until the cold winter has passed (4).
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Description

This turtle gets its common name from the structure of its shell which consists of a high domed carapace (upper shell), and large, hinged plastron (lower shell) which allows the turtle to close the shell, sealing its vulnerable head and limbs safely within an impregnable box (2). The carapace is brown, often adorned with a variable pattern of orange or yellow lines, spots, bars or blotches. The plastron is dark brown and may be uniformly coloured, or show darker blotches or smudges. The common box turtle has a small to moderately sized head and a distinctive hooked upper jaw (4). The majority of adult male common box turtles have red irises, while those of the female are yellowish-brown. Males also differ from females by possessing shorter, stockier and more curved claws on their hind feet, and longer and thicker tails. There are six living subspecies of the common box turtle, each differing slightly in appearance, namely in the colour and patterning of the carapace, and the possession of either three or four toes on each hind foot. The subspecies Terrapene carolina triunguis is particularly distinctive as most males have a bright red head (4).
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Distribution

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (200,000 to >2,500,000 square km (about 80,000 to >1,000,000 square miles)) Range extends from southern New England to Michigan, southern Iowa, and eastern Kansas, and south to eastern Texas, the Gulf Coast, and southern Florida; also Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz, Mexico (Ernst and McBreen 1991).

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Geographic Range

Exclusively North American, box turtles are found in the eastern United States, ranging from southern Maine to Florida along the East Coast, and west to Michigan, Illinois, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Due to its popularity as a household pet, Terrapene_carolina is sometimes found far outside its normal geographic range.

There are four subspecies of box turtles in the U.S. Florida box turtles live on the peninsula of Florida. Gulf Coast box turtles range from the panhandle of Florida westward along the Gulf Coast to eastern Texas. Three-toed box turtles live in the Mississippi River Valley from northern Missouri southward across southeastern Kansas and eastern Oklahoma into south-central Texas; and southeastward across western Tennessee and Georgia to the coastal lowlands. Common box turtles, covering the largest area, range from Michigan and Maine on the north, south to the boundaries of the other subspecies. Very little overlap occurs between the ranges of the subspecies of Terrapene_carolina, except for a region in Mississippi and Alabama where common box turtles and three-toed box turtles overlap.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour, J. Lovich. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C., USA: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Carr, A. 1952. Handbook of Turtles. Ithaca, New York, USA: Cornell University Press.
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States or Provinces

(key to state/province abbreviations)
UNITED STATES
AL AR CT DE FL GA IL IN KS KY
LA ME MD MA MI MS MO NH NJ NY
NC OH OK PA RI SC TN TX VA WV
DC

CANADA
ON

MEXICO
Camp. Hgo. Q.R. S.L.P. Tamps. Ver. Yuc.

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Regional Distribution in the Western United States

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This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS [5]:

14 Great Plains
  • 5. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434]

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The range of the eastern box turtle extends from southern Maine and southern Ontario to the Gulf Coast and Midwest of the United States, with isolated populations occurring in eastern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula [27].
  • 27. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Species accounts: Box turtle, genus Terrapene Merrem, 1820. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 173-183. [62156]

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Geographic Range

Exclusively North American, box turtles are found in the eastern United States, ranging from southern Maine to Florida along the East Coast, and west to Michigan, Illinois, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Due to its popularity as a household pet, Terrapene carolina is sometimes found far outside its normal geographic range.

There are four subspecies of Terrapene carolina in the Terrapene carolina bauri (Florida box turtle) lives on the peninsula of Florida. Terrapene c. major (Gulf Coast box turtle) ranges from the panhandle of Florida westward along the Gulf Coast to eastern Texas. Terrapene c. triunguis (3 toed box turtle) lives in the Mississippi River Valley from northern Missouri southward across southeastern Kansas and eastern Oklahoma into south-central Texas; and southeastward across western Tennessee and Georgia to the coastal lowlands. Terrapene c. carolina (common box turtle), covering the largest area, lives from Michigan and Maine on the north, and ranges south to the boundaries of the other subspecies. Very little overlap occurs between the ranges of the subspecies of Terrapene carolina, except for a region in Mississippi and Alabama where T. c. triunguis and T. c. carolina overlap.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour, J. Lovich. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C., USA: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Carr, A. 1952. Handbook of Turtles. Ithaca, New York, USA: Cornell University Press.
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Continent: Middle-America North-America
Distribution: USA (S Maine ?, S New Hampshire ?, SE New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, S Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, E Kansas, E Oklahoma, C/E Texas) Mexico (Campeche, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Yucatan)  Has been introduced to the Mariana Islands (Guam) in the Pacific Ocean (LEVER 2003): 21).  bauri: Florida;
Type locality: “Florida;” restricted to “Orlando, Florida” [Orange County] by Schmidt (1953:94).   carolina: Canada (Ontario?), Mexico (Campeche, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Yucatán), USA (Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michi- gan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennes- see, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia)  mexicana: Mexico (San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Veracruz)  major: USA (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas)  triunguis: USA (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas);
Type locality: “Louisiana and Mississippi . . . New Orleans . . . Osage River . . . and from Georgia.” Restricted to “New Orleans, Louisiana,” by Schmidt (1953:94).  yucatana: Mexico (Yucatan peninsula: Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatán).  
Type locality: “Carolina”
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Range

The common box turtle occurs in the eastern United States and eastern Mexico, where it is distributed from Maine and Michigan to eastern Texas and south Florida, and south to the Mexican states of Yucatán and Quintana Roo. T. c. mexicana (Mexican box turtle) and T. c. yucatana (Yucatán box turtle) occur in Mexico. The other four subspecies, T. c. carolina (eastern box turtle), T. c. major (Gulf Coast box turtle), T. c. bauri (Florida box turtle) and T. c. triunguis (three-toed box turtle)are found in the United States (4).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

All Terrapene_carolina hinged plastron (the part of shell under a turtle's belly) that allows box turtles to close their shells almost completely. They have a high-domed, rounded carapace (the part of shell above a turtle's back) with variable markings. The upper jaw is slightly hooked. The toes are only slightly webbed.

Males are generally slightly larger than females on average and the claws on their hind legs are short, thick, and curved. Males also have thicker and longer tails. Females' rear claws are longer, straighter, and more slender.

There is some variation between the different subspecies of box turtles. Florida box turtles are roughly 11 cm x 8 cm in size with bright yellow markings on their dark brown carapace in the shape of lines. The plastron also has lines, as does the head. They have three toes on their hind feet.

Common box turtles are about 15 cm x 10 cm in size with highly variable orange or yellow markings on their brown carapace. They have four toes on their hind feet.

Three-toed box turtles are about the same length as common box tutrtles, or a little longer, but with a more narrow shell. They have a tan or olive carapace with darker seams and some vague markings. Their plastron is a lighter yellowish color. They have orange, red, or yellow spots on their head and forelimbs, and males heads are completely red.

Gulf Coast box turtles are the largest at about 18 cm x 12 cm. They have a dark brown shell that often has no pattern, or a faint pattern similar to that of Florida box turtles. They have dark skin and plastron as well as four toes on the hind feet.

Range length: 11 to 18 cm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1972. Turtles of the United States. Lexington, Kentucky, USA: University Press of Kentucky.
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Physical Description

All Terrapene carolina have a bridgeless, bilobed, hinged plastron (ventral part of shell) that allows box turtles to close their shells almost completely. They have a steep margined, keeled, high-domed, rounded carapace (dorsal part of shell) with variable markings. Concentric growth furrows can be seen on the carapace, although in some older individuals they become very difficult to see. The upper jaw is slightly hooked. The toes are only slightly webbed.

Males are slightly larger on average, the posterior lobe of their plastron is concave, and the claws on their hind legs are short, thick, and curved. Males also have thicker and longer tails. Females' rear claws are longer, straighter, and more slender, and the posterior lobe of their plastron is flat or slightly convex.

There is some variation between the different subspecies of box turtles. Terrapene c. bauri is roughly 11cm x 8cm in size with bright yellow markings on their dark brown carapace in the shape of lines. The plastron also has lines, as does the head. They have three toes on their hind feet.

Terrapene c. carolina is about 15 cm x 10 cm in size with highly variable orange or yellow markings on their brown carapace. They have four toes on their hind feet.

Terrapene c. triunguis is about the same length as T. c. carolina, or a little longer, but with a more narrow shell. They have a tan or olive carapace with darker seams and some vague markings. Their plastron is a lighter yellowish color. They have orange, red, or yellow spots on their head and forelimbs, and males heads are completely red.

Terrapene c. major is the largest at about 18 cm x 12 cm in size. They have a dark brown shell that often has no pattern, or a faint pattern similar to that of bauri. They have dark skin and plastron as well as four toes on the hind feet.

Along the borders of the subspecies ranges, there exist populations that are extremely varied due to hybridization between subspecies. Many of these individuals are so varied that identification as a member of a subspecies is impossible.

Range length: 11 to 18 cm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1972. Turtles of the United States. Lexington, Kentucky, USA: University Press of Kentucky.
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Size

Length: 22 cm

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Type Information

Holotype for Terrapene carolina mexicana
Catalog Number: USNM 46251
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Sex/Stage: Female;
Preparation: Ethanol
Year Collected: 1898
Locality: Chijol (= El Chijol), Veracruz, Mexico
  • Holotype: Stejneger, L. 1933. Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington. 46: 119.
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Eastern box turtles inhabit forests, fields, forest-brush, and forest-field ecotones. In some areas they move seasonally from fields in spring to forest in summer. They commonly enters pools of shallow water in summer. For shelter, they burrow into loose soil, debris, mud, old stump holes, or under leaf litter. They can successfully hibernate in sites that may experience subfreezing temperatures. In Maryland bottomland forest, some hibernated in pits or depressions in forest floor (usually about 30 cm deep) usually within summer range; individuals tended to hibernate in same area in different years (Stickel 1989).

Egg laying sites often are sandy or loamy soils in open areas; females may move from bottomlands to warmer and drier sites to nest. In Maryland, females used the same nesting area in different years (Stickel 1989).

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology

Terrapene carolina occurs in a variety of habitats, including open broadleaf forests, field-forest edges, shrubby graslands, marshy meadows, stream valleys, palmetto thickets and other vegetation types. The species is omnivorous, feeding on mushrooms, plant stems, leaves, flowers and fruits, slugs, snails, earthworms and numerous other types of food. Box turtles disperse and facilitate germination of certain plant seeds.

Males reach 23.5 cm carapace length (CL), females 19.8 cm in subspecies major, other subspecies rarely exceed 16 cm CL. Maturity is reached at five to six years / 9-10 cm CL in males, and at seven to eight years / 9-10 cm CL in females of subspecies baurii. Longevity of 50-80 years is probably not unusual, but most animals do not surpass 25-35 years at present. Generation time is probably at the order of 35 years years (Kiester pers. comm. 2009). Reproducing females produce one or two clutches of three to five (range 1-11) eggs per year, but many females do not reproduce each year. Incubation takes about 73 (50-110) days. Hatchlings measure about 30 (27-36) mm (Dodd 2001, Farrell et al. 2006, Ernst and Lovich 2009).

Terrapene carolina mexicana lives mainly in tropical deciduous forest, rarely in mixed pine – deciduous forest or oak forest habitat at altitude (Dodd 2001, P. Lavin pers. comm. 2005). Most reported localities are below 500 m altitude (Smith and Smith 1979), but recoirds exist up to 900 m altitude in the Sierra de Tamaulipas (P. Lavin pers. comm. 2005). No specific information is available on food, feeding or reproduction (Dodd 2001).

Very little information available on the natural history of Terrapene carolina yucatana; preferred habitat apparently is low semi-xeric deciduous scrub forest broken by scattered grassland areas (Smith and Smith 1979); animals are occasionally encountered by rural farmers after slashing and burning of fallow fields before planting (Buskirk 1993). It is active only during the rainy season (June to early November) (Buskirk 1993). Largest recorded animal was 15.9 cm CL (Buskirk 1993), though Lee (1996) indicated up to 20 cm might be possible. Little or no information is available on food and feeding, reproduction, growth or maturity (Lee 1996, Dodd 2001).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Terrapene_carolina inhabits open woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows. It is often found near streams and ponds.

