These Are the Best Beginner Box Turtle Species

Best Beginner Box Turtle Species

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Keeping a pet is more than a passion. A pet is not less than a true friend. Above the last few years, the box turtle has become a popular species as an ideal pet. 

Box turtle has different subspecies, and each subspecies has different requirements. I wonder if choosing a random box turtle at the beginning of pet keeping is the right decision or not. From my point of view, you should start with the common box turtle, which is easy to take care of.

In my article, you will find the best box turtle species with what you can start your pet keeping hobby. I will show comparison with other subspecies or species so that it becomes easy for you to make the right decision.

Species Of Box Turtles

Common Box Turtle

We know common box turtle species has four different subspecies.

  1. Eastern box turtle
  2. Three-toed box turtle
  3. Florida box turtle
  4. Gulf Coast box turtle

Eastern Box Turtle

eastern box turtle

Size: The average size of an eastern box turtle is 4.5 – 6 inches. Eastern box turtles about 7 inches can be found too.

Look: Its carapace is dark and brown, which is patterned with various splotches ranging in color from yellow to red. The plastron is tan black and can be a solid color.

The native place: Eastern box turtles can be found down the east coast from Main to Georgia and as far west as Michigan and Illinois. They prefer a humid wooded area.

Life span: The subspecies can live from 40 years to 100 years.

Eastern Box Turtle Requirements

DietTemperature ( Fahrenheit)Humidity
Fungi, berries, seeds snails, mealworms and grubs. Know more about an eastern box turtle’s diet by clicking here.  Ideal temperature in an eastern box turtle’s enclosure should be around 70 – 75 degree.  You have to maintain 60% humidity in an eastern box turtle’s enclosure.

Eastern box turtle is affordable, and you can maintain this easily. It is very popular as a beginner’s pet.

Three-Toed Box Turtle

three toed box turtle

Size: The average size of a three-toed box turtle is 4 – 6.5 inches.

Look: Their dome is slightly higher but longer and narrower than the eastern box turtle. You can find it in olive or yellowish-brown to brown with spots or lines.

Native place: This subspecies can be found throughout the central and southern states from Arkansas to Kansas and western Georgia to northwest Texas. Three-toed box turtle tends to live in the areas with proper humidity, hiding places, and food sources to live.

Lifespan: A three-toed box turtle’s lifespan is shorter than most other subspecies. It can live from 20 to 30 years. But with proper care, they can have a life of 50 years or more.

Three-Toed Box Turtle Requirements

DietTemperature ( Fahrenheit)Humidity
It prefers an ideal diet, which contains 50% meat and 50% plant.  Ideal temperature in a three-toed box turtle’s enclosure should be around 70 – 75 degree  You have to maintain 60% humidity in a Three-toed box turtle’s enclosure.

Three-toed box turtles are affordable. From my point of view, it is an excellent subspecies to start with. 

Florida Box Turtle

florida box turtle

Size: Florida box turtles have an average size of 4 to 6 inches.

Look: It has a dark brown carapace with a yellow starburst pattern. It looks like an ornate box turtle.

Native place: Obviously, you will find this in Florida. Some might live in southern Georgia. Damp woods, swamps, and marshes are the perfect area for this species to live in.

Lifespan: A Florida box turtle can live up to 50 years with proper care.

Florida Box Turtle Requirements

DietTemperature ( Fahrenheit)Humidity
Crickets, flies, earthworms and other creepy crawlies, fruits, berries or leaves, along with moss and mushrooms.  Ideal temperature in a Florida box turtle’s enclosure should be around 70- 90 degreeYou have to maintain 40% humidity in a Florida box turtle’s enclosure.

Florida box turtle’s rate is pretty high. If you can afford it, it will be an ideal pet for you.

Gulf Coast Box Turtle

gulf coast box turtle

Size: The average size of a gulf coast box turtle is 6.5 to 7 inches. The largest gulf coast box turtle was 8.5 inches.

Look: Its carapace is round. The plastron has a solid color or spot on it.

Native places: It lives along the Gulf Coast, from eastern Texas to western Florida. They love swamp areas, and they love going into the water from time to time.

Lifespan: A gulf coast box turtle can live up to 100 years with proper care.

Gulf Coast Box Turtle Requirements

DietTemperature ( Fahrenheit)Humidity
Snails, worms, grubs, grasshoppers, fungus, fruit, leaves and other plant matter.  Ideal temperature in a gulf coast box turtle’s enclosure should be around 75 degreesYou have to maintain 60% humidity in a gulf coast box turtle’s enclosure.

This subspecies can not be found quickly for petting. As it loves living by the edge of the coast, I would suggest you not to adopt it as a pet at the beginning.

