There are six subspecies of
box turtles. The four listed above are found in the United
States; two subspecies are found in Mexico.
This fact sheet describes a general box turtle, unless otherwise mentioned.
Males are slightly larger on average than females, the posterior lobe of their plastron is concave, and the claws on their hind legs are short, thick, and curved. Males also have thicker and longer tails. Females' rear claws are longer, straighter, and more slender, and the posterior lobe of their plastron is flat or slightly convex. Males have red irises and females have yellowish-brown irises.
Environmental temperature determines activity rate. Preferred body temperature is between 84 and 100° F (37.8° C). In the heat of the summer, box turtles largely restrict their activity to mornings and after rain. When it gets too hot, they hide under decaying logs and leaves, crawl into mammal burrows, or into mud. When it is really hot, they go into shady pools and puddles to cool off. In the spring and fall, they may be out foraging during all daylight hours, and they sometimes bask in the sun to get warm. Box turtles are diurnal and scoop out a shallow indentation in which to spend the night.
In the northern regions, box turtles go into hibernation in October or November, but farther south they remain active later in the year. To hibernate, they burrow as far as two-feet deep into loose earth, mud, stream bottoms, old stump holes, or mammal burrows. They may return to the same place to hibernate in successive years and sometimes more than one turtle hibernates in the same hibernacula. They usually emerge from hibernation in April. They sometimes wake up and find a new hibernacula on warm days in the winter.
These turtles usually have a home range with a diameter of 750 feet (230 m) or less in which they normally stay. Occasionally, for unknown reasons, they journey out from their home range. Home ranges of different individuals overlap frequently, regardless of age or sex. The turtles are often found together and show no antagonism towards each other.
There are four subspecies of T. carolina in the U.S. Terrapene carolina bauri (Florida box turtle) lives in the peninsula of Florida. Terrapene carolina major (Gulf Coast box turtle) ranges from the panhandle of Florida westward along the gulf coast to eastern Texas.
Terrapene carolina triunguis (three-toed box turtle) lives in the Mississippi River Valley from northern Missouri southward across southeastern Kansas and eastern Oklahoma into south-central Texas, and southeastward across western Tennessee and Georgia to the coastal lowlands.
Terrapene carolina carolina (common box turtle), covering the largest area, lives from Michigan and Maine in the north, and ranges south to the boundaries of the other subspecies. Very little overlap occurs between the ranges of the subspecies of T. carolina, except for a region in Mississippi and Alabama where T. carolina triunguis and T. carolina carolina overlap.
Box turtles live in open woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows. They are often found near streams and ponds.
The mating season begins in the spring and continues throughout summer to October. Males may mate with more than one female or the same female several times over a period of several years. A female may lay fertile eggs for up to four years after one successful mating. Nesting occurs from May through July. Nests are usually dug in sandy or loamy soil, using the hind legs. Then eggs are laid in this cavity and the nest is carefully covered up again. Females lay three to eight eggs, usually four or five, and they are elliptical with thin, white, flexible shells. The female lays several clutches each year. Incubation normally lasts three months, but this varies according to soil temperature and moisture.
Box turtles can be dangerous to eat. At times they consume poisonous mushrooms and the toxins may linger in their flesh.
Box turtles are most famous for their hinged shell, which allows them to retract almost completely into their bony armor to hide from danger. This shell has great regenerative powers. A case was reported in which the carapace of a badly burned box turtle underwent complete regeneration.
For more information, including references, see the Animal Diversity Web account for this species, here:
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/ site/ accounts/ information/ Terrapene_carolina.html.