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest

Other Habitat Features: riparian

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Cover Requirements

More info for the terms: cover, litter, natural, vines

Forest floor components utilized by eastern box turtles include litter, natural depressions, soft soils, brush, and woody debris. Eastern box turtles often seek shelter by digging a form in moist soil or leaf litter. They sleep within forms at night and rest in them during the day. Their carapaces are partially to completely covered by soil, litter, or vegetation while in the form [71]. The average depth of forms in Arkansas was 0.21 inch (0.53 cm) below the surface [63]. Other cover, such as brush piles, woody debris, briar patches, and tangled vines is utilized throughout the day [71]. Hatchling and juvenile eastern box turtles often hide under leaf litter, which does not offer protection against fire [34]. The microhabitat in which neonate eastern box turtles were found had significantly more leaf litter (p=0.007), less herbaceous cover (p<0.001), and shorter vegetation (p<0.001) than random sites. Neonate eastern box turtles were found at microsites with high light intensity and low canopy cover, which led to higher temperatures than at nearby microsites [38].

The most important habitat features for hibernating eastern box turtles include cavities or natural depressions (such as stump holes and other hollows) filled with deep litter, as well as soft soils, thick brush, and woody debris [12,14,24,73]. Some eastern box turtles overwinter in depressions along gully bottoms and hillsides [12]. As winter gets progressively colder, eastern box turtles dig deeper into litter and soil to gain more protection from cold [12]. Snow cover helps insulate hibernating turtles [1]. In rare circumstances, eastern box turtles successfully hibernate while submerged in a stream or pond [11,44]. Eastern box turtles may also utilize burrows dug by other wildlife [34]. Juveniles that hatch late in the season may overwinter in the nest [52]. Multiple eastern box turtles are occasionally found overwintering in the same location [12].

  • 1. Allard, H. A. 1948. The eastern box-turtle and its behavior. Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science. 23: 307-321. [62038]
  • 11. Cahn, Alvin R. 1933. Hibernation of the box turtle. Copeia. 1933(1): 13-14. [62152]
  • 12. Carpenter, Charles C. 1957. Hibernation, hibernacula and associated behavior of the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis). Copeia. 1957(4): 278-282. [61844]
  • 14. Carr, John L.; Houseal, Timothy W. 1981. Post-hibernation behavior in Terrapene carolina triunguis (Emydidae). The Southwestern Naturalist. 26(2): 199-200. [62151]
  • 24. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Habitats and habitat requirements. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 39-55. [62157]
  • 34. Ernst, Carl H.; Boucher, Timothy P.; Sekscienski, Steven W.; Wilgenbusch, James C. 1995. Fire ecology of the Florida box turtle, Terrapene carolina bauri. Herpetological Review. 26(4): 185-187. [61853]
  • 38. Forsythe, Patrick; Flitz, Beth; Mullin, Stephen J. 2004. Radio telemetry and post-emergent habitat selection of neonate box turtles (Emydidae: Terrapene carolina) in central Illinois. Herpetological Review. 35(4): 333-335. [62371]
  • 44. Harding, James H. 1997. Eastern box turtle: Terrapene carolina carolina. In: Douglas, Matthew M., ed. Amphibians and reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press: 194-201. [61856]
  • 52. Madden, Robert Carson. 1975. Home range, movements, and orientation in the eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina. New York, NY: The City University of New York. 217 p. Dissertation. [61185]
  • 63. Reagan, Douglas P. 1974. Habitat selection in the three-toed box turtle, Terrapene carolina triunguis. Copeia. 1974(2): 512-527. [62118]
  • 71. Stickel, Lucille F. 1950. Populations and home range relationships of the box turtle, Terrapene c. carolina (Linnaeus). Ecological Monographs. 20(4): 351-378. [62110]
  • 73. Stickel, Lucille F. 1989. Home range behavior among box turtles (Terrapene c. carolina) of a bottomland forest in Maryland. Journal of Herpetology. 23(1): 40-44. [62121]

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Preferred Habitat

More info for the terms: cover, density, forb, hardwood, litter, selection, shrub, succession

Eastern box turtles show a preference for forests, especially bottomland forests and edge habitats [6,12,17,19,31,52,54,60,63,65,70,71]. Eastern box turtles in Mississippi inhabited longleaf pine-slash pine (Pinus palustris-P. elliottii) forests ranging from early to mature to late successional stands [60]. Mixed stand habitats in Maryland, dominated by loblolly pine (P. taeda) that originated as agricultural land, were undergoing succession to an oak-maple (Quercus-Acer spp.) forest [54]. In Missouri, eastern box turtles occupied a previously cultivated ridge [65]. In an Oklahoma study, an eastern box turtle habitat was partially dominated by range and pasture [6]. Eastern box turtles occasionally inhabit pastures and marshes in Kansas [17]. Eastern box turtles utilized grasslands, open lawns, and meadows in Arkansas and Florida [28,63]. Conversely, eastern box turtles seemed reluctant to use grassy, herbaceous, and low brush-covered fields in New York [52]. In another New York study and in Maryland, eastern box turtles did not appear to discriminate between habitats because they were found in bottomland hardwood and mixed pine-hardwood forests, shrublands, mixed grasslands, wetlands, riparian zones, croplands, and rural developed areas [19,54,70,71,72]. However, abundance of eastern box turtles in each of these habitats was not reported.

High humidity seems to be one of the most important factors in habitat selection. Mean relative humidity in eastern box turtle habitat in Arkansas was above 80%. Average total ground cover around forms (shallow depressions dug by eastern box turtles) was 40.27%, while the litter averaged 54.34% cover and a depth of 1.41 inches (3.57 cm). Average grass cover at the forms was 12.16%, forb cover was 14.32%, and shrub cover averaged 8.81%. Average canopy cover above forms was 56.05% with an average canopy height of 36.65 feet (11.17 m) [63]. The undergrowth in a Maryland forest was littered with heaps of woody debris, fallen branches, logs, and stumps [72].

Forests provide cool areas and high humidity during the heat of the summer [63]. The most preferred forest habitats were those with the most moisture and highest diversity [52]. In Mississippi, eastern box turtles were found in habitats characterized by gently rolling hills dissected by intermittent and perennial streams [60]. Box turtles (Terrapene spp.) seem to avoid ridges where moisture is low and generally avoid steep hillsides and embankments [24]. Eastern box turtles may use virtually any habitat during rainy weather [13], and they are most active after rain showers [58].

In addition to humid environments, eastern box turtles utilize open water extensively. Eastern box turtles swim across streams and other bodies of water [71,76]. Eastern box turtles are also known to spend hours or days soaking in puddles, lakes, streams, and wet gullies [1,24,71]. In Tennessee, they utilized temporary ponds during periods of high temperature and low precipitation [31]. Eastern box turtles, especially juveniles, may dry out and perish during long periods of drought [1]. Neonates may congregate in open water or seek shade after hatching to avoid dehydration and heat stress [1,11].

Elevation: In a review, Dodd [27] notes that eastern box turtles in New England are common from sea level up to 490 feet (150 m) in elevation, and rare to 705 feet (215 m). In the southern Appalachians, eastern box turtles are common from sea level to 4,300 feet (1,300 m) but rare at higher elevations [27]. Wilson and Friddle [80] noted that eastern box turtles are common in valleys below 1,000 feet (300 m) in elevation, but are rare on ridges above 2,000 feet (600 m) in West Virginia.

Density/Home Range: Average densities of eastern box turtle populations can vary widely and may reflect differences in habitat quality and other environmental factors. For instance, in Indiana, density estimates were 2.7 to 5.7 eastern box turtles/ha [78]. A density estimate in a Virginia population was considerably higher at 35 eastern box turtles/ha [79]. In Missouri, eastern box turtles had an average density of 7.3 to 10.9/acre (18.1-27.0/ha) [66]. In Maryland, an average of 4.1 to 5.9/acre was found (1.7-2.4/ha) [43,71]. In Tennessee, there were 12.3 eastern box turtles/acre (5.0/ha) on average [30]. An eastern box turtle population in Florida had an estimated density of 14.9 to 16.3 adults/ha [25,62].

Eastern box turtles do not appear to be territorial because they are commonly found grouped together under cover or in close proximity to each other. Eastern box turtles occupy the same home range year after year. However, females may leave their home ranges to lay eggs [71]. Home ranges of eastern box turtles in Missouri averaged 3.6 acres (1.5 ha) for females and 3.8 acres (1.5 ha) for males [65]. Average home ranges over a 19-year period in Missouri were 12.7 acres (5.1 ha) for females and 12.9 acres (5.2 ha) for males at the same location [66]. Home ranges in New York may average 4.35 to 17.20 acres (1.76-6.96 ha) [52]. Home range size of eastern box turtles in Virginia averaged 19.5 acres (7.9 ha) [79]. On average, home ranges of eastern box turtles ranged between 4.65 acres (1.88 ha) and 5.58 acres (2.26 ha) in Tennessee [31].

  • 1. Allard, H. A. 1948. The eastern box-turtle and its behavior. Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science. 23: 307-321. [62038]
  • 6. Bigham, Sam R.; Hepworth, J. Leland; Martin, Richard P. 1964. A casualty count of wildlife following a fire. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science. 45: 47-50. [13539]
  • 11. Cahn, Alvin R. 1933. Hibernation of the box turtle. Copeia. 1933(1): 13-14. [62152]
  • 12. Carpenter, Charles C. 1957. Hibernation, hibernacula and associated behavior of the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis). Copeia. 1957(4): 278-282. [61844]
  • 13. Carr, Archie. 1952. Genus Terrapene: The box turtles. In: Handbook of turtles: The turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 137-162. [62360]
  • 19. Cook, Robert P. 2004. Dispersal, home range establishment, survival, and reproduction of translocated eastern box turtles, Terrapene c. carolina. Applied Herpetology. 1: 197-228. [62379]
  • 24. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Habitats and habitat requirements. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 39-55. [62157]
  • 25. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Population structure and demography. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 122-137. [62162]
  • 27. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Species accounts: Box turtle, genus Terrapene Merrem, 1820. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 173-183. [62156]
  • 28. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr.; Franz, Richard; Smith, Lora L. 1994. Activity patterns and habitat use of box turtles (Terrapene carolina bauri) on a Florida island, with recommendations for management. Chelonian Conservation and Biology. 1(2): 97-106. [61846]
  • 30. Dolbeer, Richard A. 1969. Population density and home range size of the eastern box turtle (Terrapene c. carolina) in eastern Tennessee. ASB Bulletin. 16(2): 49. [61852]
  • 31. Donaldson, Bridget M.; Echternacht, Arthur C. 2005. Aquatic habitat use relative to home range and seasonal movement of eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina: Emydidae) in eastern Tennessee. Journal of Herpetology. 39(2): 278-284. [62380]
  • 43. Hall, Russell J.; Henry, Paula F. P.; Bunck, Christine M. 1999. Fifty-year trends in a box turtle population in Maryland. Biological Conservation. 88: 165-172. [62378]
  • 52. Madden, Robert Carson. 1975. Home range, movements, and orientation in the eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina. New York, NY: The City University of New York. 217 p. Dissertation. [61185]
  • 54. McLeod, Roderick F.; Gates, J. Edward. 1998. Response of herpetofaunal communities to forest cutting and burning at Chesapeake Farms, Maryland. The American Midland Naturalist. 139: 164-177. [27869]
  • 58. Palmer, William M.; Braswell, Alvin L. 1995. Terrapene carolina carolina (Linnaeus): Eastern box turtle. In: Reptiles of North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press: 69-73. [61580]
  • 60. Pearson, Henry A.; Lohoefener, Renne R.; Wolfe, James L. 1987. Amphibians and reptiles on longleaf-slash pine forests in southern Mississippi. In: Pearson, Henry A.; Smeins, Fred E.; Thill, Ronald E., compilers. Ecological, physical, and socioeconomic relationships within southern national forests: Proceedings, Southern Evaluation Project Workshop; 1987 May 26-27; Longbeach, MS. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-68. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station: 157-165. [14733]
  • 62. Pilgrim, Melissa A.; Farrell, Terence M.; May, Peter G. 1997. Population structure, activity, and sexual dimorphism in a central Florida population of box turtles, Terrapene carolina bauri. Chelonian Conservation and Biology. 2(4): 483-488. [62117]
  • 63. Reagan, Douglas P. 1974. Habitat selection in the three-toed box turtle, Terrapene carolina triunguis. Copeia. 1974(2): 512-527. [62118]
  • 65. Schwartz, Charles W.; Schwartz, Elizabeth R. 1974. The three-toed box turtle in central Missouri: its population, home range, and movements. Terrestrial Series No. 5. Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Conservation. 28 p. [62120]
  • 66. Schwartz, Elizabeth R.; Schwartz, Charles W.; Kiester, A. Ross. 1984. The three-toed box turtle in central Missouri, part II: a nineteen-year study of home range, movements and population. Terrestrial Series No. 12. Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Conservation. 29 p. [62115]
  • 70. Stewart, Margaret M.; Rossi, John. 1981. The Albany pine bush: a northern outpost for southern species of amphibians and reptiles in New York. The American Midland Naturalist. 106(2): 282-292. [62119]
  • 71. Stickel, Lucille F. 1950. Populations and home range relationships of the box turtle, Terrapene c. carolina (Linnaeus). Ecological Monographs. 20(4): 351-378. [62110]
  • 72. Stickel, Lucille F. 1978. Changes in a box turtle population during three decades. Copeia. 1978(2): 221-225. [62113]
  • 76. Tyler, Jack D. 1979. A case of swimming in Terrapene carolina (Testudines: Emydidae). Southwestern Naturalist. 24(1): 189-190. [62150]
  • 78. Williams, Eliot C.; Parker, William S. 1987. A long-term study of a box turtle (Terrapene carolina) population at Allee Memorial Woods, Indiana, with emphasis on survivorship. Herpetologica. 43(3): 328-335. [62111]
  • 79. Wilson, Gordon L. 2001. Reproductive ecology of the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in a mixed oak-pine woodland in the central Virginia Piedmont. Virginia Journal of Science. 52(2): 86-87. Abstract. [62107]
  • 17. Collins, Joseph T. 1993. [3rd ed., revised] Eastern box turtle: Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus). In: Collins, Joseph T., ed. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History, Public Education Series No. 13. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History: 129-131. [61848]
  • 80. Wilson, L. Wayne; Friddle, Saufley B. 1950. The herpetology of Hardy County, West Virginia. American Midland Naturalist. 43(1): [Pages unknown] 165-172. [62108]

