The Eastern Box Turtle
Terrapene carolina carolina
Lifestyles and Habitat
Feeding Habits and Mechanisms
The Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina, is a small terrestrial turtle of North America. It has a high, domelike shell of 4.5 - 6" in length, and hinged plastron that allows total shell closure: it is the ability of the turtle to completely close its shell that Klemens states gave it its common name (1993). The carapace can be of variable coloration, as can the skin, although they usually have a brown or black background with yellow, orange or white patterns or streaks. The species is sexually dimorphic with females being slightly smaller than males. Males have a concave rear plastial lobe and a flared carapace; females have a flat or convex rear plastial lobe and less flaring in the carapace. The sexes also differ in iris coloration: in males, the iris is red while, in females, it can range from yellow to brown.
Photo by Steven Pinker
Species: Terrapene carolina
Subspecies: Terrapene carolina carolina
Photo by Jim Harding
In Connecticut (from Klemens 1993):
Terrapene carolina carolina is found in low lying coastal areas. It is also found in the Central Connecticut Lowland and the hilly regions of southwestern Connecticut.
This site's author has observed T. c. carolina in both lower Litchfield County, and upper Fairfield County, Connecticut, most recently in June 2006 in a power line right-of-way in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
General Distribution (from Dodd 2001):
Terrapene carolina carolina may be found along the eastern seaboard from southern Maine to southern Georgia, and west to the Mississippi River. Due to the popularity of T. c. carolina as pets, they may also be found in isolated spots outside of their range.
Terrapene carolina carolina range
(From Smithsonian National Zoological Park Website)
Lifestyle and Habitat
Terrapene carolina carolina is a sedentary animal with a small home range. T. c. carolina prefers old field habitats and deciduous forests, but they may also be found in wet meadows and swamps. T. c. carolina is a terrestrial turtle, but it seems to select habitat that is not far from water.
T. c. carolina is active during the day from mid-spring until mid-fall. During the winter, the animals remain in their home range, but bury themselves in chambers dug in the earth. The same chamber may be used during active seasons as a place to escape from predators or to cool off on hot summer days.
Photo from www.geocities.com
Feeding Habits and Mechanisms
Terrapene carolina carolina is an omnivore, known to feed upon a wide variety of plants and animal materials. As T. c. carolina is opportunistic, the exact diet depends upon what is available within their home range. T. c. carolina has been observed eating grasses, leaves, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. They will eat mosses and fungus; their ingestion of poisonous mushrooms may, in fact, render their flesh inedible to other species. Among the animals in their diet, earthworms, slugs, insects and general carrion are consumed.
T. c. carolina usually slowly forages for food by tunneling through leaf litter but it may also track prey. The animals can move surprisingly quickly and can snap and grab even highly mobile animals such as grasshoppers.
Terrapene carolina carolina mates on land. Males will circle a female and may nudge or bite the female's carapace. The male will mount the female in a series of steps which involve hooking his feet into the female's carapace opening. Mating may occur at any time when the turtles are active and females may lay several clutches of eggs in a given season. Eggs are deposited in loose soil and leaf little and incubate from 75 - 90 days, depending upon the temperature.
Photo U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Terrapene carolina carolina does not have federal protected status, but the species is considered in decline across its range. In Connecticut, T. c. carolina is listed as a species of special concern.
Most often, it is human activity that threatens these animals. Loss of habitat contributes to the decline, and habitat fragmentation may prevent males and females from finding each other to mate. The movement between fragmented areas also results in automobile strikes. Even well meaning humans can be troublesome: relocation of box turtles will result in the turtle attempting to return to its home range, thereby putting itself in peril.
Photo by Jim Harding
Terrapene carolina carolina is a common animal and can be found in many museum collections. It is also commonly found in zoological parks and nature centers.
In or near Connecticut, specimens may be found in the following collections:
Information regarding Terrapene carolina carolina is easily available in libraries, and by utilizing basic internet search engines. Some of the better sites are as follows:
Animal Diversity Web: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Terrapene-carolina.html
NEPARC/Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation: www.pwrc.usgs.gov
Center for Reptile and Amphibian Conservation and Management: http://herpcenter.ipfw.edu
Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Reptile Discovery Center: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/reptiles
Comprehensive lists of related articles appear in several places on the internet. The links below have been regularly updates to include the latest published materials regarding Terrapene carolina carolina.
Conant, R. and Collins, J. T. (1991). Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
Dodd, C. Kenneth (2001). North American Box Turtles: A Natural History. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma.
Klemens, Michael W. (1993). Amphibians and Reptiles of Connecticut and the Adjacent Regions. State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut, Department of Environmental Protection Bulletin 112. Hartford, Connecticut.
Klemens, Michael W. (2000). Turtle Conservation. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington.
Orenstein, Ronald (2001). Turtles, Tortoises, and Terrapins: Survivors in Armor. Firefly Books, New York.
Tyning, Thomas F. ed. (1997). Status and Conservation of Turtles of the Northeastern United States: Notes from a Symposium. Massachusetts Audubon Society, Lincoln, Massachusetts.
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Website prepared by S. A. Pardee 2007.