Box Turtle Hatchling Care Sheet

StarSapphire22

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Oct 3, 2013
Messages
2,688
Location (City and/or State)
Fargo, ND
BOX TURTLE HATCHLING CARE

INTRODUCTION:

Box turtles are native to North America. They are also known as box tortoises, although box turtles are terrestrial members of the American pond turtle family, and not members of the tortoise family. The species commonly kept as pets in the US are the 3-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major), Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri), and Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata). Care requirements are virtually identical for all species.

Some basic things to keep in mind while reading this care sheet:
  • Box turtles, being a semi-aquatic species, need (and enjoy!) damp, humid, even wet conditions. For hatchlings, this is even more important; hatchlings dehydrate incredibly easily, and substrate needs to be kept moist at all times.
  • Box turtles prefer shade or filtered light. They also don’t like hot temperatures, and tend to retreat from anything over 90*F.
  • Box turtles can sometimes be skittish and easily stressed, especially as hatchlings when everything is viewed as a potential predator. They also like familiar surroundings; a wild turtle removed from his habitat will spend the rest of his time trying to return “home” and will often die in the process. This isn’t to say you can never redo a habitat or upgrade as your turtle grows, but it is something to keep in mind!
  • Box turtles are a threatened species in some states. Please check your local wildlife laws regarding owning a Box Turtle and what species you are allowed to keep in your area. Never EVER move/remove a Box Turtle from the wild, unless it is in immediate danger. Not only are you possibly breaking local laws, you may be hurting wild populations in doing so.

INDOOR HOUSING:
When selecting appropriate housing for a hatchling box turtle, it is important to consider two things: size of the enclosure and how well it can handle ‘wet.’ As discussed in the introduction, box turtle hatchlings are semi-aquatic and dehydrate easily. For this reason, I recommend against selecting enclosures made of materials that will not hold up well to moisture (such as wood) or enclosures that allow moisture to evaporate rapidly from the enclosure. The best enclosures are Rubbermaid containers, or glass aquariums, for their ability to retain moisture without rotting, etc. A single box turtle hatchling does not need much space while it is still very small; however, a growing turtle needs enough space in its enclosure to house the various “furniture” needed (discussed later in this care sheet) as well as enough room to get the exercise it needs. A single box turtle hatchling should be kept in nothing smaller than a standard sized 10 gallon aquarium; any more turtles than that would obviously need more space. A Rubbermaid bin also works well, especially one with opaque sides to minimize stress on the turtle (from outside motion, light, etc.). Enclosures should be upgraded as the turtle grows.


SUBSTRATE
Since box turtles need moisture, it is important to select substrate that can retain moisture well. Appropriate selections include coco coir, organic topsoil, fir bark (also known as reptibark or fine grade orchid bark), and cypress mulch. You can also create a mix of these; your goal is to make your substrate as close to a wet forest floor as possible. Providing an upper layer of sphagnum moss or leaf litter is also a good idea. Hatchlings in the wild will spend much of their first year or two under such cover to hide from predators. Substrate should be kept wet and be misted/watered regularly.
Do not use any of the following: sand, paper products, rabbit pellets or other rodent bedding, aspen, corn cob bedding, aquarium gravel or other rocky substrates, reptile carpet. All of these choices could be potentially fatal for your hatchling.
Some people like to add worms or pillbugs directly into their enclosure to encourage hunting behaviors. This is up to you. Coco coir or soil will work best if you choose to do this.


LIGHTING & TEMPERATURES
Box turtle hatchlings, like any chelonian, need UV to grow properly. Using a 5.0 UV fluorescent tube for about 8-12 hours, 4 days a week, should give them enough UV. Taking them outside when weather permits is also a good idea, to soak up natural UV. Studies have shown natural UV exposure during growth encourages color in box turtle shells, in addition to the health and growth benefits.

Regarding temperatures, box turtles prefer much cooler temperatures than most reptiles. Temperatures from 70-85 are in a comfortable range for box turtles. Anything above 90 is usually too hot for them, and you’ll notice them utilizing water dishes or hiding and burrowing to cool down. Regarding basking, you will find different opinions on whether or not to provide a basking spot for hatchling turtles. Some do not, provided their room temperatures are about at least in the low 70s. Some provide a low wattage incandescent bulb or “moonglow” (blacklight) bulb, positioned for a gentle heat of about 80-85 degrees on one end…some who do this have it on for 8-12 hours per day, while others prefer using it for an hour each day around midday. Personally, I recommend starting with no heat for the first year or using the one hour/day trick, unless you know your temps are around or lower than 70*F and you’re noticing a lack of activity, in which case you can bury a low wattage heat pad underneath a minimum of 6-8” of substrate. This will radiate a gentle heat upwards for your hatchling(s). Be careful not to bury the part where the cord meets the pad. Because hatchlings can dehydrate so easily, extra heat can sometimes cause them to dehydrate faster, so monitor your setup and hatchling(s) carefully and use your best judgment on what (if any) additional heat is needed.

