Box Turtle Hatchling Care Sheet

mark1

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Help!

We never planned on being box turtle or any kind of turtle owners. Our daughters have asked for turtles over the years and we always said no as we already have 2 cats, a dog, a hedgie and bettas, besides, my wife is not a fan of reptiles.

This morning we took our middle daughter, who is 11, for major teeth extractions and brought her home in a post-anesthetic stupor. On the way down the walk from driveway to the house, she stops and says, "ooh, a urle" (her mouth is still stuffed with gauze). She bends over and picks up a tiny silver dollar sized turtle and proceeds to bring it into the house.

On the way in, we hear "'e're eeing it is ame is ael" (We're keeping it, his name is Bagel). I look at my wife and utter famous last words, "why not, how hard can it be"? I stay with my daughter while my wife heads off to Petco to get supplies. My daughter, who is supposed to be sleeping off the anesthesia is now completely awake and goes outside and finds a hole with eggshells at the bottom and two more tiny turtles outside of it! I text my wife, "and then there were three..." and she tells me later I almost gave her a heart attack.

My wife comes home after spending over $200 at Petco for supplies (time for my heart attack). She has a 15 gallon aquarium, a screen cover, a bag of substrate, a fancy water dish/pool that looks like it's made of rocks, a food dish, a half log hidey spot, a fake plant, a long flouresent looking UV light, a heat lamp looking light, a bag of 15 baby crickets and a container of 500 baby mealworms.

We built the environment to the best of our ability, put 10 mealworms in the food dish, set loose the crickets in the aquarium and placed the baby turltes (we looked at pictures online for close to an hour and have determined these little guys are ornate box turtles - one of the 2 species of box turtles here in Missouri). We then placed the little guys near the mealworms in the food dish thinking these must be starving. They all proceeded to burrow into the substrate and haven't been seen since.

Will they come out at some point?

Will they be able to find their food and water when they do come out?

Have we set up the habitat correctly? Is the substrate deep enough? Is the water pool accessible enough?

Should we dig them out tomorrow and place them in the water?

Can we clean them up and what is the safest way to do so? They are covered in mud from coming out of the ground.

Attached are 2 pictures, one of the habitat we built (the 3 hatchlings are in there just buried in the substrate) and one of the 3 hatchlings in a box top with a small saucer of water and some lettuce leaves - this was us guessing before my wife went to Petco. Interesting note, we found if the water was warm , they stayed in it, but as it cooled, they all booked for the corners of the box top.

We were clueless going into this and are now confused by conflicting info we find online with what the Petco people told my wife. WE find various opinions about diet, how long to give them light/heat (Petco says the UV light stays on 24/7 and the heat lamp for 12 hours a day, other sources including here have much different info).

We really want these little guys to survive their first days and thrive. Please help us figure out what is best for them.

Thanks in advance.

Obviously they’re native to your area , many folks would be of the opinion you should leave them be ……. I personally wouldn’t see a problem with headstarting them for one winter and then release them , done properly the survival rate is way better ……. I’d keep them in soaking wet sphagnum moss in a Tupperware container at 80-85 degrees with a small hotspot of maybe 90-95 at one end during the day , a light should work …….. the sphagnum moss can be rinsed and cleaned maybe 2-3 times before you need to replace it ……… I’d start them eating by always offering soaked turtle or fish pellets , been my experience that hikari cichlid gold which is red and seems to have a scent that most turtles like is a good choice to start ….. I’d go to a bait store and buy some maggots , that should start them eating for sure ………. As far as releasing them , seeing as they’re native to your yard , you should be able to release them properly , a soft release is best ………. Don’t let them come in contact with any other reptiles while you have them , if you plan on keeping them check your laws …….. it’s always worked for me …… and i would take them out and show them the food everytime i fed them , and then let them do whatever they want , always leaving food available ......
 

GIJohnny

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Aug 29, 2017
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Hi All,

Just an update on the babies. Following the advise here an on other sites, we threw away the mealworms and baby crickets from Petco, they truly are clueless about turtles. The little ones scared us for the first two weeks of their life as they all wouldn't eat. I guess they were living off their yolk sacs. The 3 of them have developed very distinct personalities and it shows in their eating habits.

