Box Turtles Digging Holes? Here’s What To Expect

Best Substrate For A Box Turtle

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

Like most other turtles, box turtles have some habits too. Digging a hole is one of those habits many of turtle keepers do not understand.

A box turtle dig holes for many reasons. The first one is, they love digging. They feel secure inside a slot. Moreover, while laying eggs, female box turtles dig holes to make the eggs safe.

Each box turtle owner should know about this behavior because it is a significant phase for box turtles. In this article, I will discuss why box turtles love digging and related topics to it.

Why Box Turtles Dig Holes, or Burrows?

Have you ever wondered why your box turtle is digging a hole? I am sure the question has come to your mind occasionally. Well, there are many reasons for it, and it differs from situation to situation. 

Here are the common reasons:

  1. Brumation
  2. Aestivation
  3. Tediousness
  4. Comfort
  5. Safety
  6. Hunting for food
  7. Planning to lay eggs

Each species of turtles have a tendency to dig the soil. But this behavior is observed more frequently in a box turtle. Box turtle dig soils more often because of their terrestrial environment.

Moreover, depending on the situation, the reason for a hole digging can change. If you know the reasons properly, you will be able to tell why your box turtle is digging the soil.

Let’s illustrate the situations.


Before going any farther, we should know what brumate or hibernation is. Brumation is the same as hibernation. Cold blooded animals, especially reptiles, go through this process during the cold seasons. 

During this period, reptiles body metabolism drops, and all their activities slow down. It happens because, unlike mammals, reptiles can not warm their bodies up. As a reptile, box turtles also go through Brumation or hibernation.

Before going into Brumation or hibernation state, box turtles prepare themselves for the process. As they have to keep their bodies warm, they dig a hole to live in throughout the Brumation. The soil or space helps the box turtle to keep the body temperature up. When the outside temperature drops, box turtles stay safe inside the hole they dig.

Box turtles do not often wake up during the Brumation process. Even if they wake up, they eat a little or drink water, and get back into the hole again.

Aquatic box turtles and red eared sliders have a tendency to dig the mud under the pond or the water. They prepare the soil there for Brumation or hibernation. They often appear to the surface for using the air.

How Will You Know Your Box Turtle Is Digging For Brumation?

It is not hard to tell. If you notice your box turtle is digging the soil and covering itself up with mud and dirt during the or early winter season, then it is drilling for Brumation.


Aestivation is very much similar to Brumation or hibernation. The only difference between these two is, aestivation takes place during the summer season. While Brumation occurs during the winter season. Like Brumation, aestivation happens to the reptiles.

Box turtles are cold blooded animals. The outside environment and temperature have a high impact on the box turtles’ body heat. Though they are fast to get adapted to any weather, sometimes the weather gets rough.

Like too cold weather box turtles cannot withstand too hot weather. So during hot summer days, box turtles dig the soil and make a hole for them. They cover themselves up with mud and get into the space to cool their body temperature.

During hot sunny days, this process will help your box turtle to stay healthy.

How Will You Identify Your Box Turtle Is Digging For Aestivation?

If it is hot outside, and your box turtle is digging, there is no other reason. As the summer season and duration differs from region to region, I cannot tell you the exact period for sure.


Like us, box turtles can get bored too. When it has nothing to do, it may dig the soil for no valid reasons. Scientists have researched the lab with many box turtles and found that there is a high chance that your box turtle is digging for tediousness.

Unlike Brumation and aestivation, there is no direct sign for you to understand this behavior. But there is a trick that might help you to understand if your box turtle is digging out of boredom or not.

  • If it is not cold or hot, and your box turtle is digging the soil, maybe it is doing it out of boredom.
  • If it is not time for your female box turtle to lay eggs, then there is a chance for this.
  • If your box turtle’s habitat is an indoor enclose, and it digs often, then it digs because it has nothing else to do.

If you can not come to a conclusion, try to entertain it to play with it, and see. You can eliminate its boredom by building a more open habitat for it with more rocks and equipment.

One more thing, as box turtles tend to dig more often, build the bedding of the habitat properly.

Comfort And Safety

Do not ever think that box turtles feel comfortable in any environment, or around anyone. A box turtle has its own comfort zone. Whenever your box turtle is out of its comfort zone or feeling insecure, it has a tendency to dig.

You may observe this behavior more often if your house is an area where the weather is not stable. Again, if you have many visitors, and they try to interact with your box turtle, it may feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Too many movements often confuse a box turtle and make it insecure.

In these three situations, there is a high possibility that your box turtle will dig the soil and will try to cover itself with the mud. The turtle feels safe in that closed space.

Another reason can be considered in this part. Sometimes improper habitat makes a box turtle frightened and unsafe. In that case, the box turtle tends to dig a hole for itself.

You can solve this problem by moving your box turtle in a quiet place. Try not to disturb it, and let it play by itself. As a good habitat can change this habit, you have to create a decent house for your pet.

Seeking For Food

It is not valid for the pet box turtles, but an exception can happen. Generally, when a box turtle feels hungry and does not get food, it starts digging. Digging because of hunger can be observed among the wild box turtles.

Sometimes captive box turtles dig because of hunger if you do not give it sufficient food on time. 

To avoid this situation, follow the advice bellowed.

  • Make a routine for your box turtle’s meal.
  • Add nutritious food on its diet.
  • Ensure that your box turtle is getting enough food.

You can not surely tell that your box turtle is digging for this reason. But if it is hungry, and excavating the soil, there can be no other reason than this.

Planning To Lay Eggs

Now this section is not valid for the male and young female box turtles. Observe two reasons to be sure that your box turtle is digging to lay eggs

  • Your box turtle is an adult female
  • It has involved in the mating process

Again, some signs can ensure your doubts.

  • Generally, box turtles dig the soil with forelegs. So if our box turtle is digging using its hind legs and getting back to its hole, it may be digging for laying eggs.
  • You can ensure by measuring the hole’s depth. Box turtles often dig deep holes to get away from the surface. But in case of laying eggs, they need a smoother and deeper hole.
  • The female box turtle will rebuild the entrance of the hole more frequently.

By observing these signs, you will know whether your box turtle is digging for laying eggs or not. These signs are more applicable for the outdoor habitat turtles.

I hope you know that in this situation, you need to take more care of your box turtle. Try to make her comfortable by not disturbing it. After laying eggs, your box turtle will return to the normal life. You should keep your other pets away from the habitat in this circumstance.

Your Box Turtle Is Burying Itself- Why?

If your box turtle is burying itself with mud or dirt, there can be several reasons for it.

  • Brumation
  • Aestivation
  • To make itself comfortable
  • To create a secure environment

Seeking food and boredom do not count for burying.

How Deep Can A Box Turtle Dig?

A box turtle can dig a deep hole in the soil. The measurement can be different from its subspecies to subspecies. For example, an eastern box turtle can dig for 2 feet. Some other subspecies can dig for up to 3 feet.

It means that you have to build the bedding of the habitat minimum 2/3 feet deep.

Box turtle is not the only species that dig soils. Other turtles like red eared slider have a tendency to dig soil too. As a box turtle owner, it is your responsibility to learn the reasons behind this behavior.

In this article, I have tried to cover all the reasons. I hope it helped you to get a clear concept of the topic.

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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