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Associated Plant Communities

More info for the term: shrub

In New York, shrub habitats supporting eastern box turtles populations were dominated by northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), blackberry (Rubus spp.), and sumac (Rhus spp.). Woodlands were dominated by black cherry (Prunus serotina), gray birch (Betula populifolia), aspen and cottonwood (Populus spp.), and red mulberry (Morus rubra) [19].

In Florida, habitats dominated by Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) are commonly used [24,28].
  • 19. Cook, Robert P. 2004. Dispersal, home range establishment, survival, and reproduction of translocated eastern box turtles, Terrapene c. carolina. Applied Herpetology. 1: 197-228. [62379]
  • 24. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Habitats and habitat requirements. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 39-55. [62157]
  • 28. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr.; Franz, Richard; Smith, Lora L. 1994. Activity patterns and habitat use of box turtles (Terrapene carolina bauri) on a Florida island, with recommendations for management. Chelonian Conservation and Biology. 1(2): 97-106. [61846]

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Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):

More info for the terms: cover, hardwood

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES [67]:

601 Bluestem prairie

710 Bluestem prairie

711 Bluestem-sacahuista prairie

720 Sand bluestem-little bluestem (dunes)

723 Sea oats

731 Cross timbers-Oklahoma

732 Cross timbers-Texas (little bluestem-post oak)

801 Savanna

802 Missouri prairie

805 Riparian

808 Sand pine scrub

809 Mixed hardwood and pine

810 Longleaf pine-turkey oak hills

811 South Florida flatwoods

812 North Florida flatwoods

813 Cutthroat seeps

814 Cabbage palm flatwoods

815 Upland hardwood hammocks

816 Cabbage palm hammocks

817 Oak hammocks

820 Everglades flatwoods
  • 67. Shiflet, Thomas N., ed. 1994. Rangeland cover types of the United States. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management. 152 p. [23362]

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Habitat: Cover Types

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

More info for the terms: cover, swamp

SAF COVER TYPES [37]:

14 Northern pin oak

20 White pine-northern red oak-red maple

24 Hemlock-yellow birch

25 Sugar maple-beech-yellow birch

26 Sugar maple-basswood

27 Sugar maple

28 Black cherry-maple

39 Black ash-American elm-red maple

40 Post oak-blackjack oak

42 Bur oak

43 Bear oak

44 Chestnut oak

45 Pitch pine

46 Eastern redcedar

50 Black locust

51 White pine-chestnut oak

52 White oak-black oak-northern red oak

53 White oak

55 Northern red oak

57 Yellow-poplar

58 Yellow-poplar-eastern hemlock

59 Yellow-poplar-white oak-northern red oak

60 Beech-sugar maple

61 River birch-sycamore

62 Silver maple-American elm

63 Cottonwood

64 Sassafras-persimmon

65 Pin oak-sweetgum

69 Sand pine

70 Longleaf pine

71 Longleaf pine-scrub oak

72 Southern scrub oak

73 Southern redcedar

74 Cabbage palmetto

75 Shortleaf pine

76 Shortleaf pine-oak

78 Virginia pine-oak

79 Virginia pine

80 Loblolly pine-shortleaf pine

81 Loblolly pine

82 Loblolly pine-hardwood

83 Longleaf pine-slash pine

84 Slash pine

85 Slash pine-hardwood

87 Sweetgum-yellow-poplar

88 Willow oak-water oak-diamondleaf (laurel) oak

89 Live oak

91 Swamp chestnut oak-cherrybark oak

92 Sweetgum-willow oak

93 Sugarberry-American elm-green ash

94 Sycamore-sweetgum-American elm

95 Black willow

96 Overcup oak-water hickory

97 Atlantic white-cedar

98 Pond pine

103 Water tupelo-swamp tupelo

105 Tropical hardwoods

108 Red maple

109 Hawthorn

110 Black oak

111 South Florida slash pine

235 Cottonwood-willow
  • 37. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905]

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Habitat: Plant Associations

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This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

KUCHLER [50] PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:

K072 Sea oats prairie

K074 Bluestem prairie

K076 Blackland prairie

K077 Bluestem-sacahuista prairie

K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100

K083 Cedar glades

K084 Cross Timbers

K088 Fayette prairie

K089 Black Belt

K090 Live oak-sea oats

K098 Northern floodplain forest

K100 Oak-hickory forest

K101 Elm-ash forest

K102 Beech-maple forest

K103 Mixed mesophytic forest

K104 Appalachian oak forest

K106 Northern hardwoods

K109 Transition between K104 and K106

K110 Northeastern oak-pine forest

K111 Oak-hickory-pine

K112 Southern mixed forest

K113 Southern floodplain forest

K114 Pocosin

K115 Sand pine scrub

K116 Subtropical pine forest
  • 50. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384]

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Habitat: Ecosystem

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This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

ECOSYSTEMS [40]:

FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine

FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine

FRES14 Oak-pine

FRES15 Oak-hickory

FRES16 Oak-gum-cypress

FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood

FRES18 Maple-beech-birch

FRES39 Prairie
  • 40. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; Lewis, Mont E.; Smith, Dixie R. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998]

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Terrapene carolina inhabits open woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows. It is often found near streams and ponds.

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest

Other Habitat Features: riparian

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The common box turtle inhabits open woodlands, marshy meadows, floodplains, scrub forest and brushy grasslands (2) (4).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

In Maryland, females moved to nesting areas that were several hundred meters from the center of their bottomland non-nesting range (Stickel 1989).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Young are primarily invertivorous (not noted in North Carolina; Stuart and Miller 1987); adults are opportunistic omnivores, eating various plants (including fruits), fungi, snails and other invertebrates, carrion, and rarely small vertebrates.

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Food Habits

Box turtles are omnivores, and eat a wide variety of food including Gastropoda, Insecta, berries, fungi, Gastropoda, worms, roots, flowers, Actinopterygii, Anura, Caudata, Serpentes, Aves, and eggs indiscriminately. They have been observed eating carrion, feeding on dead ducks, amphibians, assorted small mammals, and even a dead cow. Their preference varies greatly by season but there is one definite trend. Young turtles mainly eat animal material while they are growing. Older adults eat mainly plant material.

Animal Foods: birds; amphibians; reptiles; fish; eggs; carrion ; insects; mollusks; terrestrial worms

Plant Foods: fruit

Other Foods: fungus

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Food Habits

More info for the term: cactus

In general, eastern box turtles will eat anything edible that fits into their mouths [23]. Examples include fungi, snails and slugs (Gastropoda), insects (Insecta), spiders (Arachnida), centipedes (Chilopoda), millipedes (Diplopoda), earthworms (Annelida), carrion, and vegetation [10,23,48,71,74]. Fungi may comprise 10% to 55% of the eastern box turtle diet [10,71,74]. In Kentucky, snails and slugs comprised and average of 52.5% of the diet by volume [10]. Consuming carrion appears common and includes reptile, amphibian, mammal, bird, and fish carcasses [48]. Specific examples include eastern racers (Coluber constrictor), Fowler's toads (Bufo fowleri), eastern ribbonsnakes (Thamnophis sauritus), and red-bellied snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata) [48]. An eastern box turtle was once seen feeding on a cow (Bos taurus) carcass [13]. Eastern box turtles have been observed eating dead toads (Bufo spp.) [58]. An eastern box turtle in Oklahoma was observed preying upon plains leopard frog (Rana blairi) tadpoles in a dry pond [7]. Dead rats (Rattus spp.) are eaten by captive eastern box turtles [1].

Plant materials eaten by eastern box turtles include leaves, berries, roots, flower buds, and seeds [10,23,48,71,74]. Eastern box turtles have been observed eating half-flower (Scaevola taccaca) berries, cactus (Cactaceae) fruits, and seagrape (Coccoloba uvifera) in Florida [23]. Eastern box turtles consume and disperse seeds of pond-apple (Annona glabra), Florida silver palm (Coccothrinax argentata), fig (Ficus spp.), redgal, (Morinda umbellata), sapodilla (Manilkara zapoda), crowngrass (Paspalum spp.), mangroveberry (Psidium longipes), Everglades greenbrier (Smilax coriacea), Key thatch palm (Thrinax morrisii), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), and Long Key locustberry (Byrsonima lucida) [51]. They may also consume and disperser seeds of jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema spp.), mayapple (Podophyllum petatum), black cherry (Prunus serotina), summer grape (Vitis aestivalis), common elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis), black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), blue ridge blueberry (Vaccinium vacillans), white mulberry (Morus alba), American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), Indian strawberry (Duchesnea indica), Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), blackberry (Rubus spp.), muscadine grape (V. rotundifolia), and frost grape (V. vulpina) [8]. Other vegetative foods of eastern box turtles include fox grape (V. labrusca), cherry (Prunus spp.), pear (Pyrus spp.,) sweetroot (Osmorhiza spp.), American wintergreen (Pyrola americana), groundcherry (Physalis spp.), grasses, and mosses [8,48,71,74].