It should be noted that there are some types of bulbs should not be used with boxies. First off, the spiral coil (CFL) UV bulbs. Do not EVER use these bulbs with any kind of turtle or tortoise. They can burn the eyes and cause severe eye irritation for your little ones, and have been linked to blindness. Secondly, MVBs - they are too hot for any box turtle, adult or hatchling. They also have an extremely drying effect and can effectively zap the moisture out of your enclosure. Reptile spot bulbs are also very drying and create “hot spots” that can be dangerous for your little one.


INSIDE THE ENCLOSURE

WATER
Providing a shallow dish filled with clean water for your hatchlings to soak themselves in is very important. This will allow them to drink the water they need to stay hydrated and soak some up through their skin. You may see your babies in it a little or a lot. You can trust them to do it as often as they need to. They may even just be shy and doing it when you’re not around. The water should be shallow enough that they are able to stand on the bottom of the dish and hold their head out comfortably. A terra cotta saucer (glazed or unglazed) works well for this. It should be buried so the edge is flush with the substrate for easy access. Surrounding your dish with moss or flat stones will help them wipe off their feet and track less substrate into the dish. Water should be replaced at least once each day, or more as you see it’s needed. If you have more than one hatchling, you should have at least 2 water dishes.

HIDES
They should also have hides in their enclosures…places they can hide and feel safe! Half logs, clay pots on their sides, or other reptile caves and hides from pet stores will all work well. I like to provide a couple in my enclosures so they can choose where they want to be. If you have more than one hatchling, you should provide more than one hide.

PLANTS
Plants are a great way to provide sight barriers/cover in your enclosure as well as make it more aesthetically pleasing for you! You can use live plants (which is also a great way to help keep things wet and humid by watering) or silk/plastic plants. Either is just fine. If you choose to use live plants, it is important that they are not fertilized, sprayed for bugs, etc. Organic is best, or grown from seeds. You should also check to make sure the plant is edible if your babies try to nibble it. If you’d like to include other decorations in your enclosure, you certainly can. Just make sure it won’t create a possibility for your hatchling to flip onto its back. Any decorations should be buried into the soil a little and securely placed.
 

StarSapphire22

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Oct 3, 2013
Messages
2,688
Location (City and/or State)
Fargo, ND
DIET
Box turtle hatchlings are mostly carnivorous when young, but should also be fed greens and fruit. You will likely find that these are mostly ignored until typically 6-12 months of age.

Appropriate sources of protein can include: Live worms or insects (red wigglers, chopped up nightcrawlers, small mealworms, small crickets, pillbugs, slugs), boiled eggs, boiled plain chicken, raw beefheart (but no other beef products), raw ground turkey, or even high quality natural wet cat food (in moderation). Hatchlings will be attracted to the movement of live bugs and worms.

Plant and fruit matter: Spring mix salad blend, various lettuces (no iceberg, and romaine only in moderation), raddichio, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, dandelion leaves/flowers, hibiscus leaves/flowers, grapevine leaves, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, banana, apples, cantaloupe, watermelon, pure pumpkin, squash fruit/leaves/flowers, etc.

Prepared diets such as Mazuri can also be fed in moderation, but pellets should be soaked and softened.

Using a "mash" diet a few times a week is encouraged, to help them get a variety in their diet, since they will tend to want to eat only the wiggly things. One recipe example is banana, Mazuri tortoise diet, ground turkey, and peas and carrot blend put through a food processor. You could then mix this with fresh veggies or berries or even add a few little worms in it to get their attention. You should switch your “mash” recipe up every week or so.
Protein should make up about 70-80% of the diet while young, with the remainder being leafy greens/plants, vegetables, and fruit. If you cannot get them to eat non-protein foods while young, that's ok but keep trying!

Calcium+D3 should be supplemented in very small amounts once or twice a week. You can do this by dusting the live protein with is, mixing it in the mash, or dusting it on top of food.


