New Box Turtle Owner

clsanchez77

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Hey all, I am new to this thread and new to box turtles. My neighbor rescued a box turtle abandoned in a playground. The turtle had a painted shell with embellishments attached, hence rescued and not wild captured. She, the turtle, is about 7" to 8" long (shell length). She, the neighbor, cannot take in anymore animals and my kids loved the idea of having a turtle.

I live near New Orleans so my plan was to construct an outdoor pen in the backyard. Exposure will be direct morning and mid-day sun with afternoon and evening shade. This is due to several live oak and maple trees and pretty much is anywhere in my yard. I wanted to provide some ideas I have for discussion and see what you all think.

By the way, my background is aquariums, including amazon biotopes and reef aquariums. I also have a cat and have 3 kids. So far, the cat is the easiest. This my first turtle.

Construction
Construction would be landscape timbers. I will use treated timber, probably 4"x4"'s to 12" below ground and then use landscape timbers up to 24" above. The design is a quarter octagon, with 8-ft sides on two sides and a taper on the other two sides. I would cap these with some 2"x12"s for seating (braced of course). On one of the shorter sides, I will construction some built-in boxes, again, using landscape timbers. One of these boxes will be an above grade shelter for the turtle. I am assuming 18"x18" would be large enough. The other boxes would be to store supplies and for the pond filter.

Heating
I am not finding any online consensus as to whether heating should be provided outdoors or not. Our typical annual low is in the thirties and is also one of our wet seasons. We hit the 20's every other year or less often. Part of me thinks the turtles live here naturally so should be fine. The other part of me tells me this turtle was captive and may not hibernate normally. My thinking was to put a single 40w heater in the wooden shelter on a rheostat and set it to maintain a low temperature, like say 70F. I would think I can keep box at 70 when the temperatures are 50F outdoor. When its below 50F, I dont think there is anything else I can do, but this is limited to only a few weeks scattered from December to February and our highs are rarely lower than that. This is an area I need more guidance on.

Substrate
My backyard is pretty fat clay soil, with river sand on the top foot where I filled it in and St. Aug grass on top. My plan was to pull the grass and till all this up down a foot and mix in compost, pine bark mulch and some peat moss. I was thinking maybe 1 part each, roughly 12 cubic feet of each. I can use the removed soil to fill in some low spots around the yard. I also need to do my final lawn cut for the year and may mix in the clippings as well. Looking for other recommendations. I have an endless supply of live oak and maple tree leaves to provide throughout the year.

Pond
I am not liking the water tray idea I keep reading about. Instead, I want to provide a small garden pond, something in the 35-50 gallon range. My thought here is something big enough for the turtle to jump in, stretch, relieve himself in the water and (most importantly), get out easily. I will use an external canister filter so I can maintain the filter without disturbing the pond. I may also add UV to keep the algae down. I am looking at some various preformed ponds that have a ledge to accommodate turtle access. Currently, I am looking at the preformed "Aruba" pond by Maccourt. This pond has a flat area on one side that I can build up with rock and plant grass in . For the grass, I am considering saggitaria platyphylla. This will also help filter the water and looks more natural than egg-crate. I plan to stock the pond with mosquito fish. Keep the mosquito larva at bay and give the turtle something to snack on. I will provide some large driftwood to bridge over the pond and to provide a few slopes for access into the pond. No fountains, water falls or bubble features. Plumbing will be sub-surface to keep the water calm, but not stagnant.

Plantings
I have found more information what not to plant rather than what to plant. My plan was to plant 50% vegetative plants and 50% ornamental. For vegetative, I was thinking various kale, other leafy and herbal plants that turtles would eat. The grzing tortoise seed mix at Carolina Pet Supply looks like a good start. I would greatly appreciate recommendations. For the ornamentals, I was thinking ferns and hostas, again, some direction would be appreciated. Also, I have a single Abelia shrub relocated from my front yard garden and would make a good shrub in the habitat; I have not seen anything to indicate this would be poisonous.