Western Box Turtle

Western box turtle has two different subspecies. 

  1. Ornate box turtle
  2. Desert box turtle

Ornate Box Turtle

ornate box turlte

Size: The average size of an ornate box turtle is 5 to 7 inches.

Look: Its carapace is tall, domed, and flat on the top, and brown. Its plastron has yellow stripes on it.

Native places: Ornate box turtles prefer living in grasslands, deserts, and prairie remnants from the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains eastward across the Great Plains states. They can be found in parts of Illinois, Indiana, and even western Louisiana.

Lifespan: An ornate box turtle leads a lifespan of 32 years to 37 years.

Ornate Box Turtle Requirements

DietTemperature ( Fahrenheit)Humidity
Mealworms, Super worms, Earth worms. Silk worms, Crickets, fruits and vegetables.   Ideal temperature in an ornate box turtle’s enclosure should be around 70- 90 degree  You have to maintain 40% humidity in an ornate box turtle’s enclosure.  

An ornate box turtle prefers a specific environment, which is hard to replicate in an enclosure. Ornate box turtles are affordable, but I would not suggest you to pet it as a beginner.

Desert Box Turtle

dessert box turtle

Size: The average size of a desert box turtle is 4 to 6 inches.

Look: You can find two different colors of a desert box turtle. One is similar to the ornate box turtle with yellow stripes. Another one has not pattern or lines on it, which is pretty uncommon.

Native places: These turtles can be found in some parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas. Some can be found the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua too.

Lifespan: A desert box turtle can live from 10 years to 50 years.

Desert Box Turtle Requirements

DietTemperature ( Fahrenheit)Humidity
Worms, slugs, grasshoppers and other insects. Know more about a desert box turtle’s diet by clicking here.   Ideal temperature in a desert box turtle’s enclosure should be around 70- 90 degreeYou have to maintain 60% humidity in a desert box turtle’s enclosure.

The price of a desert box turtle is higher than some of the subspecies. I do not think it can be the right choice for you to start your petting life with it.

Mexican Box Turtle

mexican box turtle

Size: The average size of a Mexican box turtle is 4 to 6 inches.

Look: Its shell is brown in color and domed shaped. You can observe yellow markings on its shell and skin.

Native places: Three states of Eastern Mexico: Veracruz, San Luis Potosi, and Tamaulipas, are home of this subspecies. They love the high temperature and high humidity.

Lifespan: A Mexican box turtle can lead a life of 50 to 90 years.

Importing Mexican box turtle is illegal, and they can not survive in the USA Forrest. This subspecies is on the way of extinction. So there is no chance you will get to keep it as a pet.

Yucatan Box Turtle

yucatan box turtle

Size: A Yucatan box turtle has an average size of 6 inches.

Look: They are brown and have an elongated dome.

Native places: These subspecies can be found only in the peninsula in Mexico.

Lifespan: Yucatan box turtles have a long lifespan of about 100 years.

This subspecies is not part of any pet trade. So it is not ideal for pet keeping.

Spotted Box Turtle

spotted box turtle

Size: The average size of a spotted box turtle is 5.5 to 6 inches. 

Look: Its carapace is long and oval shaped. It is brown and less domed than any other subspecies.

Native places: Spotted box turtle is of two basic types.

  1. Southern spotted box turtle
  2. Northern spotted box turtle

Its native place depends on its subspecies. Spotted box turtles live in northwestern Mexico, mostly in Sinaloa, Sonora, Nayarit, Jalisco, and Chihuahua.

Southern spotted box turtles live in the southern part of the range, in south Sinaloa as well as Nayarit and Jalisco.

Northern spotted box turtle live in northern Sinaloa, along with Sonora and Chihuahua.

Lifespan: A spotted box turtle can live up to 100 to 150 years.

Spotted Box Turtle Requirements

DietTemperature ( Fahrenheit)Humidity
earthworms, wax worms, mealworms, crickets, tadpoles, chicken, crab, turkey, bacon, beef, romaine lettuce or vegetation.  Ideal temperature in a spotted box turtle’s enclosure should be around 65 degree to 90 degreeYou have to maintain 60% humidity in a spotted box turtle’s enclosure.

You can get one spotted box turtle for captivity, but it will cost you many bucks. This species is rare and expensive. If you follow my advice, I will not suggest buying one as a beginner.

Asian Box Turtles

asian box turtle

Asian box turtles have a large group of subspecies. These box turtles can be found in Bangladesh, the Nicobar Islands, Myanmar, Assam, southern Vietnam, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, and the Philippines. These are tropical of subtropical type.

Asian box turtles are highly domed and have a smooth carapace. These are dark in color. 