Bagel, the smallest of the 3 started eating first. She (we have no idea on gender as yet, but it's easier to call them he or she until they get old enough for us to tell). is the oddball and seems to only want to be hand fed. We take them out every day for an hour of turtle time, which is generally placing the 3 of them in a large glass baking dish with about a half inch of skin temperature water. Once they've had their soak, we try to feed them. Bagel will sit on your hand and happily munch any turtle pellets (Omega 1 juvenile pellets) placed in front of her. She seems to snub food in her habitat but will eat 3-4 pellets a day from hand feeding. She is also the most adventurous of the 3 and explores the tank a lot while her siblings are burrowed and sleeping.

Croissant will not eat from your hand, but once he's finished his daily soak, he will march around the tank gobbling up pellets like they are going out of style; we scatter them around for the shyer eaters. We've seen Croissant chow down 7 pellets in one walkabout. He'll usually go exploring for a bit after eating and the dive into a log or burrow in for sleep.

Baguette (do you see a pattern here, my daughters named them) almost never eats where anyone can see him. Pellets disappear during their night cycle and he always seems pretty spry. After his soak he will usually head for his log cave and burrow in.

Today they got a treat, we got in a shipment of 25 pillbugs from Carolina Biological. We took their food dish out of the tank and placed it on the floor with one bug and turtle at a time. Bagel and Croissant immediately started tracking the pillbugs movement and gobbled them up. Baguette watched the pillbug for a minute, ate a turtle pellet that happened to be in the dish and then went after the pillbug. We were so happy to see him eat publicly, we gave him a second one which he promptly gobbled up. I do wish there was cheaper way to get pillbugs, $26 (including shipping) is a bit steep for 25 pillbugs.

Releasing them might be a tough sell for this brood of turtles. My wife, who has always declared that she hates reptiles, will never have them in her house or touch them, has grown very attached to the babies and spends a lot of time with them. She was even giving Croissant and Baguette carrot water baths when Bagel started eating a few days earlier than her brothers. She also has a major aversion to bugs (I keep telling her pillbugs are isopods and not insects, she doesn't care, they are bugs to her) but she was the one to fish the bugs out of the substrate they came in as my close vision is bad and the girls won't touch them. So we may have permanent additions to the family for the next 30 years or so. We know we'll need much bigger enclosures for each of them as they grow, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Our current goal is to keep them happy and well-fed.

Thank you all for your advise and Colleen for your helpful links. I'll try to remember to take some pics when we do turtle time tomorrow and post them for you guys.
 

ColleenT

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i think you can leave the pillbugs in the substrate and they will continue to hunt for them. just keep some moistened pellets in the cage at all times and mist the substrate daily.
 

GIJohnny

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i think you can leave the pillbugs in the substrate and they will continue to hunt for them. just keep some moistened pellets in the cage at all times and mist the substrate daily.
My wife is very protective of the babies and mists the substrate every 3-4 hours. We put out both moistened and dry pellets because Croissant for some reason prefers the dry ones.
 

NikkiW18

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Ive just recently joined and I have been concerned with my hatchling not for eating in a couple days. He is a hybrid between an eastern box turtle and a three toed box turtle. He is around 2-3 months old and I got him a week ago. He is in a 40 gallon breeder aquarium. He ate two mornings out of the week and hasn’t ate again. When he ate, he ate a couple cut up red worms. I also leave out spring mix and mushed up pellets that he doesn’t touch. He also hasn’t drank water since he ate a couple pieces of the red worms that I fed to him in shallow warm water. Today I tried giving him meal worms but he didn’t eat those either. He is always hiding and doesn’t come out unless I unbury him to eat. One side of the tank is about 80-83 degrees and the other side of the tank is around 76 degrees. I also have a UVB light that I turn on for him. I have a coconut substrate that I moisten multiple times a day. The night time temp gets around 73 degrees. He has a half log in the aquarium as well as fresh water he can get in to soak and I recently put a plant in the aquarium.
I am not sure why he isn’t eating and why he stays buried all day unless I take him out. If you guys have any suggestions or information I would appreciate it. Thank you.
 