Rocks
I understand turtles need some sort of rock to eat on to help keep their nails and beaks naturally trimmed. I find this interesting as there isn't any naturally occurring rock within 100 miles of New Orleans yet we have turtles everywhere. Aside from that, what kind of rock do you normally use? Perhaps I can lay some flagstone.

Food
Aside from the items I would plant, I plan to incorporate various worms into the soil mix and will add crickets from time to time for protein. For veggies, I was thinking chopped greens and few assorted vegies with color. I have heard fruit is good but should be limited in quantity, but otherwise berries and bananas were the basic. I am not sure how often or how much to feed. There does not seem to be any guidelines. My neighbor has been feeding the turtle strawberries and lettuce daily and the turtle does eat but seems to peck.

Lastly, if there was one book that was the absolute best reference guide for box turtles, please let me know. I have a library of books dedicated to reef aquariums so I don't mind have one or two or more good books on hand. One thing I learned in aquariums though, is there is hundreds of books on the subject, but fewer than a dozen true good books.

Anyway, I greatly appreciate your help on this. Please let me know what you think.
 

wellington

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Hello and Welcome:). Normally I would tell you to try to find the rightful owner, but doing that to a turtle is not right and they should not have it back. Glad your going to give it a home. I will let the boxie people help you with your set up.
 

Yvonne G

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Hi, and welcome to the Forum!

I've gotten out of the habit of referring to books about turtles and tortoises because so much of the info is out of date. What you are suggesting above seems good to me. I'm not real sure how you will get a filter to work on an in-the-ground turtle pool, but if you can do it, more power to you. Just be sure to have the sides rough and slope so the turtle can get in and out easily.

I have used Mary at the Turtle Puddle's box turtle ideas a lot. She seems to have it together. Here's a link to one of her sites:

https://turtlepuddle.org/american/boxcare.html

I'd love to see some pictures of your new little painted baby.
 

TLWR

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My turtles are in southern/coastal AL, so similar climate to yours.
I have a little stream/pond, created with pond liner, topped with river rock. Their pen is dug down about a foot and lined so they can't get out. The top has areas of pea gravel, river rock, pine straw and mulch.
Plants - I have an ornamental grass we bought as a 6" pot last year. This year it is HUGE.
Day lilies
There is a mint in there that spreads during the summer and dies back for the winter.
And this pineapple sage keeps coming back bigger and better - http://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-pineapple-sage/

They ignored the strawberries and any other stuff we put in there for them to eat.

For the winter, I pile in a bunch of leaves and pine straw at one end for the winter.

ours love carpenter bees - which is great because we have tons of them boring into our deck and fencing. DH whacks them and tosses them into their pen if they are our and about and they gobble those suckers up. We just basically share what we have for produce.
 

johnsonnboswell

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Box turtles are great climbers. The more corners you have in the habitat, the more climbing opportunities. Make sure to cap the corners. It's a good idea to have an overhang on all the walls, too.

Start a leaf or garden waste compost pile in the habitat. It will attract good bugs & worms for the turtle to hunt, provide a hide, improve the soil, and heat up as it decomposes. All good things.

I would not have a pond unless it had a false bottom, like plastic ceiling grid. That would allow it to be deep enough for a filter to work but shallow enough for safety. They can swim, but not for long, and drowning is a real possibility. I use a very large plant saucer.

Mary at the turtle puddle is a good source of info. You can also get Tess Cook's book of BT care free online at her BT site. It's very good.
 

clsanchez77

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Thanks guys, all great info!

Wellington, I agree. I am not sure I could track down the owner if I wanted to. A lot of turtles around here. Where I live, we have open drainage canals and in the summer, there are turtles on all the drain pipes basking in the sun. Sadly, our drainage canals serve as our main roadway medians, so many turtles do not make it to and from the drainage canals. But nonetheless, we have many around here. The park this turtle was recovered from is commonly used by many to abandon unwanted pets. The park is full of chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, lizards and turtles among other things. I am pretty sure if the turtle was not painted, it would have gone unnoticed amongst the chaos. Dogs and cats are sadly abandoned too, but those are typically collected by the parish.