These box turtles are suitable for petting in Asian weather. Some of the Asian box turtles are,

  1. Malayan box turtle
  2. Chinese box turtle
  3. Malaysian box turtle
  4. CBB Asian box turtle
  5. Indonesian box turtle

There are many more subspecies of an Asian box turtle. 

Asian Box Turtle Requirements

DietTemperature ( Fahrenheit)Humidity
romaine lettuce, mealworms, wax worms, night crawlers, small mice, turtle pellets and other commercial turtle foods, bananas, watermelon, tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries. Ideal temperature in an Asian box turtle’s enclosure should be around 70 degree to 90 degreeYou have to maintain 60% humidity in an Asian box turtle’s enclosure.

As a beginner, Chinese box turtle, Malaysian box turtle, or Indonesian box turtles are perfect.

What Are The Best Beginner Box Turtle Species?

So by reading all these comparisons and details, I think we can make a list of the box turtles which are best for a beginner. 

  • Eastern box turtle
  • Three-toed box turtle
  • Florida box turtle
  • Indonesian box turtle
  • Malaysian box turtle
  • Chinese box turtle

I hope by now, many box turtles are on your list as the best beginner box turtle. I am going to make that easier. I will indicate the main points about different box turtle species here. It will clear your confusion.

How To Choose Your Best Beginner Box Turtle?

It is a million dollar question. A lot of folks often ask this question. If this question popped up in your head, then congratulations. You are on the right track, and this will benefit you in the long run.

Without wasting any time, I am going to show you what the parameters are of a good box turtle. In other sense, I can say that what questions you should ask before buying a box turtle.

Before getting on the part, remember one thing. The following questions will help you to select the best beginner box turtle for you. Do not look for the best box turtle species because what might be best for others might not be good for you.

  • Do you want an indoor enclosure or an outdoor enclosure for the box turtle? – Most of the subspecies of a box turtle can live in both the habitat. But many subspecies may find a particular habitat more comfortable. 
  • Do you want an aquatic subspecies or a land dweller? – We know box turtles are land dwellers. And also, box turtle has one aquatic species which is called aquatic box turtle. If you ask this question to yourself, your decision will be much easier.
  • Exotic box turtle or native box turtle – In this case, I would recommend you to buy a native box turtle because exotic box turtle, like Malayan box turtles, are rare and endangered species. And also, maintaining the exotic box turtle is difficult for a beginner.
  •  Temperature adapted turtle or tropical box turtle – This question is not valid for a box turtle. Many turtles can endure severe cold temperatures. But most of the subspecies of the box turtle can not survive winter season without hibernation.
  • Do you want a basking box turtle or a bottom walker box turtle? – Now, most of the species of box turtle like to bask in the sun or a warm environment. Bottom walker species are rare.
  • Which type of box turtle do you prefer? Common box turtle/ rare box turtle? The price and maintenance of the pet depend on this decision.
  • Do you prefer a carnivorous box turtle or an omnivorous box turtle or an herbivorous box turtle? A box turtle is omnivorous, but at a different stage of its life, it prefers different types of food.
  • What size do you prefer? Box turtle has an average size of 6 to 8 inches. Many box turtles are larger or smaller than this size.
  • Which sex of box turtle do you prefer? You can have a male box turtle or a female box turtle.

Let’s see how these questions can affect your decision.

Indoor Enclosure Or Outdoor Enclosure

Some box turtles do not prefer to live in a captive place. You can take a desert box turtle as an example. So for this species, an outdoor enclosure is preferable. If you do not have any planning to build an outdoor enclosure, avoid this type of species.

From my point of view, I always prefer indoor box turtles. And for the beginners, any indoor box turtle is better.

Land Dweller Box Turtle Or Aquatic Box Turtle

Almost every species of the box turtle prefer living in low lands among small plants. So if you are planning to get a land dweller box turtle, you have to ensure the exact environment in the enclosure.

It means you have to choose a substrate that is spongy, loose, and can hold humidity. Box turtles feel comfortable in a high humid environment.

Aquatic box turtles live in water. But from time to time, they come to the dry land.  A fish tank is perfect for raising an aquatic box turtle.

Exotic Box Turtle Or Native Box Turtle

I will draw a comparison table between these two species of a box turtle.

Exotic box turtlesNative box turtles
They are expensive.They are not expensive.
They are rare.They are available everywhere.
Endangered species.Safe.
Challenging to raise and maintain.Easy to maintain and handle.

Temperature Adapted Turtle Or Tropical Box Turtle

Temperature adopted turtles mean those who can endure extreme weather without any trouble. Box turtle is not one of them. Box turtles are ectotherms. It means they depend on their surroundings to regulate body temperature.

