Many people believe a Box turtle makes a perfect pet. It is calm, passive, and docile around people. Plus, it won’t bite, scratch, or destroy your furniture.
The fact this animal is an omnivore can falsely lead you to the conclusion you can feed it with anything you want. Quite contrary. If you ever get a Box turtle, you will discover it has a pretty complex diet. So, what do Box turtles eat? Let’s see.
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Box turtles Habits and Biology
Box turtles originate in North America and Mexico, but you can find them in pet stores worldwide. As their name suggests, Box turtles have decorative box shells they use for protection. This turtle type can retract all limbs inside and entirely hinge close it.
That way, these reptiles defend themselves from natural enemies such as raccoons, chipmunks, skunks, and foxes. Besides the Common Box turtle, there are three additional species:
- Coahuilan (Aquatic Box turtle)
- Spotted Box turtle
- Ornate Box turtle
All four groups have their subspecies with specific characteristics and shell patterns. The most common pets among Box turtles are:
- Eastern Box turtle (Terrapene Carolina Carolina)
- Gulf Coast Box turtle (Terrapene Carolina major)
- Three-toed Box turtle (Terrapene Carolina triunguis)
- Western Ornate Box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata)
Unfortunately, many of these Box turtles are endangered or vulnerable species under local law protection. For example, you can rarely find Mexican Box turtle (Terrapene Carolina Mexicana) available on the market since it is endemic species.
Believe it or not, Box turtles have a strong bond with their home. If you find one in the wild and move it to another area, it will probably wander around desperately trying to find its nest. The same will happen if you close it in the tank. Wild turtles don’t get the idea of glass, and they will try again and again to move forward.
Box turtles are creatures with a long lifespan. They can live over 50 years in their natural habitat, but pet life decreases their average age. Unfortunately, many hatchlings die in their first winter due to improper care.
When you want to determine a Box turtle sex, you can do it by looking into its eyes. Male turtles have bright, red eyes, while females have dull eyeballs, typically colored brown or yellow.
Do Box turtles Eat Dirt?
Healthy, well-nourished Box turtles won’t eat dirt. However, you can often see them picking through the soil in an attempt to find insects. They also sift through the dirt and overturn small stones looking for bugs.
Box turtles enjoy digging, and they often bury themselves. There are many reasons for this occurrence, from hibernation to plain old boredom.
Still, malnourished Box turtles can eat dirt. Vets call this phenomenon pica or geophagy. If your pet has calcium or iron deficiency, it will compensate for the vitamin deficiency by consuming rich soil in those nutrients.
What Do Box turtles Like to Eat Most?
As I have already mentioned, Box turtles are omnivores. That means you have a wide choice of food for their diet. A general rule of thumb is your pet’s diet should include:
- 60% meat
- 30% flowers and vegetables
- 10% fruit
A baby and an adult Box turtle have different nutritional needs. You should feed hatchlings daily, while a grown turtle should have a meal every two to three days.
Besides, a baby turtle will prefer meat, including bugs and insects, over vegetables. Contrary, an elderly Box turtle more enjoys some flowers and fruits.
Offer your pet a variety and include in the meal plan different plants, insects, and veggies. Ideally, a nutrition guide for your Box turtle should imitate a diet it typically has at its disposal in the wild.
A protein intake is crucial for your turtle’s health. Luckily, there are plenty of choices when it comes to meat, including:
- Crickets and grasshoppers
- Beetles and caterpillars
- All kinds of worms
- Snails and slugs
- Trout Chow and sardine
- Baby pink mice
- Chicken meat and beef hearts
Flowers and vegetables
Veggies are an essential part of your turtle diet. Vets recommend including them in 30 to 40% of meals, depending on animal age, health status, and habits. Always offer a fresh vegetable to your Box turtle, preferably chopped to the bite-size. Most Box turtles love fresh, bright-colored veggies, so you should provide your pet with:
- Sweet potato and carrots
- Leafy greens, lettuce, and spinach
- Broccoli, celery, kale, and cabbage
- Bell pepper
- Peapods and beet greens
You can also pick fresh flowers and offer them as a treat after or between the meals. Some great choices are:
Most Box turtles prefer eating fruits instead of other food. It is a natural source of many vitamins, minerals, and fiber so that you can include them in the nutrition plan once or twice a week. Still, keep the portions small since you don’t want to overdose your turtle with sugars. The best options include:
- Apples and pears
- Mango and papaws
- Watermelons and melons
- Oranges and grapes
- Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries
- Apricots and peaches
- Figs and mulberries
Sometimes, you need to enhance a Box turtle’s nutrition with supplements and minerals. Most vets recommend providing reptiles with calcium and multivitamin sprays. If your turtle lives indoors, you also need to boost its vitamin D intake.