  • 1. Allard, H. A. 1948. The eastern box-turtle and its behavior. Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science. 23: 307-321. [62038]
  • 7. Black, Jeffrey Howard. 1975. Tadpole eating by the three-toed box turtle. Chelonia. 2(6): 5. [62375]
  • 8. Braun, Joanne; Brooks, Barnett R., Jr. 1987. Box turtles (Terrapene carolina) as potential agents for seed dispersal. American Midland Naturalist. 117(2): 312-318. [61842]
  • 10. Bush, Francis M. 1959. Foods of some Kentucky herptiles. Herpetologica. 15(2): 73-77. [61843]
  • 13. Carr, Archie. 1952. Genus Terrapene: The box turtles. In: Handbook of turtles: The turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 137-162. [62360]
  • 23. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Food and feeding behavior. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 111-121. [62160]
  • 48. Klimstra, W. D.; Newsome, Frances. 1960. Some observations on the food coactions of the common box turtle, Terrapene c. carolina. Ecology. 41(4): 639-647. [62372]
  • 51. Liu, Hong; Platt, Steven G.; Borg, Christopher K. 2004. Seed dispersal by the Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) in pine rockland forests of the lower Florida Keys, United States. Oecologia. 138(4): 539-546. [47467]
  • 58. Palmer, William M.; Braswell, Alvin L. 1995. Terrapene carolina carolina (Linnaeus): Eastern box turtle. In: Reptiles of North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press: 69-73. [61580]
  • 71. Stickel, Lucille F. 1950. Populations and home range relationships of the box turtle, Terrapene c. carolina (Linnaeus). Ecological Monographs. 20(4): 351-378. [62110]
  • 74. Surface, H. A., ed. 1906. First report on the economic features of the turtles of Pennsylvania. The Monthly Bulletin of the Division of Zoology. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. 6(4-5): 107-195. [61581]

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Food Habits

Omnivorous, Terrapene carolina eats snails, insects, berries, fungi, slugs, worms, roots, flowers, fish, frogs, salamanders, snakes, birds, and eggs indiscriminately. They have been observed eating carrion, feeding on dead ducks, amphibians, assorted small mammals, and even a dead cow. Their preference varies greatly by season but there is one definite trend. Young are primarily carnivorous while they grow during their first 5-6 years. Adults tend to be mostly herbivorous, but they eat no green leaves. Young often hunt in ponds and streams because the type of food they prefer is easier to catch there, but adults usually feed on land. When confronted with several mealworms, a captive adult picked up each in turn and with a few bites killed or disabled it. Only when all were incapable of escape did the turtle start to feed. This behavior was observed on several occasions when more than one mealworm was offered (Ernst et al., 1994; Carr, 1952; Ernst and Barbour, 1972).

Animal Foods: birds; amphibians; reptiles; fish; eggs; carrion ; insects; mollusks; terrestrial worms

Plant Foods: fruit

Other Foods: fungus

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

This species eats a wide variety of animals, so may effect various prey populations. Also, box turtles may disperse seeds as they eat berries of different kinds of plants.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

While juveniles have several predators, very few species can prey effectively on adults due to their ability to close their shells.

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Predators

Common mammalian predators of box turtles are northern raccoons (Procyon lotor), skunks (Mephitis mephitis and Spilogale spp.), American minks (Mustela vison), coyotes (Canis latrans), domestic and feral dogs (Canis familiaris), and rats (Rattus spp.) [2,35]. Other potential predators include American badgers (Taxidea taxis), Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana), foxes (Vulpes and Urocyon spp.), nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), and weasels (Mustela spp.) [35]. Birds that prey upon eastern box turtles include American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), Mississippi kites (Ictinia mississippiensis), barn owls (Tyto alba), herring gulls (Larus argentatus), and turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) [35,46].

The shells of young box turtles are not strongly ossified until they reach several years of age, making them vulnerable to predators [26]. Hatchling box turtles may fall prey to shrews, birds, eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus), bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana), and snakes [4,44,53]. Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix), cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus), eastern racers (Coluber constrictor), and other snakes may swallow young eastern box turtles whole [35,47,56].

Eastern box turtle eggs are preyed upon by snakes such as scarletsnakes (Cemophora coccinea), hog-nosed snakes (Heterodon spp.), common kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula), pinesnakes (Pituophis melanoleucus), and eastern ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta), as well as ants and other invertebrates [2,35,58].

  • 2. Allard, H. A. 1949. The eastern box-turtle and its behavior. Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science. 24(2): 146-152. [61841]
  • 4. Belzer, William R.; Seibert, Susan; Atkinson, Benjamin. 2002. Putative chipmunk predation of juvenile eastern box turtles. Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter. 5: 8-9. [62376]
  • 26. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Predators, parasites, and disease. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 138-149. [62163]
  • 35. Ernst, Carl H.; Lovich, Jeffrey E.; Barbour, Roger W. 1994. Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus, 1758): Eastern box turtle. In: Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.: 250-265. [62154]
  • 44. Harding, James H. 1997. Eastern box turtle: Terrapene carolina carolina. In: Douglas, Matthew M., ed. Amphibians and reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press: 194-201. [61856]
  • 46. Klemens, Michael W. 1993. Terrapene c. carolina: Eastern box turtle. In: Amphibians and reptiles of Connecticut and adjacent regions. Bulletin No. 112. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut: 189-199. [62122]
  • 47. Klimstra, W. D. 1959. Food habits of the cottonmouth in southern Illinois. Natural History Miscellanea. Chicago, IL: The Chicago Academy of Sciences. 168: 1-8. [61579]
  • 53. McCoy, C. J. 1969. Diet of bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) in central Oklahoma farm ponds. In: Moore, George A., ed. 56th annual meeting; 1967 December 1-2; Oklahoma City, OK. Vol. 48. Stillwater, OK: Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Academy of Science: 44-45. [62377]
  • 56. Murphy, Ted D. 1964. Box turtle, Terrapene carolina, in stomach of copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix. Copeia. 1964(1): 221. [62116]
  • 58. Palmer, William M.; Braswell, Alvin L. 1995. Terrapene carolina carolina (Linnaeus): Eastern box turtle. In: Reptiles of North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press: 69-73. [61580]

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Ecosystem Roles

This species eats a wide variety of animals, so may effect various prey populations. Also, box turtles may disperse seeds as they eat berries of different kinds of plants.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

While juveniles have several predators, very few species can prey effectively on adults due to their ability to close their shells.

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: > 300

Comments: Total number of distinct occurrences is unknown but surely exceeds 300.

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Global Abundance

100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but surely exceeds 100,000.

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General Ecology

Population density in various parts of the range varies from a few per hectare up to a few dozen per hectare (see Stickel 1950, Dolbeer 1969, Schwartz et al. 1984, Williams and Parker 1987, Ernst et al. 1994, Langtimm et al. 1996, Pilgrim et al. 1997).

Home ranges overlap; nonterritorial. Home range diameter was estimated at about 100-230 m in several studies. Adult home range was 2 ha or less in Missouri, averaged slightly more than 1 ha in Maryland and did not change much over several years (Stickel 1989). Over 25 years, the home ranges of 22 individuals in Missouri ranged from 2.2 to 10.6 ha (Schwartz and Schwartz 1991).

Annual survivorship was 0.93-0.94 for adults in Maryland, 0.74-0.92 for adults in Missouri, and 0.93 for subadults and adults in Indiana (Williams and Parker 1987, Stickel 1978, Iverson 1991). Minimum natural longevity is 45-50 years (Williams and Parker 1987).

Fire may play a critical role in the ecology of Florida box turtle populations (Ernst et al. 1995, Herpetol. Rev. 26:185-187).

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Habitat-related Fire Effects

More info for the term: litter

Data collected on the effects of fire on eastern box turtle habitat are limited. Frequent fires may limit the distribution or population size of eastern box turtles in some areas. This may be especially true in Florida [13]. Schwartz and Schwartz [65] determined that spring fires may burn off leaf litter covering hibernating eastern box turtles, exposing them to freezing temperatures. Since eastern box turtles show a preference for forested and other woody habitats (see Preferred Habitat), fires that reduce or eliminate forested habitats could be detrimental to eastern box turtle populations. However, eastern box turtles are found in successional habitats [54,60,65], which indicates they could adjust to changing landscapes that are caused by fire.

The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where the eastern box turtle is important. For further information, see the FEIS review of the dominant species listed below.

Community or ecosystem Dominant species Fire return interval range (years)
maple-beech Acer-Fagus spp. 684-1,385 [16,77]
silver maple-American elm Acer saccharinum-Ulmus americana <5 to 200
sugar maple Acer saccharum >1,000 [77]
bluestem prairie Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium <10 [49,59]
bluestem-Sacahuista prairie Andropogon littoralis-Spartina spartinae <10 [59]
birch Betula spp. 80-230 [75]
sugarberry-America elm-green ash Celtis laevigata-Ulmus americana-Fraxinus pennsylvanica <35 to 200
Atlantic white-cedar Chamaecyparis thyoides 35 to >200
beech-sugar maple Fagus spp.-Acer saccharum >1,000
black ash Fraxinus nigra 77]
green ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica <35 to >300 [33,77]
cedar glades Juniperus virginiana 3-22 [42,59]
yellow-poplar Liriodendron tulipifera <35
shortleaf pine Pinus echinata 2-15
shortleaf pine-oak Pinus echinata-Quercus spp. <10
slash pine Pinus elliottii 3-8
slash pine-hardwood Pinus elliottii-variable <35
sand pine Pinus elliottii var. elliottii 25-45 [77]
South Florida slash pine Pinus elliottii var. densa 1-15 [57,69,77]
longleaf-slash pine Pinus palustris-P. elliottii 1-4 [57,77]
longleaf pine-scrub oak Pinus palustris-Quercus spp. 6-10
Table Mountain pine Pinus pungens <35 to 200 [77]
pitch pine Pinus rigida 6-25 [9,45]
pocosin Pinus serotina 3-8
pond pine Pinus serotina 3-8 [77]
eastern white pine Pinus strobus 35-200 [75,77]
eastern white pine-northern red oak-red maple Pinus strobus-Quercus rubra-Acer rubrum 35-200
loblolly pine Pinus taeda 3-8
loblolly-shortleaf pine Pinus taeda-P. echinata 10 to <35
Virginia pine Pinus virginiana 10 to <35
Virginia pine-oak Pinus virginiana-Quercus spp. 10 to <35
sycamore-sweetgum-American elm Platanus occidentalis-Liquidambar styraciflua-Ulmus americana <35 to 200 [77]
eastern cottonwood Populus deltoides <35 to 200 [59]
quaking aspen-paper birch Populus tremuloides-Betula papyrifera 35-200 [32,77]
black cherry-sugar maple Prunus serotina-Acer saccharum >1,000
oak-hickory Quercus-Carya spp. <35
northeastern oak-pine Quercus-Pinus spp. 10 to <35 [77]
oak-gum-cypress Quercus-Nyssa spp.-Taxodium distichum 35 to >200 [57]
southeastern oak-pine Quercus-Pinus spp. <10
white oak-black oak-northern red oak Quercus alba-Q. velutina-Q. rubra <35
northern pin oak Quercus ellipsoidalis <35
bear oak Quercus ilicifolia <35
bur oak Quercus macrocarpa <10 [77]
oak savanna Quercus macrocarpa/Andropogon gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium 2-14 [59,77]
chestnut oak Quercus prinus 3-8 [77]
northern red oak Quercus rubra 10 to <35 [77]
post oak-blackjack oak Quercus stellata-Q. marilandica <10
black oak Quercus velutina <35
live oak Quercus virginiana 10 to<100 [77]
cabbage palmetto-slash pine Sabal palmetto-Pinus elliottii <10 [57,77]
blackland prairie Schizachyrium scoparium-Nassella leucotricha <10
Fayette prairie Schizachyrium scoparium-Buchloe dactyloides <10 [77]
eastern hemlock-yellow birch Tsuga canadensis-Betula alleghaniensis 100-240 [75,77]
  • 13. Carr, Archie. 1952. Genus Terrapene: The box turtles. In: Handbook of turtles: The turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 137-162. [62360]
  • 54. McLeod, Roderick F.; Gates, J. Edward. 1998. Response of herpetofaunal communities to forest cutting and burning at Chesapeake Farms, Maryland. The American Midland Naturalist. 139: 164-177. [27869]
  • 60. Pearson, Henry A.; Lohoefener, Renne R.; Wolfe, James L. 1987. Amphibians and reptiles on longleaf-slash pine forests in southern Mississippi. In: Pearson, Henry A.; Smeins, Fred E.; Thill, Ronald E., compilers. Ecological, physical, and socioeconomic relationships within southern national forests: Proceedings, Southern Evaluation Project Workshop; 1987 May 26-27; Longbeach, MS. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-68. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station: 157-165. [14733]
  • 65. Schwartz, Charles W.; Schwartz, Elizabeth R. 1974. The three-toed box turtle in central Missouri: its population, home range, and movements. Terrestrial Series No. 5. Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Conservation. 28 p. [62120]
  • 32. Duchesne, Luc C.; Hawkes, Brad C. 2000. Fire in northern ecosystems. In: Brown, James K.; Smith, Jane Kapler, eds. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on flora. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 2. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 35-51. [36982]
  • 33. Eggler, Willis A. 1980. Live oak. In: Eyre, F. H., ed. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters: 63-64. [49984]
  • 9. Buchholz, Kenneth; Good, Ralph E. 1982. Density, age structure, biomass and net annual aboveground productivity of dwarfed Pinus rigida Moll. from the New Jersey Pine Barren Plains. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 109(1): 24-34. [8639]
  • 42. Guyette, Richard; McGinnes, E. A., Jr. 1982. Fire history of an Ozark glade in Missouri. Transactions, Missouri Academy of Science. 16: 85-93. [5170]
  • 57. Myers, Ronald L. 2000. Fire in tropical and subtropical ecosystems. In: Brown, James K.; Smith, Jane Kapler, eds. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on flora. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 2. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 161-173. [36985]
  • 59. Paysen, Timothy E.; Ansley, R. James; Brown, James K.; Gottfried, Gerald J.; Haase, Sally M.; Harrington, Michael G.; Narog, Marcia G.; Sackett, Stephen S.; Wilson, Ruth C. 2000. Fire in western shrubland, woodland, and grassland ecosystems. In: Brown, James K.; Smith, Jane Kapler, eds. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on flora. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-volume 2. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 121-159. [36978]
  • 69. Snyder, James R.; Herndon, Alan; Robertson, William B., Jr. 1990. South Florida rockland. In: Myers, Ronald L.; Ewel, John J., eds. Ecosystems of Florida. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Press: 230-274. [17391]
  • 75. Swain, Albert M. 1978. Environmental changes during the past 2000 years in north-central Wisconsin: analysis of pollen, charcoal, and seeds from varved lake sediments. Quaternary Research. 10: 55-68. [6968]
  • 77. Wade, Dale D.; Brock, Brent L.; Brose, Patrick H.; Grace, James B.; Hoch, Greg A.; Patterson, William A., III. 2000. Fire in eastern ecosystems. In: Brown, James K.; Smith, Jane Kapler, eds. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on flora. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 2. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 53-96. [36983]
  • 16. Cleland, David T.; Crow, Thomas R.; Saunders, Sari C.; Dickmann, Donald I.; Maclean, Ann L.; Jordan, James K.; Watson, Richard L.; Sloan, Alyssa M.; Brosofske, Kimberley D. 2004. Characterizing historical and modern FIRE REGIMES in Michigan (USA): a landscape ecosystem approach. Landscape Ecology. 19: 311-325. [54326]
  • 49. Kucera, Clair L. 1981. Grasslands and fire. In: Mooney, H. A.; Bonnicksen, T. M.; Christensen, N. L.; Lotan, J. E.; Reiners, W. A., tech. coords. FIRE REGIMES and ecosystem properties: Proceedings of the conference; 1978 December 11-15; Honolulu, HI. Gen. Tech. Rep. WO-26. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 90-111. [4389]
  • 45. Hendrickson, William H. 1972. Perspective on fire and ecosystems in the United States. In: Fire in the environment: Symposium proceedings; 1972 May 1-5; Denver, CO. FS-276. [Washington, DC]: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 29-33. In cooperation with: Fire Services of Canada, Mexico, and the United States; Members of the Fire Management Study Group; North American Forestry Commission; FAO. [17276]

