Land Turtles

Most turtles in the pet trade are wild caught and have parasites and diseases as they were transported from wholesaler to storage and not treated well. It’s better to adopt a turtle from a rescue or to purchase one from a breeder. Land turtles are comprised of wood turtles and box turtles, and both kinds of turtles like to be near the water. Wood turtles actually spend time on both land and in the water, so they are semi-aquatic. There are three basic kinds of box turtles, which are considered to be the true land turtles:

Common Characteristics

  • Size: 1 to 20 pounds
  • Lifespan: 16 to 25 years


Eastern Box Turtle –This land turtle is large and needs the most humidity. The female eastern box turtle can grow to eight inches.

Three Toed Box Turtle – The three toed box turtle and the ornate box turtle can do well housed together. This turtle can grow to five or six inches.

Ornate Boxed Turtle – The ornate box turtle wants to drink water daily and can grow to five or six inches.


 Common Reasons for Surrender

The land turtles are usually surrendered because they get sick, and people don’t want to pay for the veterinarian. Sickness is usually related to the husbandry.


Land turtles get to know you as their friend and food supplier. They will come up to you and look at you as if to plead for food. Turtle owners say that each turtle has his own personality.


Some turtles need a lot of space and don’t like to be confined. If you put them in a tank, some will try to get out all of the time and become stressed. You can let your turtles out of their tank and allow them to run around the house. A child should never handle the turtle without adult supervision. Turtles can get salmonella infection and that can be serious. Children should look and not touch. Adults should always wash their hands after touching a turtle.


These turtles are omnivores, meaning they will eat plants and animals. Your land turtles will enjoy night crawlers, strawberries, cooked oatmeal, lettuce, broccoli (stems, not the broccoli flower), and beef heart minced up (get at the butcher). Be sure to cook all meat so there is no bacteria in it. You may also buy readymade turtle mixes. Land turtles love to hunt for insects, so you can feed them live insects such as meal worms and small crickets.

Be sure to provide your turtles with a cuttle bone, a vital source of calcium.


If you provide the proper habitat, your land turtle will enjoy roaming about at his own pace.

Possible Health Issues

If the land turtles are not kept warm enough, they can get respiratory infections and ear infections. A common problem with box turtles is that if they do not have enough vitamin A they will get eye infections. Vitamin A can be given in the box turtles’ diet in foods such as leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, and a little cod liver oil in the winter. Box turtles can have worms, a common condition due to the snails and slugs in their diet which are often heavy with parasites.


The eastern box turtle will want something to dig into and a shallow water bowl where he can soak every day. This larger turtle needs a lot of humidity, which you can provide by giving her a shallow water bowl to soak in every day and keeping the coconut fiber substrate moist.

Unlike the eastern box turtle, the ornate box turtle likes a dryer environment and if they’re kept too moist they get skin and respiratory problems.

All box turtles need a UV light and a large tank. You need to place a basking rock and a heat lamp on one side of the tank so your tank has a warm side and a cool side. A small tank will stress your box turtle. Never use pine or wood shavings with turtles or any reptile. You may use coconut fiber on the bottom of the tank, and your turtles will enjoy digging down into it. A turtle should never smell badly, so if you detect a smell, change the coconut fiber.

A water saucer on the bottom of the tank will give your land turtle enough water to bathe. Fill the water half as high as his shell so the turtle sips the water or sit in it all day. It needs to be easy for your turtle to climb in and out of the saucer or he can turn over and drown in the water. Box turtles are not good swimmers so you don’t want water so high that he has to struggle or strain to breathe. She should be able to sit in her water saucer and relax and bathe.


Now and then, if they don’t have enough to chew on, their beaks overgrow like a bird beak. You can ask your vet to grind down the beak. If it grows too long, the turtle won’t be able to eat properly.


The land turtle does not engage in training exercises but will enjoy roaming about a tank that is large enough to explore.


Some box turtles like to bask in the sun and stretch their legs.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES                                                                                                   

The Great Big Book of Snakes and Reptiles by Barbara Taylor and Mark O’Shea

We want to thank Reptile and Amphibian Rescue, Los Angeles, California for help with this profile.

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