So you have to maintain a specific temperature inside its enclosure, and in severe cold and summer, box turtles go to hibernation and aestivation.

If you are not ready for that, then the box turtle is not suitable for you.

Basking Box Turtle Or A Bottom Walker Box Turtle

Most of the species of the box turtle prefer to bask in a warm area. They do not swim in the water. Instead, they soak their body in the water and bask in the sun or under a heating source.

Aquatic box turtles are a bottom walker. They tend to bask less than other species.

Common Box Turtle Or Rare Box Turtle

Common box turtles are available in the area you live in. Each subspecies of the box turtle has a separate demand for living or the environment. So, common box turtles find it more comfortable living in their native area.

Again, common box turtles are not expensive. You can easily find a common box turtle. They are not high maintenance and easy to handle.

Rare box turtles are difficult to find. They are very expensive and do not like the captive environment. Moreover, they are an endangered species. So I would request you not to buy a rare box turtle at a beginner stage.

Size Of A Box Turtle

Box turtles are smaller than many other species. Their average size is 4 to 7 inches. But the size can vary depending on the subspecies.

Here is the size chart of different subspecies of a box turtle.

Species of box turtleAverage size
Eastern Box Turtle4.5 – 6 inches
Florida Box Turtle4 – 6 inches
Gulf Coast Box Turtle5 – 7 inches
Mexican Box Turtle4 – 6 inches
Terrapene Carolina Putnami4 – 6 inches
Three-Toed Box Turtle4 – 6.5 inches
Yucatan Box Turtle6 inches
Aquatic Box TurtleAlmost 6 inches
Desert Box Turtle4 – 6 inches
Ornate Box Turtle5 – 7 inches
Spotted Box Turtle4 – 6 inches
Asian Box Turtle (Smaller)5 – 7 inches
Asian Box Turtle ( Bigger)9 – 12 inches

If you are planning to get a small enclosure, or your room does not have a large space for a big pen, I think you should buy the one box turtle species that is small. You can compare the sizes and choose the perfect one for yourself.

To know more about box turtle’s size, click the link.

Carnivorous Box Turtle Vs Omnivorous Box Turtle Vs Herbivorous Box Turtle

We know that box turtles are omnivorous, which means it can eat both plants and animals. But at a different stage of their life, they prefer different food.

A baby box turtle is carnivorous. It means they eat more meat because they need protein to build up their bones and shell. On the other hand, an adult box turtle prefers eating plants more than meat. It means they are herbivorous.

At every stage of a box turtle’s life, no matter which subspecies it is, you have to ensure a balanced diet. If you do not have any idea about a box turtle’s diet, you can click the link below. You will find the complete guide about a box turtle’s diet.

Sex Of The Box Turtle

A female box turtle and male box turtle have some difference between them. Their behavior is totally different from each other. A male box turtle is strong and aggressive. On the other hand, a female box turtle is not as strong as a male box turtle and more vulnerable to shell diseases.

Do you know how to determine the sex of a box turtle? Follow the characteristics below to find out.

Male box turtle

  • Concave plastrons
  • Thicker based and longer tails
  • Longer front claws
  • Bright red or orange eyes

Female box turtle

  •  Flat or slightly convex plastrons
  • Short, thin tails
  • Dark red or brown eyes

Female box turtles are larger than the male box turtles.

Does The Budget Matter?

In the previous section, there is one more parameter I haven’t discussed. Yes, it is about the budget. Now many of us may not find it relevant, but for many beginners, it matters.

You should get the one box turtle you can afford. Many box turtles are rare and high maintenance. Take McCord box turtle as an example.

So you should not just buy a box turtle species because it is fancy. Instead, as a beginner, buy the cheap one, and you can afford to raise.

To make the decision easier, I am adding an average price list of different subspecies of box turtle here.

Subspecies of box turtleCost of the subspecies
Eastern Box Turtle$140-$360
Florida Box Turtle$300-$600
Three-Toed Box Turtle$140-$430
Aquatic Box Turtle$30-$100
Desert Box Turtle$300-$400
Ornate Box Turtle$200-$350
Chinese Box Turtle$300-$380
McCord Box Turtle$7540-$8000
Indonesian Box Turtle$50-$120
Asian Box Turtle$90-$130

It is an average price list. The price can rise or go down depending on four factors. If you want to know more, click the link.

There are other species too. You can choose one from them by looking at the parameters. 


Now, I want to clear one last thing. As I have said, Florida box turtle is best to start that does not mean your geographical position does not matter. If you are living in an Asian country, go with an Asian box turtle. That would be better for you.

I have tried to explain everything in an easy way throughout the article. I hope you guys have found it helpful.

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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