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Direct Effects of Fire

More info for the terms: hardwood, hibernation, litter, prescribed burn, prescribed fire, wildfire

Fire mortality for the eastern box turtle can be highly variable. For instance, after a prescribed fire in a tallgrass prairie habitat in Missouri, 22 eastern box turtles were found alive and 20 were dead [39]. Babbitt and Babbitt [3] discovered 17 % mortality in an eastern box turtle population in Florida after what was probably a wildfire. The study site was located near the Everglades where prefire vegetation was characterized by "thick undergrowth" [3]. In Oklahoma, 25 eastern box turtles and ornate box turtles (T. ornata) were found dead after a fire, while only 3 box turtles (Terrapene spp.) were found alive [6]. Allard [2] suggested that spring fires may be detrimental to eastern box turtles when they become active after hibernation. This statement was based on carcasses discovered in burned areas at this time of year, although data on eastern box turtles killed in such fires were not given. No eastern box turtles were captured in a prescribed burn site in Maryland. However, captures were very low in the cut-over site, white oak-willow oak-red maple (Quercus alba-Q. phellos-Acer rubrum) forest, and loblolly pine-mixed hardwood forest [54]. The low capture success in this study limits the inferences that can be drawn in regards to the effects of fire on eastern box turtles.

Ernst and others [34] suggested that eastern box turtles occupying burrows likely escape fire completely. However, some eastern box turtles that died in an apparent wildfire in Florida were found in burrows [3]. Hatchling and juvenile eastern box turtles appear to hide under litter, which exposes them to fire, rather than burrowing or creating forms[34].

Eastern box turtles appear incapable of escaping advancing fires, so they are frequently found with burn scars [3,13,34]. Many eastern box turtles that survive fire while in their forms are badly burned, often with extensive damage to the shell [3,34]. Eastern box turtles can regenerate part to all of damaged or burned shells [64,68]. The ability of eastern box turtles to regenerate their shells after being burned is possibly an adaptation for survival in fire-prone environments [68].

  • 2. Allard, H. A. 1949. The eastern box-turtle and its behavior. Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science. 24(2): 146-152. [61841]
  • 6. Bigham, Sam R.; Hepworth, J. Leland; Martin, Richard P. 1964. A casualty count of wildlife following a fire. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science. 45: 47-50. [13539]
  • 13. Carr, Archie. 1952. Genus Terrapene: The box turtles. In: Handbook of turtles: The turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 137-162. [62360]
  • 34. Ernst, Carl H.; Boucher, Timothy P.; Sekscienski, Steven W.; Wilgenbusch, James C. 1995. Fire ecology of the Florida box turtle, Terrapene carolina bauri. Herpetological Review. 26(4): 185-187. [61853]
  • 54. McLeod, Roderick F.; Gates, J. Edward. 1998. Response of herpetofaunal communities to forest cutting and burning at Chesapeake Farms, Maryland. The American Midland Naturalist. 139: 164-177. [27869]
  • 3. Babbitt, Lewis H.; Babbitt, Corinne H. 1951. A herpetological study of burned-over areas in Dade County, Florida. Copeia. 1: 79. [34389]
  • 39. Frese, Paul W. 2003. Tallgrass prairie amphibian and reptile assemblage. Fire mortality. Herpetological Review. 34(2): 159-160. [61854]
  • 64. Rose, Francis L. 1986. Carapace regeneration in Terrapene (Chelonia: Testudinidae). The Southwestern Naturalist. 31(1): 131-134. [62090]
  • 68. Smith, Hobert M. 1958. Total regeneration of the carapace in a box turtle. Turtox News. 36: 234-236. [62091]

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Timing of Major Life History Events

More info for the term: hibernation

Sexual maturity for the eastern box turtle is reached at 5 to 10 years of age [55]. Dodd [25] noted in a review that eastern box turtles may live to exceed 100 years on occasion, while reaching 50 to 60 years may be fairly common. Most wild eastern box turtles likely only live up to 5 years [25].

Hibernation: Eastern box turtles are active from April to November in northern parts of their range, as well as on warm winter days [1,11,27,52,63,65]. Hibernation begins October to November, and emergence from hibernation begins in March [12]. Eastern box turtles do not appear to hibernate in Florida. Several environmental cues have been identified relating to the timing of hibernation. Generally, eastern box turtles hibernate between the last severe autumn frost and the 1st spring frost [35]. One study concluded that they begin emerging from hibernation when ambient temperatures reach 65 °F (18 °C) in spring [17]. Another study suggested that box turtles (T. carolina and T. ornata) emerge from hibernation when subsurface soil temperatures (4-8 inches (10-20 cm) below the soil surface) are at least 45 °F (7 °C) for a minimum of 5 days [41].

Reproduction: Mating occurs May to October in Missouri [65] and has been observed in late November in Florida [22]. Nesting occurs May to July [27,36], with hatching from August to November [27,36,44]. Clutches may contain 1 to 9 eggs with an average of 3.67 to 5 eggs per clutch being typical [13,27,46]. Multiple clutches of eggs may be laid in a single year [79]. Eastern box turtle nests are roughly as deep as the female can reach with her hind legs, approximately 2 to 4 inches (6-10 cm). Eggs are laid primarily during rainy and overcast weather [18]. Incubation lasts 60 to103 days [17,18,36]. Males primarily develop at cooler temperatures while females predominantly develop at higher temperatures [44].

  • 1. Allard, H. A. 1948. The eastern box-turtle and its behavior. Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science. 23: 307-321. [62038]
  • 11. Cahn, Alvin R. 1933. Hibernation of the box turtle. Copeia. 1933(1): 13-14. [62152]
  • 12. Carpenter, Charles C. 1957. Hibernation, hibernacula and associated behavior of the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis). Copeia. 1957(4): 278-282. [61844]
  • 13. Carr, Archie. 1952. Genus Terrapene: The box turtles. In: Handbook of turtles: The turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 137-162. [62360]
  • 18. Congello, Karin. 1978. Nesting and egg laying behavior in Terrapene carolina. Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. 52(1): 51-56. [61847]
  • 22. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Courtship and reproduction. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 87-110. [62158]
  • 25. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Population structure and demography. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 122-137. [62162]
  • 27. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Species accounts: Box turtle, genus Terrapene Merrem, 1820. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 173-183. [62156]
  • 35. Ernst, Carl H.; Lovich, Jeffrey E.; Barbour, Roger W. 1994. Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus, 1758): Eastern box turtle. In: Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.: 250-265. [62154]
  • 36. Ewing, H. E. 1933. Reproduction in the eastern box-turtle Terrapene carolina carolina (Linne). Copeia. 1933(2): 95-96. [62374]
  • 41. Grobman, Arnold B. 1990. The effect of soil temperatures on emergence from hibernation of Terrapene carolina and T. ornata. The American Midland Naturalist. 124(2): 366-371. [62373]
  • 44. Harding, James H. 1997. Eastern box turtle: Terrapene carolina carolina. In: Douglas, Matthew M., ed. Amphibians and reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press: 194-201. [61856]
  • 46. Klemens, Michael W. 1993. Terrapene c. carolina: Eastern box turtle. In: Amphibians and reptiles of Connecticut and adjacent regions. Bulletin No. 112. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut: 189-199. [62122]
  • 52. Madden, Robert Carson. 1975. Home range, movements, and orientation in the eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina. New York, NY: The City University of New York. 217 p. Dissertation. [61185]
  • 55. Minton, Sherman A., Jr. 1972. Eastern box turtle: Terrapene carolina carolina (Linnaeus). In: Amphibians and reptiles of Indiana. Indianapolis, IN: The Indiana Academy of Science: 161-166. [62153]
  • 63. Reagan, Douglas P. 1974. Habitat selection in the three-toed box turtle, Terrapene carolina triunguis. Copeia. 1974(2): 512-527. [62118]
  • 65. Schwartz, Charles W.; Schwartz, Elizabeth R. 1974. The three-toed box turtle in central Missouri: its population, home range, and movements. Terrestrial Series No. 5. Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Conservation. 28 p. [62120]
  • 79. Wilson, Gordon L. 2001. Reproductive ecology of the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in a mixed oak-pine woodland in the central Virginia Piedmont. Virginia Journal of Science. 52(2): 86-87. Abstract. [62107]
  • 17. Collins, Joseph T. 1993. [3rd ed., revised] Eastern box turtle: Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus). In: Collins, Joseph T., ed. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History, Public Education Series No. 13. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History: 129-131. [61848]

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Activity occurs during daylight hours in spring and fall, but in hot summer weather most activity is in the morning and after rains. Box turtles are generally inactive during cold winter weather. In Maryland, began hibernation mid- to late October, ended mid-March to early May (Stickel 1989). In central Florida, more individuals were found in the fall than in the spring (Pilgrim et al. 1997).