ColleenT

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he isn't eating bc he is in a new environment and change always stresses them out. You should be soaking him daily. Babies dry out easily. turn the heat down. Box turtles don't need so much heat. That might be why he is hiding in the dirt. Box turtles are natve to the USA, not a tropical region, like many other reptiles. Give him a cool side of the tank. Room temperature should be good enough. Offer small earthworms, or scrambled eggs.
 

NikkiW18

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he isn't eating bc he is in a new environment and change always stresses them out. You should be soaking him daily. Babies dry out easily. turn the heat down. Box turtles don't need so much heat. That might be why he is hiding in the dirt. Box turtles are natve to the USA, not a tropical region, like many other reptiles. Give him a cool side of the tank. Room temperature should be good enough. Offer small earthworms, or scrambled eggs.

Okay thank you. What Is a good temp for the warm and cooler side of the tank?
 

ColleenT

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i think 82 is fine for a warm side, and room temperature/no heat source on the cool side. keep offering food, eventually he will eat.
 

NikkiW18

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i think 82 is fine for a warm side, and room temperature/no heat source on the cool side. keep offering food, eventually he will eat.
Are pieces of red worms good for him to eat? Red worms and earthworm are too big for him so I need to cute them in pieces but make sure acouple pieces are still moving. I also have some mealworms. Should I continue to feed him in a very shallow dish with warm water?
 

ColleenT

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Are pieces of red worms good for him to eat? Red worms and earthworm are too big for him so I need to cute them in pieces but make sure acouple pieces are still moving. I also have some mealworms. Should I continue to feed him in a very shallow dish with warm water?

yes you can cut the worms, but they can eat more than you think. Mealworms are not good for them, bc the phosphorous to calcium ratio is not good for them. i am not sure what you mean by feeding him in a shallow dish with water? The worms don't need to be fed in water.

this article has a section for feeding babies toward the bottom. it is long.

http://www.boxturtlefacts.org/Feeding_North_American_Box_Turtles.pdf
 

NikkiW18

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NikkiW18

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yes you can cut the worms, but they can eat more than you think. Mealworms are not good for them, bc the phosphorous to calcium ratio is not good for them. i am not sure what you mean by feeding him in a shallow dish with water? The worms don't need to be fed in water.

this article has a section for feeding babies toward the bottom. it is long.

http://www.boxturtlefacts.org/Feeding_North_American_Box_Turtles.pdf
I have done just about everything I can do as well as feeding him in a secure place and he still hasn’t ate in about a week? I offer food to him daily and leave greens out. I’m worried that he’s starving. Will he eventually eat if I keep offering food?
 

ColleenT

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I have done just about everything I can do as well as feeding him in a secure place and he still hasn’t ate in about a week? I offer food to him daily and leave greens out. I’m worried that he’s starving. Will he eventually eat if I keep offering food?

yes
 

mark1

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myself i'd keep a hot spot of about 90 and let the low end be 80 , and very wet , soaking wet sphagnum moss works well , it can be cleaned by rinsing a couple times before it needs replaced ............. i've raised them in soaking wet sphagnum moss with standing water on the bottom , and no water dish , without a problem ......... he's not going to eat greens , soaked fish or turtle pellets offered all the time , red is a good color for the pellets , maggots , worms , or just about any bug you can find ....... best place to feed him is in the container he lives in ......
 

NikkiW18

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I talked to the guy yesterday and told him what is going on and he told me he is only 30 days old. That explains why I can’t get him to eat I’m doing what he said and he still isn’t eating. We will have to see if I need to exchange him for a yearling.
 

NikkiW18

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Hello, I am currently feeding my yearling box turtle earthworms in shallow warm water as told. But I noticed every time my turtle eats a worm he has to spit up some water. Is that normal or should I start feeding him his earthworms out of the water?
 

siberianwolf

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I have never fed my box turtle worms in water but it should be concerning. My three toed box turtle Gaston is 13 and has eaten them just fine without them in water
 
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