OTHER TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
Box turtles love to swim! Keep in mind though, that they are not aquatic turtles. They have more of a dog paddle swimming style with occasional short diving. You can use a Rubbermaid tilted at a slight diagonal for a shallow end/deep end to allow them to swim –it’s also a great outside activity to soak up some UV and extra moisture! Never leave boxies unsupervised while swimming, as drowning is a possibility if they are unable to reach “land” for some reason, or flip, etc. For hatchlings the “deep” end shouldn’t be more than a couple inches.

An Infrared temperature gun is a necessary part of any reptile keeper’s supplies. Don’t trust pet store thermometers. An accurate temp gun is well worth the money and more accurate, plus it allows you to measure any spot in the enclosure instantly!

Handfeeding with boxies is encouraged because of their naturally skittish behavior. Attempt to do this a few times a week. This will allow them to positively associate you with food so that they will allow you to easily inspect them for injuries and general wellness.
 

lisa127

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2012
Messages
4,324
Location (City and/or State)
NE Ohio
I like it as well!

Regarding humidity, I don't even measure the humidity in my boxie enclosures. I keep the substrate damp at all times and I spray the enclosure each afternoon. I also keep about 3/4 of the enclosure covered to hold in heat and humidity. But I've never measured the humidity level.
 

StarSapphire22

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Oct 3, 2013
Messages
2,688
Location (City and/or State)
Fargo, ND
I like it as well!

Regarding humidity, I don't even measure the humidity in my boxie enclosures. I keep the substrate damp at all times and I spray the enclosure each afternoon. I also keep about 3/4 of the enclosure covered to hold in heat and humidity. But I've never measured the humidity level.
This is a good point too. If you're keeping everything appropriately wet and not using an open topped enclosure, humidity shouldn't be an issue and happen naturally.
 

Budbud62808

New Member
Joined
Aug 7, 2014
Messages
14
Location (City and/or State)
Illinois
I've just recently joined. We have the opposite of a hatchling I was only browsing different topics...
I'm going to be making changes to our box turtles habitat but wanted to ask a question regarding his diet. This says no ice berg lettuce, but that has been his primary diet for soo long I'm worried too many changes will change my turtle. He is in a glass aquarium and I've read that I should black out the bottom so he can't see out. Wouldn't he be sooo used to seeing that changing that could leave him lonely? It says they are solitary creatures but even after 25+ years?
 

StarSapphire22

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Oct 3, 2013
Messages
2,688
Location (City and/or State)
Fargo, ND
Short answer: no and no.

Iceberg has no nutritional value. You're filling him up, without giving him the vitamins and nutrients he needs. Switching to a food that's actually good for him can't hurt him.

Chances are if he's in an aquarium, his habitat is too small. Instead of worrying about blacking out the sides, you should be worrying about creating a bigger indoor space or outdoor space (or both) depending on your climate. There are a lot of ways to do this all over the forums. :) For now, if you're not seeing him pace around the sides or display other signs of stress, don't worry about the sides...Not all turtles and torts are stressed by glass.

You should start your own thread, with pictures of your current setup. People will be happy to chime in and help you out. Welcome to the site!
 

Budbud62808

New Member
Joined
Aug 7, 2014
Messages
14
Location (City and/or State)
Illinois
Thanks I've started a few new threads with questions. I'm scared to post pics because after reading so much I just know I'll get bad feed back. Refinishing the stand for BudBuds new tank and then we start
 

StarSapphire22

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Oct 3, 2013
Messages
2,688
Location (City and/or State)
Fargo, ND
Thanks I've started a few new threads with questions. I'm scared to post pics because after reading so much I just know I'll get bad feed back. Refinishing the stand for BudBuds new tank and then we start
Just because we tell you to change things, doesn't mean we hate you or are judging you. Everyone starts somewhere. A lot of members here started out with bad habitats or diet. You're here because you want to learn the best care for your turtle, right? Then that includes getting feedback.
 

Budbud62808

New Member
Joined
Aug 7, 2014
Messages
14
Location (City and/or State)
Illinois
Just because we tell you to change things, doesn't mean we hate you or are judging you. Everyone starts somewhere. A lot of members here started out with bad habitats or diet. You're here because you want to learn the best care for your turtle, right? Then that includes getting feedback.
I know. And we do love our BudBud. My husband is terrified his turtle is dying... I started researching it to tell him he was wrong. I'm not convinced that he is 100% healthy but I know way more now than I did before
ImageUploadedByTortoise Forum1407882997.236148.jpg
 

ETTB1314

Active Member
Joined
Oct 14, 2014
Messages
183
What about the MBT? Is there a place I can ask questions on here about the MBT? Thanks
 
Top