In Florida, there is a possession limit of two box turtles per person, inclusive of all native species and their taxonomic successors and hybrids. The take of box turtles is limited to one turtle per person per day from the wild within possession limits. It is illegal to sell box turtles, their eggs or parts thereof that were taken from the wild.
All box turtles have a high-domed and rounded shell, marginally hooked jaw and slightly webbed feet. Males are slightly larger than females, have shorter and slightly more curved claws and longer tails with a concave underbelly shell (plastron). Females have straighter and longer claws with a flat or convex plastron. Box turtles earned their name from their ability to hide from predators by contracting into their shell completely due to their hinged plastron which can almost fully close. Hatchlings are born with a flattened shell and a plastron that cannot close completely. Juveniles develop the high-domed shell within 4-5 years.
Florida box turtles have a carapace length of 4.33 inches, with bright yellow radiating lines on a dark brown and black carapace. Their plastron is pale yellow with dark lines, their head has yellow lines, and they have three toes.
The Eastern box turtle has a 5.9-inch carapace length with orange or yellow markings on their brown carapace. They have a dark brown plastron with light yellow smudges, a dark head with colorful splotches and four toes.
The Gulf Coast box turtle’s carapace is 7.1 inches long and dark brown with no pattern. Their plastron, limbs and head are all dark brown, and they have four toes.
Three-toed box turtles have a tan or olive carapace with various markings and are 5.9 inches in length. They have a light-yellow plastron and red, yellow or orange spots on their head and forelimbs. They have three toes, and males have a red head.
Box turtles have a broad diet and eat fruits, berries, seeds, mushrooms, plants and small prey such as insects, amphibians, worms, eggs, carrion and invertebrates.
They are active year-round in Florida especially in the southern regions. In warmer parts of the year, they can be found in shallow pools of water, animal burrows, mud and under logs and leaves. In cooler parts of the year, they are most active in the late morning while basking and foraging. Box turtles reach sexual maturity at 8-11 years. Mating occurs year-round and peaks in the fall. Nesting occurs from May through July. They lay 1-5 eggs which incubate for 70-80 days depending on environmental temperatures. Females will lay 2-5 clutches per year. Like many other turtles, box turtles have temperature sex determination. Eggs incubated at cooler temperatures produce male turtles, and warmer temperatures produce female turtles. The exact temperature range to determine sex is unknown in Florida. Box turtles have been reported to live more than 50 years in the wild but may likely surpass that age. Captive box turtles typically live for 40 years. Throughout their lives, a box turtle may live in the same one-mile squared area. Because this species has such a small home range they should never be relocated.
Box turtles are solely located in North America with species and subspecies ranges varying across the eastern United States and Mexico. They are believed to be extirpated from Canada. In Florida, eastern, Gulf Coast and three-toed box turtles are found in the Panhandle, and readily hybridize where subspecies groups meet. Florida box turtles are located in the peninsula, southwest of the Suwannee River basin area. Box turtles prefer various forested areas but will use a variety of habitats such as pastures, grasslands, swamps, and freshwater marshes.
Box turtles face a variety of threats, including:
- Predation: Juveniles and eggs are prey to various predators including racoons, foxes, skunks, snakes and fire ants which reduces recruitment.
- Habitat loss and alteration: Conversion of natural landscapes for agricultural, industrial and urban development in Florida has caused a significant loss of box turtle habitats.
- Road Mortality: Box turtles frequently cross roads to move between foraging and nesting habitats, resulting in a high level of road mortalities. This can cause significant population declines due to the long maturation period and their slow reproduction rate.
- Exploitation: Box turtle populations are in decline due to over-collection for pet trade. In 2019, FWC wildlife investigators uncovered a turtle smuggling operation that illegally collected box turtles, and other species, destined for Asian markets.
- Disease: Box turtle populations are susceptible to ranavirus infections.
Conservation and Management
Overcollection pressure of wild box turtles led to rule and regulations on limiting take and possession of species within Florida.
How You Can Help
Watch out for box turtles crossing roads. If you see a box turtle on the road, and if you are safe from oncoming traffic, you may move the box turtle across the road in the direction it was heading.
Transporting and releasing box turtles to new locations is not advised to limit the spread of disease even if the turtle appears healthy.
If you see sick or deceased turtles, please contact your FWC Regional Office so that they may be aided.