Nowadays, many pet stores offer commercial turtle food. If you decide to buy it, check the nutrition label and pick the food with more calcium than phosphorus. You can combine it with fresh meals or use it when you are in a hurry. Keep in mind that you need to provide your turtle with fresh water daily.
Food Avoid to Feed Box turtles
A key to a healthy Box turtle is a well-balanced diet that provides all necessary nutrients. With that in mind, there are some food categories you should avoid in your pet’s meals, including:
- Bread, bakery products, and pasta
- Candies, chocolate, and other products containing sugars
- Processed meat and canned food
- Avocado skin and pits
- Tobacco leaves and products
- Tomato and potato leaves
- Dairy products
- Commercial cat and dog food
Some of these foods will irritate your Box turtle, while others can poison it. Reptiles are lactose-intolerant, so dairy products are off-limit. Rhubarb and potato leaves belong to highly toxic food for turtles.
Junk food is unhealthy for humans, but you should also avoid giving it to a turtle. On the other hand, a portion of dog or cat’s food won’t hurt your pet, but it is unhealthy in the long term.
In addition, there are some plants and flowers toxic to Box turtles. If you let your reptile wander around your home or yard, you need to remove the following plants:
- Umbrella Tree and Poison Ivy
- Iris and Spider Mum
- Rosary Pea
- Philodendron and Oleander
- Lily of the Nile and Lily of the Valley
Tips to Feed Box turtles
Once you get a baby Box turtle, you may get confused with all the choices you have. Planning meals ahead can help you in the first weeks. However, there are some expert tips you may also find helpful:
Variety of food – Turtles enjoy variety, and they can get bored with repetitive meals. The best option is to offer different meat types to your pet until finding its favorite.
Commercial food – If you feed your turtle with commercial food, it is necessary to buy different brands and check a nutrition label. Combine pellets with cans and chunked meat. If you buy low-quality food, you will need to invest in supplements to balance the vitamin deficiency.
Calcium – Consult with a vet before including calcium powder in the turtle’s diet. Most pet owners use calcium carbonate, calcium lactate, or calcium gluconate. If you prefer offering turtle organic calcium, the best option is to prepare eggshells for it in the oven. Bake them for approximately half an hour on 300 F (149 C) before adding them to the meal.
Vitamin D – Don’t overdose a Box turtle with vitamin D. If your turtle goes outdoor regularly, it will get plenty of sunlight, so you can skip giving it supplements.
Fish – If your turtle enjoys fish, limit a portion to one feeder fish per day. Small fish, like guppies, goldfish, platies, bluegills, and bass, is a perfect choice. Don’t forget to remove fish entrails and bones.
Frozen veggies – If you don’t have any fresh veggies, you can use a frozen mix. Thaw and cook the vegetables before giving them to a turtle.
Limit a fruit portion – Your reptile will enjoy sweet food, but the veggies and meat combination has far more nutrients. Apple and pear seeds are toxic to some turtle species, so you need to remove them before serving.
Cook meat – Always appropriately prepare this food before giving it to a Box turtle. That way, you can prevent bacterial infection and rotting if your pet doesn’t eat it right away.
A Box turtle is an omnivore, meaning it will eat almost anything you offer it, including meat, vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Consult a vet before offering turtle supplemented and vitamins, and avoid particular food types to keep it healthy.