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What is a box turtle? Box turtles comprise a genus of this species that are also known as box tortoise. These animals are native to Mexico and in the U.S. There are currently four recognized species of box turtles; spotted box turtle, common box turtle, ornate box turtle, and Coahuilan box turtle. These species can be identified through its domed shell which is hinged at the bottom. The hinge plastron (bottom shell) enables turtle species to close its shell tightly if they’re being threatened by any predators in the wild. In this article, you’ll learn what is a box turtle? and how they are as pets.   

What is a Box Turtle:  Species and Subspecies

Below is the complete list of all the known species and subspecies under the genus Terrapene.

Common Box Turtle 

Scientific Name: Terrapene Carolina, Linnaeus

The most popular type is known as the “Common Box Turtle.” It hails from the North American region. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the official status of this species is “vulnerable.”


Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina, Linnaeus

The Eastern Box turtle is a subspecies of the common box turtle. The name came from the location where they are usually found – in the eastern regions of the U.S. It’s also one of the most common subspecies and it has an official status of vulnerable.

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina bauri

This subspecies get its name from the state of Florida where it is usually found, although these species are also native in the southern regions of Georgia. The official status of this species is “least concern.”

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina major

Just like the other subspecies, the name came from the location where the species are native to. For this one, these box turtles are found along the Gulf of Mexico, ranging between the states of Florida and Louisiana.

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina triunguis

The reason why this subspecies has this kind of name is simply because it has three – toes on its back limbs. These species are more enduring of its new environment compared to other subspecies making them as one of the better choices to keep as pets.

Mexican Box Turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina Mexicana

Mexican box turtle is a subspecies that is endemic in Mexico. These creatures are rarely seen and kept as pets because there are export laws that are placed in order to protect them. 

Yucatan Box Turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina yucatana, Boulenger

This subspecies is particularly endemic in Yucatan, a state in Mexico. It doesn’t have an official endangered status but locals have reported that they’re seeing less of these creatures in the past few years.

Coahuilan Box Turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene Coahuila

Another species of the is called the Coahuilan which is also known as Aquatic. They can be found in North America but are also endemic to Mexico particularly in the state of Coahuila. The official conservation status of this species is endangered.

Spotted Box Turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene Nelsoni

The spotted species hasn’t been studied quite as much as the other species. There are only two known subspecies of the spotted: the Northern and Southern spotted box turtles wherein very little info can be found. The species gets its name because of its physical features – you can see tiny spots all over its shell. Due to lack of information, it has no official conservation status.


Northern Spotted Box Turtle (Terrapene nelsoni klauberi)

Southern Spotted Box Turtle (Terrapene nelsoni nelsoni)

Western Box Turtle 

Scientific Name: Terrapene ornate

This kind of box turtle has a shell that doesn’t have or perhaps have less of a dome shape. And because of this, the shell looks a bit flat in appearance than other box turtle species. It has two subspecies: Ornate Box Turtle and the Desert Box Turtle. 


Ornate Box Turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata ornate
It is a subspecies of the Western. Unfortunately, its official conservation status is “near threatened.”

Desert Box Turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata luteola
The name came from where it is usually found. The desert box turtle is native to various dry areas such as New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.

Keep Them as Pets

Now that you’ve known, what is a box turtle? Let’s talk about how they are as pets.

Box turtles are quite popular and can be ideal pets for first – time turtle owners. One of the things to keep in mind if you want to keep them is their environment. These creatures need enough exposure to real sun. If your pet can’t have enough sun, you have to provide an artificial light source for them to stay healthy. It’s also essential to provide them with the right diet.

In terms of nutritional needs, box turtles in the wild are omnivorous which means that they usually eat a lot of different things. They usually eat things like worms, insects, and other types of small – size invertebrates but they mostly eat a lot of veggies such as leaves, berries and some fruits. In captivity, it’s best to give them an equally varied meal for you to ensure that they’re receiving the right nutrition.    


They make popular pets because box turtles are generally docile pets that don’t need a lot of maintenance. And although they have quite an exotic look, most people like them because they or more specifically their shells, come in various designs and colors. They are very docile which means that it’s very safe to pick them up and will not be aggressive. However, it’s also important to note that you shouldn’t pick them up all the time or tempt your fingers at them because they may nip at it. This may not be suitable for very young children. You can still keep them but just make sure that it’s out of children’s reach. 

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