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Life Cycle

Development

Box turtles hatch as males or females depending upon the temperature of their nest. Nests that are 22-27 degrees C tend to be males, and those above 28 degrees tend to be female. Box turtles are well developed at birth and grow at a rate of about 1.5 cm per year during the first five years, at which time they are mature adults. Growth slows down considerably after that but has been reported to continue for at least over 20 years. Some Terrapene_carolina are believed to live over 100 years.

Development - Life Cycle: temperature sex determination; indeterminate growth

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Development

Terrapene carolina exhibit temperature dependent sex determination. Nests that are 22-27 degrees C tend to be males, and those above 28 degrees tend to be female. Terrapene carolina are well developed at birth (precocial) and grow at a rate of about 1.5 cm per year during the first five years, at which time they reach sexual maturity. Growth slows down considerably after that but has been reported to continue for at least over 20 years. Some Terrapene carolina are believed to live over 100 years.

Development - Life Cycle: temperature sex determination; indeterminate growth

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Terrapene_carolina can live over 100 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
100 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
40 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
138 (high) years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Terrapene carolina can live over 100 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
100 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
40 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
138 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 138 years (wild) Observations: These are animals with negligible senescence (Miller 2001). In the wild, few animals live over 30-40 years but anecdotal evidence, which seems possible, suggests one animal may have lived up to 138 years in the wild (Nigrelli 1954).
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Reproduction

Courtship and mating may occur at various times throughout the warmer months. The egg-laying period in most of the range extends from May through July (mainly June in Maryland, primarily June-July in Louisiana). Adult females lay one or more clutches of usually 1-8 eggs. In Louisiana, individual females generally laid 3-4 (maximum 6) clutches averaging 3-4 eggs per clutch, May-August; interclutch interval averaged 19 days; incubation period lasted 62-114 days (mean about 80-90 days) (Messinger and Patton 1995, Herpetol. Rev. 26:193-195). In Florida, modal clutch size was 2 and only a small percentage of the population produced multiple clutches; some individuals appeared to skip reproduction in some years (Dodd 1997). Eggs hatch in about 2-3 months, often in August, September, or October; hatchlings may overwinter in the nest. Age of sexual maturity has been variously reported as 4-5 or 5-10 years (Williams and Parker 1987). Nesting of individual females may extend over at least 32 years (Stickel 1989). In the wild, few box turtles live more than 40 years, but some may live a century or more.

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The mating season begins in the spring and continues throughout summer to about October. Males may mate with more than one female, or the same female several times over a period of several years.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

A female may lay fertile eggs for up to four years after one successful mating. Nesting occurs from May through July. Most nests are started at twilight and finished during the night. Nests are usually dug in sandy or loamy soil, using the hind legs. Then eggs are laid in this cavity and the nest is carefully covered up again. There are 3-8 eggs laid, though usually 4 or 5, and they are elliptical with thin, white, flexible shells roughly 3cm long by 2cm wide. Incubation normally last three months, but this varies according to soil temperature and moisture. Box turtles are well-developd when they hatch.

Range number of offspring: 3 to 8.

Average number of offspring: 4-5.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 5 (high) years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 (high) years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour, J. Lovich. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C., USA: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1972. Turtles of the United States. Lexington, Kentucky, USA: University Press of Kentucky.
  • Carr, A. 1952. Handbook of Turtles. Ithaca, New York, USA: Cornell University Press.
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The mating season begins in the spring and continues throughout summer to about October. Males may mate with more than one female, or the same female several times over a period of several years.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

A female may lay fertile eggs for up to four years after one successful mating. Nesting occurs from May through July. Most nests are started at twilight and finished during the night. Nests are usually dug in sandy or loamy soil, using the hind legs. Then eggs are laid in this cavity and the nest is carefully covered up again. There are 3-8 eggs laid, though usually 4 or 5, and they are elliptical with thin, white, flexible shells roughly 3cm long by 2cm wide. Incubation normally last three months, but this varies according to soil temperature and moisture. Terrapene carolina exhibit temperature dependent sex determination. Nests that are 22-27 degrees C tend to be males, and those above 28 degrees tend to be female.

Terrapene carolina are well developed at birth (precocial) and grow at a rate of about 1.5cm per year during the first five years, at which time they reach sexual maturity. Growth slows down considerably after that but has been reported to continue for at least over 20 years. Some Terrapene carolina are believed to live over 100 years.

Along the borders of the subspecies ranges, there exist populations that are extremely varied due to hybridization between subspecies. Many of these individuals are so varied that identification as a member of a subspecies is impossible.

There is some variation between the courtship rituals of the subspecies. The courtship of Terrapene carolina carolina is divided into three phases: a circling, biting, shoving phase; a preliminary mounting phase; and a copulatory phase. Terrapene carolina major shows courtship and mating that is basically the same as in T. c. carolina, but they sometimes mate in shallow water. Terrapene carolina triunguis and T. c. bauri both have somewhat different rituals, which may represent the ancestral method. Both T. c. triunguis and T. c. bauri males have added the behavior of pulsating their throats. Terrapene carolina triunguis does this in front of the female, and T. c bauri* males climb up on the females' carapace with all four feet and then pulsate. The actual copulation is the same in all subspecies, with the male standing somewhat upright, leaning the concave part of his plastron against the back of the female's carapace. It is in this balanced position during which the male fertilizes the female with his penis. Males sometimes fall backwards after copulation, and if they can't right themselves they die of starvation.

Range number of offspring: 3 to 8.

Average number of offspring: 4-5.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 5 (high) years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 (high) years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour, J. Lovich. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C., USA: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1972. Turtles of the United States. Lexington, Kentucky, USA: University Press of Kentucky.
  • Carr, A. 1952. Handbook of Turtles. Ithaca, New York, USA: Cornell University Press.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Terrapene carolina

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NU - Unrankable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Reasons: Large range in eastern North America; locally abundant in many areas; declining in some areas as a result of habitat loss and fragmentation and overcollecting for the pet trade; secure because a large number of viable occurrences remain, but nevertheless of conservation concern in some areas.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly to moderately vulnerable.

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A2bcde+4bcde

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2011

Assessor/s
van Dijk, P.P.

Reviewer/s
Horne, B.D., Mittermeier, R.A., Philippen, H.-D., Quinn, H.R., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B. & Vogt, R.C

Contributor/s
Lee, J., Hammerson, G.A., Lavin, P., Mendoza-Quijano, F. & Mandujano, R.C.

Justification
A wide variety of population data sets at different sites and over different periods indicate a widespread persistent and ongoing gradual decline of Terrapene carolina that probably exceeds 30% over three generations, here conservatively considered as 50 years (possibly as long as 100 years). Causes of decline are not fully understood, but comprise a mixture of habitat destruction, pollution and pesticide effects, direct mortality from vehicle strikes, decreased recruitment through increased predation (particularly of eggs and juveniles) by subsidized predators (raccoons, foxes, possums, crows), intentional removal of animals for commercial pet trade (ceased), as personal pets or for 'turtle racing' (ongoing), and possibly disease and vegetational / forest succession trends in much of the eastern United States.

Terrapene carolina mexicana was considered as Least Concern on the grounds that it has a relatively wide range, and although there are modest threats from habitat degradation and collection, the subspecies is currently not thought to be significantly impacted by these. However, these threats should be monitored.

Terrapene carolina yucatana was considered Vulnerable because it is documented as rare with a total population estimated to be less than 10,000, it has a fairly small area of occurrence, and no subpopulation is estimated to contain more than 1,000 individuals; there is an ongoing decline in the number of individuals, due to ongoing habitat degradation and loss, and incidental take. Maximum reproductive potential in other box turtle subspecies is around 7-11 eggs/female/year, and maturity at five to eight years; values for yucatana may be lower because of its shorter active season. In the absence of quantitative data, the subspecies qualifies at least for Vulnerable A2bc, A4bc, B2ab(iii) and/or C2a(i).
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Terrapene_carolina are not considered endangered at the national level in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, although several U.S. states, including Michigan, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, list T._carolina as a species of special concern. It is considered endangered in Maine. There is evidence that some populations are in decline due to habitat loss, road mortality, and collection for the pet trade. They are listed as lower risk by the IUCN and they are in CITES appendix II.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix ii

State of Michigan List: special concern

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: lower risk - near threatened

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Information on state-level protected status of animals in the United States is available at NatureServe, although recent changes in status may not be included.

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Terrapene carolina are not considered endangered at the national level in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, although several U.S. states, including Michigan, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, list T. carolina as a species of special concern. It is considered endangered in Maine. There is evidence that some populations are in decline due to habitat loss, road mortality, and collection for the pet trade. They are listed as lower risk by the IUCN and they are in CITES appendix II.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix ii

State of Michigan List: special concern

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: lower risk - near threatened

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Status

Classified as Lower Risk / Near Threatened (LR/nt) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 30%

Comments: A population in Maryland declined greatly from 1945 to 1975; cause(s) of decline uncertain (Stickel 1978). In 1994, several states, including Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, reported declines (Lieberman 1994).

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 30-50%

Comments: Thie species has declined in abundance, but the level of decline can only be estimated.

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Population

Population
Although widespread and historically common, populations of the various subspecies of the Eastern Box Turtle are perceived to be in gradual decline across the species' range, documented both at a number of sites where populations were monitored over decades, and from casual observations across much of the range. Reported population densities range from two to 24 animals per hectare of suitable habitat (Farrell et al. 2006, Ernst and Lovich 2009).

Terrapene carolina mexicana apparently is localized in its occurrence, and relatively common where it occurs (Smith and Smith 1979, P. Lavin pers. comm. 2005).

Terrapene carolina yucatana is uncommon to rare: rural farmers interviewed by Buskirk (1993) said that some might see a half dozen animals per year, and none in another year. Only 18 localities have been recorded over a century of the species being known to science (Smith and Smith 1979, Buskirk 1993). While the similarly uncommonly collected Kinosternon creaseri proved widespread and abundant when specifically searched for, Terrapene yucatana was not found by any turtle surveys in Yucatan (Iverson 1988; Buskirk 1993, 1997; Artner 2004). Total population was estimated as most likely less than 10,000 individuals (J.C. Lee pers. comm. 2005)


Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Degree of Threat: Medium

Comments: Declines have occurred as a result of habitat loss and, probably, over-collection for export to other countries (mainly western Europe, Canada, Japan) (Lieberman 1994).

Rossell et al. (2002) documented a high level of disease-associated mortality in a population in North Carolina (specific disease unknown).

In Missouri, this species incurred a high rate of mortality as a result of prescribed burning of tallgrass prairie in late October (Frese 2003).

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Major Threats
A wide variety of factors impact Terrapene carolina, and the combination of impacts may leverage the severity of impacts. Degradation, fragmentation and destruction of Box Turtle habitat is widespread, from conversion of rural areas to suburban subdivisions and industrial areas, highways and other infrastructure, to consolidation of small-scale agriculture and timber plantations, and impacts of intentional or accidental vegetation fires, including prescribed burn regimes. Pollution and pesticide effects have been implicated in at least localized population declines, and this has impacted across much of the landscape.

Direct mortality from vehicle strikes, both as roadkill and from agricultural machinery, as well as fire mortality, reduces population density and recruitment potential. Decreased recruitment also results from increased predation, particularly of eggs and juveniles, by subsidized predators (i.e., unnaturally large populations of predators subsidized by easily available resources near human settlements) such as raccoons, foxes, possums, and crows, and possibly boar and dogs; introduced fire ants have also been implicated in Box Turtle population declines.

