Box Turtle Hatchling Care Sheet


New Member
Sep 17, 2017
Location (City and/or State)

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.

Oh, man, do I feel your pain. We live in Illinois, and in September my father-in-law in Mississippi gave my 10 year old daughter a couple month old three-toed box turtle. Down in ruralish Mississippi, they would frequently keep turtles in an enclosure outside during the summer and then release them back into the wild. We live in the suburbs of Chicago, so keeping the turtle outside, even in summer, is not a good option. I love this turtle, but it's been like being a new parent all over again.

She ate fairly decently the first month or so and then slowed down in October. Took her to the vet for a wellness checkup just before Halloween, and the vet (who was over the moon to see such a little baby) said even though we have the heat lamps and UV, said they can sense barometric pressure changes which will cue them to try to brumate. He said they can go into a low energy state that isn't true brumation and can slowly waste away and just keep soaking and trying to get her to eat.

After the first vet visit she started eating even less often and even started refusing all food but banana. I was a wreck while my mom was taking care of her when we went to Mississippi for Thanksgiving with my husband's family, but she ate daily while being hand fed by my mom, but only banana. Once we got home, she then refused to eat for a whole week, so I took her back to the vet.

They said her plastron was red (we hadn't noticed because she has a lot of brown and tan markings on it, and the change to red was very subtle), which is an indicator of systemic infection. We upped the wattage of our heat lamp and began using an infrared lamp at night, hooked up to a Willhi thermostat to keep nighttime temps between 70 and 75 degrees while convalescing, per the vet's advice, and started a 7 shot round of Fortaz antibiotic, which was completed Christmas Day.

She is eating daily for the most part, but only will eat the Zoo Med canned box turtle food and occasionally banana or red pear. I bought nightcrawlers from PetSmart and cut a piece off for her because they are huge, but she has no interest. She stopped eating egg and chicken back in November. I'm hoping the disinterest in protein is either because of the recovery and/or low activity level for this time of year, but it's always a worry. An online friend who has had a boxie for two decades assures me that as long as I get her to nibble at stuff here and there during the winter, she should do fine, but it has been exhausting.

The vet said to wait minimum a week after the last injection before bringing her in for a recheck, so she will be going in sometime after the new year. I think her plastron is a little less red, but it's so hard to tell. She is definitely more active when we take her out. Still staying burrowed all day, but I expect that will remain the case until spring.