Eastern Box Turtle Terrapene carolina

Adult from Franklin County

Identification

The Eastern Box Turtle is a small terrestrial species that possesses a horny beak, stout legs, a high domelike carapace that is slightly keeled, and a hinged plastron that allows total shell closure. The coloration of the carapace varies, but is usually brownish or black with varying amounts of yellow or orange radiating patterns of lines, spots, or blotches. The edges of the carapace flare outwards. Body coloration is also variable, but is usually brown with some yellow, orange, or white spots or streaks.

Adult from Franklin County
Adult from Owen County

In very young Eastern Box Turtles, the carapace is predominately dark with a yellow rim and spots on the vertebral keel and center of each scute. In many individuals, the color expands as the turtle ages. The plastron of young turtles is yellow with a central dark blotch. The sexes are similar in size. The carapace of an average-sized adult is about 5 to 6 in (12 to 16 cm). The iris of most adult males is red, the rear lobe of their plastron is concave, and the hind claws are longer and more curved. Females have a brown iris, a flat or slightly convex plastron, short and straighter hind claws, and a relatively more domed carapace.

The Eastern Box Turtle is very similar to the Ornate Box Turtle in coloration; however, the top of the Ornate Box Turtle’s carapace is slightly flattened compared to the Eastern Box Turtle.

Ecology and Conservation

The Eastern Box Turtle is found almost exclusively on land, predominately in moderate to well-drained woodlands. They can also be found in thickets, fields, pastures, vegetated dunes, marshes, and on the edges of bogs. Access to water is still important for the Eastern Box Turtle. Individuals will sometimes soak around the edges of small streams or ponds on the hottest days. They are primarily active during daylight hours although nesting females are active at night. Fruits, berries, fungi, snails, worms, slugs, and insects are all readily consumed by this species. They will also eat carrion on occasion. Eastern Box Turtles reach sexual maturity at 710 years of age and reach full size around 20 years. Some evidence suggests that individuals may live up to at least 120 years of age.

Upland forest from Wayne County
Fen from Carroll County

They are a species of Special Interest in Ohio, and of Special Concern in Michigan. Casual collection, collection for the foreign pet trade, and roadway kills are all significant threats to this species. In some areas, nest predation by raccoon, foxes, skunks, crows, and snakes can be significant natural mortality factors. Eastern Box Turtles cannot be sold or purchased in Indiana. Moreover, since 20 July 2004, no Eastern Box Turtles can be taken from the wild in Indiana.

Distribution

The range of the Eastern Box Turtle extends from southern Maine to Michigan, and south to Florida and eastern Texas. It is uncommon to rare in the Great Lakes region, but populations can be locally common in areas not bisected by heavily-traveled roads. The Eastern Box Turtle is found throughout Indiana, but is much more common in the southern half of the state.

Taxonomy

Some scientists recognize multiple subspecies within the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina), while others either elevate some of those subspecies to be recognized as distinct species. Under this former system, Indiana's Easter Box Turtles belong to a single subspecies--the Woodland Box Turtle (T. c. carolina). These turtles belong to the family Emydidae, which is represented in Indiana by a total of ten species.

Literature Cited

Conant, R. and J. T . Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. Houghton Mifflin, New York, Ny.

Ernst, C. H. and J. E. Lovich. 2009. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Second Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Kinney, V. C., N. J. Engbrecht, J. L. Heemeyer, and M. J. Lannoo. 2010. New County Records for Amphibians and Reptiles in Southwestern Indiana. Herpetological Review 41:387

Klueh, S., J. Mirtl, and T. Shier. 2011. Terrapene carolina. Eastern Box Turtle. Geographic distribution. Herpetological Review 42:239.

Klueh, S., A. Garcia, A. Maves, and L. Landowski. 2011. Terrapene carolina. Eastern Box Turtle. Geographic distribution. Herpetological Review 41:242.

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.

Reintjes-Tolen, S., M. C. Granatosky, K. L. Krysco, and J. B. Iverson. 2011. Terrapene carolina. Eastern Box Turtle. Geographic distribution. Herpetological Review 42:566.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)
Photographs