Intentional removal of large numbers of animals for the domestic and international pet trade has largely ceased, but incidental collection of animals as personal pets and for and 'turtle racing' continues, and amount to very large numbers over time. If returned to native habitat, released pet Box Turtles carry a risk of introducing disease into a native population, and animals from elsewhere represent the threat of genetic pollution. The role of disease in Box Turtle declines is not clear, but ear abscesses are particularly prevalent among Eastern Box Turtles and may indicate underlying stresses.

The overall impact of vegetational and forest succession occurring in much of the eastern United States is not clear, but anecdotal information suggests that while protected woodland areas develop into climax forests which are less suitable for Box Turtles, little new habitat is created or reverted to early successional stages. In certain areas (e.g., Egmont Key), Box Turtles rely on introduced vegetation species for shelter, and management measures to address invasive vegetation could adversely affect an area's suitability for box turtles.

The impact of climate change is not easy to predict, but recent mild winters in the Mid-Atlantic region have led to problems with animals emerging prematurely from hibernation, after which they are injured by subsequent cold periods (Dodd 2001, Farrell et al. 2006, Ernst and Lovich 2009.

Habitat loss (from sugarcane plantations, cattle grazing and fire impacts), collection for pet or subsistence consumption, and roadkills have all been recorded as threats to T. carolina mexicana. The species can tolerate low-level habitat changes, but probably not large-scale modifications. Habitat across much of the range is probably fairly stable at present, however this should be monitored.

Terrapene carolina yucatana: Some animals are killed by agricultural fires; charred animals encountered serendipitously may be consumed by rural farmers, but the species is too rare to go out looking for it.. Some animals are kept as pets locally. Very few animals are kept in captivity abroad (Buskirk 1993, Artner 2004). Road kill is also a problem for this rare, long lived species
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While not yet considered by the IUCN to be globally threatened (1), many populations of the common box turtle have been reduced or eliminated by habitat destruction caused by agricultural and urban development. Development brings with it an additional threat in the form of increased infrastructure, as common box turtles are frequently killed on roads and highways. Collection for the international pet trade may also impact populations in some areas (4) (7). The life history characteristics of the common box turtle, (long lifespan and slow reproductive rate) (4), make it particularly vulnerable to such threats.
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Management

Management Requirements: Prescribed burning should not include hot summer burns--may kill turtles.

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Global Protection: Very many (>40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

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Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions

Terrapene carolina is included in CITES Appendix II and is subject to a variety of State legislation and regulations in Canada and the United States. Turtles in general are protected from exploitation under Mexican wildlife and natural resource legislation; implementation is uneven.

The species occurs in a large number of protected areas, some of which are large and remote enough to buffer their resident Box Turtle populations from most impacts. A population of Terrapene carolina mexicana could occur in the Sierra del Abra Tanchipa Biosphere Reserve (217 km2, cat. VI; core 167 km2, cat. Ia), but no confirmation is available. Individuals and perhaps populations of Terrapene carolina yucatana could occur in a number of protected natural and archaeological sites, but this remains unconfirmed.

Obvious impacts on Box Turtle populations from residential, industrial, recreational and infrastructure developments should minimize impact on these turtle populations, through measures potentially including translocation, wildlife crossings, creation of replacement habitat, awareness, and other actions. Conservation measures for other species and habitat management focused on ecosystem maintenance or restoration must take the specific needs and sensitivities of Box Turtle populations into account, whether forest or fire management. Removal of Box Turtles from, and release of Box Turtles into natural populations should be minimized through appropriate enforcement of legislation and regulations, and through public awareness. Extensive research on status and conservation biology, and monitoring of population trends, is essential for sound conservation management of the species.

Population assessments, basic natural history studies, habitat monitoring, and confirmation of the occurrence of secure populations in protected areas, or establishment of one or more suitable PAs, are urgently needed for Terrapene carolina mexicana and Terrapene carolina yucatana.

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Use of Fire in Population Management

More info for the terms: cover, hibernation, litter

Fire at any time of year appears to be harmful to eastern box turtles since they are unable to escape [3,13,34]. Fire mortality has not been studied extensively, but mortality is consistently high in studies that have examined the effects of fire on eastern box turtle populations [3,6,39]. Given the high mortality rate, frequent fires may severely reduce an eastern box turtle population [13]. However, given that at least a few individuals appear to survive fire, a turtle population may be able to recover if the site has a long fire return interval and the forested habitat has not been greatly reduced.

High-severity fires that kill trees and scorch canopies would likely be detrimental to eastern box turtles since they favor forests [6,12,17,19,31,52,54,60,63,65,70,71]. The removal of the litter layer by fire could also be detrimental because litter is used extensively for cover throughout the year [12,38,63]. The adverse affects of removing litter from the forest floor early in the year would probably be short-term if the leaves in the canopy fell later in the year. However, an autumn fire occurring after most leaves have fallen would have more severe effects on eastern box turtles since a deep litter layer is crucial during hibernation [12,14,24,73]. Timing of fire may be less of a problem in Florida since eastern box turtles typically do not hibernate in that location [35]. More research is needed to address these possibilities.

Research on the effects of fire on eastern box turtle populations and habitat is lacking. Concern for the eastern box turtle already exists over populations that have been isolated through habitat fragmentation [21]. More research is needed to determine if fire in these habitat fragments would be detrimental to the isolated eastern box turtle populations.
  • 6. Bigham, Sam R.; Hepworth, J. Leland; Martin, Richard P. 1964. A casualty count of wildlife following a fire. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science. 45: 47-50. [13539]
  • 12. Carpenter, Charles C. 1957. Hibernation, hibernacula and associated behavior of the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis). Copeia. 1957(4): 278-282. [61844]
  • 13. Carr, Archie. 1952. Genus Terrapene: The box turtles. In: Handbook of turtles: The turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 137-162. [62360]
  • 14. Carr, John L.; Houseal, Timothy W. 1981. Post-hibernation behavior in Terrapene carolina triunguis (Emydidae). The Southwestern Naturalist. 26(2): 199-200. [62151]
  • 19. Cook, Robert P. 2004. Dispersal, home range establishment, survival, and reproduction of translocated eastern box turtles, Terrapene c. carolina. Applied Herpetology. 1: 197-228. [62379]
  • 21. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Conservation Biology. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 150-168. [62416]
  • 24. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Habitats and habitat requirements. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 39-55. [62157]
  • 31. Donaldson, Bridget M.; Echternacht, Arthur C. 2005. Aquatic habitat use relative to home range and seasonal movement of eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina: Emydidae) in eastern Tennessee. Journal of Herpetology. 39(2): 278-284. [62380]
  • 34. Ernst, Carl H.; Boucher, Timothy P.; Sekscienski, Steven W.; Wilgenbusch, James C. 1995. Fire ecology of the Florida box turtle, Terrapene carolina bauri. Herpetological Review. 26(4): 185-187. [61853]
  • 35. Ernst, Carl H.; Lovich, Jeffrey E.; Barbour, Roger W. 1994. Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus, 1758): Eastern box turtle. In: Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.: 250-265. [62154]
  • 38. Forsythe, Patrick; Flitz, Beth; Mullin, Stephen J. 2004. Radio telemetry and post-emergent habitat selection of neonate box turtles (Emydidae: Terrapene carolina) in central Illinois. Herpetological Review. 35(4): 333-335. [62371]
  • 52. Madden, Robert Carson. 1975. Home range, movements, and orientation in the eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina. New York, NY: The City University of New York. 217 p. Dissertation. [61185]
  • 54. McLeod, Roderick F.; Gates, J. Edward. 1998. Response of herpetofaunal communities to forest cutting and burning at Chesapeake Farms, Maryland. The American Midland Naturalist. 139: 164-177. [27869]
  • 60. Pearson, Henry A.; Lohoefener, Renne R.; Wolfe, James L. 1987. Amphibians and reptiles on longleaf-slash pine forests in southern Mississippi. In: Pearson, Henry A.; Smeins, Fred E.; Thill, Ronald E., compilers. Ecological, physical, and socioeconomic relationships within southern national forests: Proceedings, Southern Evaluation Project Workshop; 1987 May 26-27; Longbeach, MS. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-68. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station: 157-165. [14733]
  • 63. Reagan, Douglas P. 1974. Habitat selection in the three-toed box turtle, Terrapene carolina triunguis. Copeia. 1974(2): 512-527. [62118]
  • 65. Schwartz, Charles W.; Schwartz, Elizabeth R. 1974. The three-toed box turtle in central Missouri: its population, home range, and movements. Terrestrial Series No. 5. Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Conservation. 28 p. [62120]
  • 70. Stewart, Margaret M.; Rossi, John. 1981. The Albany pine bush: a northern outpost for southern species of amphibians and reptiles in New York. The American Midland Naturalist. 106(2): 282-292. [62119]
  • 71. Stickel, Lucille F. 1950. Populations and home range relationships of the box turtle, Terrapene c. carolina (Linnaeus). Ecological Monographs. 20(4): 351-378. [62110]
  • 73. Stickel, Lucille F. 1989. Home range behavior among box turtles (Terrapene c. carolina) of a bottomland forest in Maryland. Journal of Herpetology. 23(1): 40-44. [62121]
  • 3. Babbitt, Lewis H.; Babbitt, Corinne H. 1951. A herpetological study of burned-over areas in Dade County, Florida. Copeia. 1: 79. [34389]
  • 39. Frese, Paul W. 2003. Tallgrass prairie amphibian and reptile assemblage. Fire mortality. Herpetological Review. 34(2): 159-160. [61854]
  • 17. Collins, Joseph T. 1993. [3rd ed., revised] Eastern box turtle: Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus). In: Collins, Joseph T., ed. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History, Public Education Series No. 13. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History: 129-131. [61848]

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Management Considerations

More info for the term: swamp

Eastern box turtles were observed less frequently in a clearcut than in forest-clearcut edge and control habitats in an gum-willow oak-green ash (Nyssa-Liquidambar spp.-Q. phellos-Fraxinus pennsylvanica) swamp in South Carolina, although the total number of observations in each habitat was very low [61].

The biggest threats to eastern box turtles are habitat loss and fragmentation. Since the arrival of Europeans, eastern box turtle habitat has been altered or lost through agriculture and urbanization. These activities have isolated eastern box turtle populations and have limited food, water, and mating opportunities. Additionally, eastern box turtles living near forest edges are more vulnerable to predation by northern raccoons and domestic dogs. Other major threats are automobiles, farm and mowing equipment, and the pet trade. Thousands of eastern box turtles are killed each year while trying to cross roads. Some motorists deliberately run over eastern box turtles for sport. Many more are run over by people mowing their lawns and clearing land. Often, eastern box turtles cannot be seen in tall vegetation. Finally, eastern box turtles are popular pets. Individuals are frequently picked up and taken home or sold through pet stores. Removing individuals from the wild reduces the genetic diversity and reproductive potential of a population [21].
  • 21. Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 2001. Conservation Biology. In: North American box turtles: a natural history. Animal natural history series, vol. 6. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 150-168. [62416]
  • 61. Phelps, Joseph P.; Lancia, Richard A. 1995. Effects of a clearcut on the herpetofauna of a South Carolina bottomland swamp. Brimleyana. 22: 31-45. [62370]

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Conservation

The common box turtle is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in this species should be carefully monitored to ensure it is compatible with the species' survival (3). In addition, many U.S. states now regulate or prohibit the taking of this species (4).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Very popular in the pet trade; USFWS (Federal Register, 2 February 1996) reported that approximately 26,000 T. CAROLINA were reported as exported in both 1992 and 1993, 22,000 in 1994.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Box turtles eat some fungi that are poisonous to people. Therefore, box turtles may be dangerous to eat dif they have the poisons from the fungi in them. Box turltes sometimes cause damage to tomato, lettuce, cucumber, cantaloupe, and strawberry crops. They sometimes destroy the eggs of ground-nesting birds. Also they may carry the western equine encephalitis virus in their blood.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest; causes or carries domestic animal disease

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Box turtles are very popular as pets, and they also eat some pestinsects. The Iroquois and other Native Americans used them for food, medical, ceremonial, burial, and hunting purposes.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; source of medicine or drug ; controls pest population

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Terrapene carolina are dangerous to eat due to the possibility of being poisoned, presumably due to the turtle having eaten poisonous mushrooms that don't hurt it, but that retain their ability to poison humans. They sometimes cause damage to tomato, lettuce, cucumber, cantaloupe, and strawberry crops. They sometimes destroy the eggs of ground-nesting birds. They may carry the western equine encephalitis virus in their blood.