Yvonne, the turtle puddle sites was one of the ones I used to compile my information, so looks like I am in the right direction. I did forget about the irrigation. I use am currently plumbing a misting system for my gardens and I will add a branch to my turtle enclosure to run daily to help keep the humidity up, you know, for those days where the humidity in New Orleans actually drops below 90%.

Charlie, I will be watching for Diamond. Is he in New Orleans?

TLWR, Fort Morgan is one of my favorite places to visit in the summer. I am not a fan of Gulf Shores, too touristy, too many condos and too many people. I like your idea of digging the pond slightly below grade, but I cannot do that here. I have no way to drain it off so in a heavy rain, it would definitely hold water for several days. I do have a perforated PVC drain system in my backyard and the turtle pen will sit directly on this. But even with this, in a heavy rain, the water level in my backyard is the same as in the street. It's like I live in a turtle bowl too! As long as the pen is at grade, all will be fine. Anything below that will not drain. Also, thanks for the plant tips, I will check those out.

Johnson, I am reading mixed opinions about the box turtle's ability to swim. Several sites, including the one referenced above, state the turtle prefers a deeper pool to swim in and the likelihood of drowning is over stated. Everything seems to focus on entrance/exit points, not depth of water. Also, around here, I see turtles in the water all the time, this particular turtle was captured in a pond at the park I described above. The pond is concrete lined with no ramped entrances. Turtles get in and out of this pond all the time. Nonetheless, the pond I am looking at is 18" deep with a ledge at 9" deep. I will make sure I have exit points around all the sides, but do you think the depth is a problem?

I took some pictures tonight and will post them in a new thread to help me ID the turtle and maybe assess its (her?) health.

Thanks
 

johnsonnboswell

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You're right that the exit points are what's critical in a pond. Turtles swim fine. They become exhausted if they can't leave the water. I've also heard too many reports on another list of drowned box turtles to be comfortable, and I've pulled too many small drowned animals out of my fish pond to use one with my box turtles. So make the entry/exit points close to each other.

My boxies love the rain.

As long as the earth is holding moisture and there is a place to burrow you may not need to humidify the air.

Some of this you'll just have to modify as you go, check to see if it's working as you expect.
 

lisa127

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If this is the turtle you posted in that other thread, it looks to be a gulf coast boxie. And gulf coasts love humidity and love water even more than other boxie species do.
 

clsanchez77

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Thanks all! Lisa that is the one. I hope to start digging and laying some landscape timbers tonight after work.

If the timbers are set to extend 12" below grade, do you think I still need to install a false bottom under the pen? I have read of people using chicken wire and then turtles getting caught up in it. I was thinking of maybe laying down that plastic lattice work. Its expensive, but I would only need two sheets, it wont degrade and the turtle will not get his claws stuck in it.
 

Ciri

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Your box turtle enclosure plans sound very interesting. I would suggest using untreated lumber, as treated lumber has toxins, and I understand it includes arsenic. For underground areas to prevent them from digging out I've used 8" of concrete. For water, the pond sounds idyllic looking. However, once you have a sick box turtle (which can happen from time to time), it will need to be drained and completely sanitized with bleach (during which the turtle can't have access to it). For that matter, to prevent illness, I would suggest sanitizing from time to time anyway. I find ceramic water dishes to just be much easier. I change and sanitize them daily. I find the perfect size of water dishes cheaper at Crate & Barrel. When I got my first box turtle 19 years ago she got an eye infection, my vet treated it but it came back because I didn't sanitize her dish properly. Once I started doing it correctly, I didn't have that problem.

As for the depth of the water, my reptile specialist veterinarian has said never to put my box turtles into water that they would have to swim in - nothing deeper than one third of the distance up the shell. He said that they can panic and drown in deeper water.