Box turtles eat some fungi that are poisonous to people. Therefore, box turtles may be dangerous to eat dif they have the poisons from the fungi in them. Box turltes sometimes cause damage to tomato, lettuce, cucumber, cantaloupe, and strawberry crops. They sometimes destroy the eggs of ground-nesting birds. Also they may carry the western equine encephalitis virus in their blood.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest; causes or carries domestic animal disease

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Box turtles are very popular as pets, and they may serve the ecological role of a seed distributor through their eating of berries that contain seeds. They also eat some injurious insects. The Iroquois and other Native Americans used them for food, medical, ceremonial, burial, and hunting purposes.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; source of medicine or drug ; controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Common box turtle

The common box turtle (Terrapene carolina) is a species of box turtle with six existing subspecies. It is found throughout the eastern United States and Mexico. The box turtle has a distinctive hinged lowered shell (the box) that allows it to completely enclose itself. Its upper jaw is long and curved.

The turtle is primarily terrestrial and eats a wide variety of plants and animals. The females lay their eggs in the summer. Turtles in the northern part of their range hibernate over the winter.

Common box turtle numbers are declining because of habitat loss, roadkill, and capture for the pet trade. The species is classified as Vulnerable to threats to its survival by the IUCN Red List. Three U.S. states name subspecies of the common box turtle as their official reptile.

Classification[edit]

Terrapene carolina was first described by Linnaeus in 1758. It is the type species for the Terrapene genus and also has more subspecies than the other three species within that genus. The eastern box turtle subspecies was the one recognized by Linnaeus. The other five subspecies were first classified during the 19th century.[3] In addition, one extinct subspecies T. c. putnamii is distinguished.[4]

Subspecies
CountrySpeciesScientific NameClassified byYear
United StatesEastern box turtleTerrapene carolina carolina(Linnaeus)1758
United StatesFlorida box turtleTerrapene carolina bauriTaylor1895
United StatesGulf Coast box turtleTerrapene carolina major(Agassiz)1857
United StatesThree-toed box turtleTerrapene carolina triunguis(Agassiz)1857
MexicoMexican box turtleTerrapene carolina mexicana(Gray)1849
MexicoYucatán box turtleTerrapene carolina yucatana(Boulenger)1895
North America(no common name)Terrapene carolina putnamiO.P. Hay1906

Parentheses around the name of an authority indicate that he originally described the subspecies in a genus other than Terrapene.

Description[edit]

hand holding a turtle up so that we see the bottom of it. It has a pleated look with noticeable hinging and bending of the lower shell, running crosswise.
The hinges of the box turtle's lower shell

The common box turtle (Terrapene carolina) gets its common name from the structure of its shell which consists of a high domed carapace (upper shell), and large, hinged plastron (lower shell) which allows the turtle to close the shell, sealing its vulnerable head and limbs safely within an impregnable box.[5] The carapace is brown, often adorned with a variable pattern of orange or yellow lines, spots, bars or blotches. The plastron is dark brown and may be uniformly coloured, or show darker blotches or smudges.[6]

The common box turtle has a small to moderately sized head and a distinctive hooked upper jaw.[6] The majority of adult male common box turtles have red irises, while those of the female are yellowish-brown. Males also differ from females by possessing shorter, stockier and more curved claws on their hind feet, and longer and thicker tails.[6]

There are six living subspecies of the common box turtle, each differing slightly in appearance, namely in the colour and patterning of the carapace, and the possession of either three or four toes on each hind foot. The subspecies Terrapene carolina triunguis is particularly distinctive as most males have a bright red head.[6]

Distribution[edit]

The common box turtle inhabits open woodlands, marshy meadows, floodplains, scrub forests and brushy grasslands[5][6] in much of the eastern United States, from Maine and Michigan to eastern Texas and south Florida. It is found in Canada in southern Ontario and in Mexico along the Gulf Coast and in the Yucatán Peninsula.[1][6] The species range is not continuous as the two Mexican subspecies, T. c. mexicana (Mexican box turtle) and T. c. yucatana (Yucatán box turtle), are separated from the US subspecies by a gap in western Texas. Three of the US subspecies; T. c. carolina (eastern box turtle), T. c. major (Gulf Coast box turtle) and T. c. bauri (Florida box turtle); occur roughly in the areas indicated by their names. T. c. triunguis (three-toed box turtle) is found in the central United States.[6]

Eastern box turtle
Terrapene carolina carolina
Florida box turtle
T. c. bauri
Gulf Coast box turtle
T. c. major
Eastern box turtle.jpgFlorida Box Turtle Digon3a.jpgTerrapene carolina major.jpg
Three-toed box turtle
T. c. triunguis
Mexican box turtle
T. c. mexicana
Yucatán box turtle
T. c. yucatana
Three-toed Box Turtle.jpgCistudoMexicanaFord.jpgTerrapene carolina yucatana.jpg

Behavior[edit]

angled downward view of a turtle facing to the upper right as she squeezes out an egg out the back. There is a distended part of her body far behind her half covering the egg.
Egg-laying

Common box turtles are predominantly terrestrial reptiles that are often seen early in the day, or after rain, when they emerge from the shelter of rotting leaves, logs, or a mammal burrow to forage. These turtles have an incredibly varied diet of animal and plant matter, including earthworms, slugs, insects, wild berries,[5] and sometimes even animal carrion.[6]

In the warmer summer months, common box turtles are more likely to be seen near the edges of swamps or marshlands,[5] possibly in an effort to stay cool. If common box turtles do become too hot, (when their body temperature rises to around 32°C), they smear saliva over their legs and head; as the saliva evaporates it leaves them comfortably cooler. Similarly, the turtle may urinate on its hind limbs to cool the body parts it is unable to cover with saliva.[7]

Courtship in the common box turtle, which usually takes place in spring, begins with a "circling, biting and shoving" phase. These acts are carried out by the male on the female.[6] Following some pushing and shell-biting, the male grips the back of the female’s shell with his hind feet to enable him to lean back, slightly beyond the vertical, and mate with the female.[8] Remarkably, female common box turtles can store sperm for up to four years after mating,[6] and thus do not need to mate each year.[8]

In May, June or July, females normally lay a clutch of 1 to 11 eggs into a flask-shaped nest excavated in a patch of sandy or loamy soil. After 70 to 80 days of incubation, the eggs hatch, and the small hatchlings emerge from the nest in late summer. In the northern parts of its range, the common box turtle may enter hibernation in October or November. They burrow into loose soil, sand, vegetable matter, or mud at the bottom of streams and pools, or they may use a mammal burrow, and will remain in their chosen shelter until the cold winter has passed.[6] The Common box turtle has been known to attain the greatest lifespan of any vertebrate outside of the tortoises. One specimen lived to be at least 138 years of age.[9]

Human interaction[edit]

Conservation[edit]

Although the common box turtle has a wide range and was once considered common, many populations are in decline as a result of a number of diverse threats. Agricultural and urban development is destroying habitat, while human fire management is degrading it.[1] Development brings with it an additional threat in the form of increased infrastructure, as common box turtles are frequently killed on roads and highways. Collection for the international pet trade may also impact populations in some areas.[6][10] The life history characteristics of the common box turtle (long lifespan and slow reproductive rate)[6] make it particularly vulnerable to such threats. The common box turtle is therefore classified as a Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List.[1] The common box turtle is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in this species should be carefully monitored to ensure it is compatible with the species’ survival.[11] In addition, many U.S. states now regulate or prohibit the taking of this species.[6]

This species also occurs in a number of protected areas, some of which are large enough to protect populations from the threat of development, while it may also occur in the Sierra del Abra Tanchipa Biosphere Reserve, Mexico. Conservation recommendations for the common box turtle include establishing management practices during urban developments that are sympathic to this species, as well as further research into its life history and the monitoring of populations.[1]

State reptiles[edit]

"The turtle watches undisturbed as countless generations of faster 'hares' run by to quick oblivion, and is thus a model of patience for mankind, and a symbol of our State’s unrelenting pursuit of great and lofty goals."

North Carolina Secretary of State[12]

Common box turtles are official state reptiles of three U.S. states. North Carolina and Tennessee honor the eastern box turtle,[13][14][15] while Missouri names the three-toed box turtle.[16]

In Pennsylvania, the eastern box turtle made it through one house of the legislature, but failed to win final naming in 2009.[17] In Virginia, bills to honor the eastern box turtle failed in 1999 and then in 2009. For the most recent failure, a Republican legislator characterized the creature as being cowardly because of its shell. However, the main problem in Virginia was that the creature was too closely linked to neighbor state North Carolina.[18][19]

References[edit]

This article incorporates text from the ARKive fact-file "Common box turtle" under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and the GFDL.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e van Dijk, P.P. (2010). "Terrapene carolina". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Fritz Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 198. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Fritz 2007, p. 196
  4. ^ Dodd, pp. 24–30
  5. ^ a b c d Capula, M. (1990). The Macdonald Encyclopedia of Amphibians and Reptiles. London: Macdonald and Co Ltd. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ernst, C. H.; Altenbourgh, R. G. M.; Barbour, R. W. (1997). Turtles of the World. Netherlands: ETI Information Systems Ltd. 
  7. ^ Alderton, D. (1988). Turtles and Tortoises of the World. London: Blandford Press. 
  8. ^ a b Halliday, T.; Adler, K. (2002). The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  9. ^ Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9. 
  10. ^ "Nature Serve". Retrieved March 2008. 
  11. ^ "CITES". CITES. Retrieved June 2007. 
  12. ^ "Eastern Box Turtle – North Carolina State Reptiles". North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State. Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  13. ^ Shearer 1994, p. 321
  14. ^ "Official State Symbols of North Carolina". North Carolina State Library. State of North Carolina. Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  15. ^ "Tennessee Symbols And Honor" (PDF). Tennessee Blue Book: 526. Retrieved 2011-01-22. 
  16. ^ "State Symbols of Missouri: State Reptile". Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnihan. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  17. ^ "Regular Session 2009–2010: House Bill 621". Pennsylvania State Legislature. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  18. ^ "SB 1504 Eastern Box Turtle; designating as official state reptile". Virginia State Legislature. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  19. ^ Associated Press (2009-02-20). "Virginia House crushes box turtle's bid to be state reptile". NBC Washington. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Dodd Jr., C. Kenneth (2002). North American Box Turtles: A Natural History. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3501-4. 
  • Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 149–368. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 23 January 2011. 
  • Shearer, Benjamin F.; Shearer, Barbara S. (1994). State names, seals, flags, and symbols (2nd ed.). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-28862-3. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Six living subspecies are recognized (bauri, carolina, mexicana, major, triunguis, and yucatana) (Ernst and McBreen 1991). Ward (1980) regarded major as a distinct species, but Dundee and Rossman (1989) concluded that major is best regarded as a subspecies.

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The scientific name of the eastern box turtle is Terrapene carolina
Linnaeus (Emydidae). Subspecies in the United States include [20]:

T. c. ssp. carolina (Linnaeus)

T. c. ssp. bauri Taylor

T. c. ssp. major (Agassiz)

T. c. ssp. triungius (Agassiz)
  • 20. Crother, Brian I. 2000. Scientific and standard English names of amphibians and reptiles of North America north of Mexico, with comments regarding confidence in our understanding. Herpetological Circular No. 29. [Place of publication unknown]: Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. 82 p. [54172]

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Common Names

eastern box turtle

three-toed box turtle

Florida box turtle

Gulf Coast box turtle

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