Tess Cook does have a great website giving lots of box turtle care information. She also has a book out which has much more than what is on the website - I have it as well.

This is a link to an extensive list of poisonous plants compiled by the San Diego turtle and tortoise Society:
http://media.wix.com/ugd/840bd6_a746364926084d88889d9749b6c1a156.pdf

I look forward to hearing how it goes with the enclosure and the turtle. Please keep us posted – I would love to see pictures.
 

clsanchez77

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Thanks Ciri, I will look up Tess Cook. I know books are being considered obsolete, but IMO, you still cant beat a good one on the shelf.

No fears on the treated lumber. US finally banned CCA treatments several years back. The new treated timbers do not include arsenic. They are still copper based and are generally environmentally certified. I am going to have to use treated timber where I live. The ground is clay and is moist year round. Any timber in contact with the ground will rot. Heart of cypress timber just isn't available anymore. Even today's cedar does not outlast treated pine when in contact with the ground. I have seen several others use the new treated timber in their turtle pens and I just don't see it being an issue. If it turns out it is an issue, I will line the inside with plastic sheeting.

You are the first person to mention having to sanitize the pond. I will give it some thought.

I am still baffled by turtles drowning in water. I have grown up in the same areas they do! There are no natural shallow ponds of only 2" to 4" deep around here except when it rains. Seems like evolution would have prevented these turtles from thriving in south Louisiana/Alabama and the Florida panhandle if they could not handle a foot of water. The link from Mary Hopson above even discusses the need for the box turtles to take an occasional swim, excerpt below:

"Box turtles may be clumsy swimmers, but many of them do seem to enjoy it if a deeper pond is available in an outdoor enclosure. Some box turtles will swim in an outdoor pond for over an hour almost every warm day. Others just wade and soak in the shallow end. Make sure there is an easy exit so a swimming box turtle does not become exhaused. Also, cold water can disable a turtle that falls in or enters to swim. A warm water pond with an easy exit will be appreciated by many American box turtles and poses no significant danger of drowning."​

I will certainly make sure I have a shallow end and several ways to get out, that is a layout issue. With my reef background, I can keep the water pretty clean and warm year round. I will certainly continue to research the water issue more.
 

clsanchez77

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Alright, so looking around at some other photos, I will change out the pond for a larger shallower one. I am looking at something more like the "Rectangle" from Maccourt. It measures 55"x33"x7". I will add a layer of gravel and grow aquatic grass in it, I will also add a drain and a filter to keep the water clean and be able to pump it dry and replenish the water as needed. Once gradded and planted, the 'pond' will taper from no depth around the perimeter to 6" in the middle. The turtle will have sloped access out of the water on all four sides. I will use some rocks to somewhat free form it so it does not look like a box.

I have a lot of experience with planted aquariums so this should not be too much of challenge outdoors. Lighting is free and the turtle should provide sufficient nutrients. I may just need to supplement organic CO2.
 

TLWR

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I dug my dirt down a foot and then laid a layer of tyvek house wrap and then put the dirt back in. I didn't want to use chicken wire and the tyvek works great for weed control, so I only have things growing in their pen I want there (minus one of the darn wild black berry picker things that will survive a nuclear holocaust). And in AL, they don't dig down that far in the winter (plus they get the piled up leaves/mulch/pine needles in one end as well)
 

TLWR

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This was the pen when I first built it
IMG_7846_zps08de61ad.jpg

at the mid left of the photo, you can sort of see a grassy bit (not the dark green against the brick, that's a lily), but that little one. It's now up beyond the lower part of the window (which isn't seen in the pic)
And the clay pot - can't be seen now... the plant to the right of it is the pineapple sage - which is to the top of the deck (also not visible in the pic)

We don't have any pics of it from this year.
Their pond/stream starts at the big pot - water flows over the lip and into the stream which is very shallow and pools into a small pond area they could swim in if one certain turtle didn't rearrange the rocks and fill it in all the time!
 
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