How To Breed Box Turtles In Captivity?

How To Breed Box Turtles In Captivity

Breeding of any species requires maximum patience and knowledge. If you are a box turtle owner, at a stage, you might want to breed your box turtle. But do you know basic things about breeding of box turtle?

Breeding of two box turtles can be a bit challenging in captivity. You will need a particular area for breeding, incubator for eggs, and another enclosure for the hatchlings. So if you haven’t done breeding of box turtles before, and now you are up for the experiment, do not worry.

I have been keeping box turtles for years, and I know exactly what information you need. Honestly, I have faced some issues at the beginning too. In this article, I will discuss how to choose a good pair, how to get the box turtles ready for mating, and what actions we have to take to make the process easy. So, read till the end of the article to know everything about a box turtle’s breeding in captivity.

Why Do You Need To Breed Your Box Turtles In Captivity?

If we breed box turtles in captivity, it gives us some advantages. For example, imagine adopting a box turtle from the wild. Would it be an ideal pet? No. Because it has wild instincts, and it would take a significant amount of time to get away with the captive environment. 

On the other hand, if you adopt a captive breed, it will be easier for you to pet the box turtle. It is because the box turtle’s wild instinct is not as sharp as the wild one. And the box turtle can adjust to the captive situation without any issue.

So let’s see the advantages or why we should breed box turtles in captivity.

  • Captive box turtle breed makes a better pet than the usual one because they are used to human contact.
  • Captive breed reduces the negative impact on the wild box turtle population.

Essential Things To Know Before Choosing A Pair

If you want to breed your box turtles, you will need a pair of them. How would you choose a good pair for mating? Is it hard? Well, I will discuss it in the upcoming sections, but for now, let’s find out what we should know about a box turtle before breeding.

  1. Gender of your box turtle
  2. Age of your box turtle
  3. Partner ratio for breeding

Now, these things are really important to know before you get started. 

Gender Of The Box Turtle

It is apparent that you will need a male and a female box turtle for breeding. If you do not know how to determine the sex of the box turtle, you may end up choosing a wrong pair for mating. There is always an easy solution to take the box turtles to the vet to determine its sex. But with an average observation, you can do that at home too.

You can not determine the sex of a young box turtle, but as soon as they get a few inches large (3 to 3.5 inches), the differences will be more visible. In captivity, a box turtle will reach its 100% sexual maturity at the age of 5 or 7 years.

Here are some characteristics we can look for while determining the gender of a box turtle.

  • For most of the species, male box turtles are bigger than the female ones. But this can be exceptional in some cases. For example, a female ornate box turtle is larger than a male ornate box turtle at the same age.
  • Male box turtles tend to be more colorful than the female ones.
  • Male box turtles have red, pink, or orange eyes. Female box turtles have dark brown eyes.
  • Male box turtles have a green or yellow head. Female box turtles have a brown head.
  • The tail of a male box turtle is thicker and longer than the female one.
  • The hind claws of a female box turtle are longer, thinner, and less curved than the male one.

These characteristics are not perfect for each subspecies. Box turtle is a beautiful species, and each subspecies of it has identical features. So to be sure of the gender of your pet box turtle, take it to the vet before mating.

Age Of The Box Turtle

You have to know the age of your box turtle because a box turtle can not breed without achieving sexual maturity. A baby box turtle is not ready for mating. A box turtle acquires its sexual maturity at the age of 5-7. It depends on their subspecies.

There is no definite way to determine a box turtle’s age. But some rules are followed by the pet keepers for years, and some of the techniques can give the approximate results. Ring counting and size checking methods are the two most popular ways people use to determine their pet turtle’s age.

As I have mentioned above; it is essential to know the box turtle’s age for breeding. You must not breed two baby turtles or one adult and one baby turtle. Again, I suggest you wait one year even if your box turtle is sexually mature. 

If you do not know how to determine a box turtle’s age, just click here. You will get a complete guide on how to do it.

Partner Ratio For Breeding

The partner ratio is very significant when it comes to the mating of the box turtle. It is advisable to keep more female box turtles in the breeding enclosure. A report says that for every two male box turtle, there should be at least five female box turtles to conduct a successful breeding process. 

Why? Here are the reasons.

  • During the mating season, the male box turtles become sexually aggressive. They start bothering the female box turtle until it gets sick or suffers from health issues. So a higher rate of female box turtle ratio to male ones ensures that the female box turtles will not suffer from the excessive sexual attention of the male box turtles.
  • If we put a fewer female box turtle, then the male box turtles will start fighting over one mate. They would start fighting, and the whole thing would get worse. So the higher female ratio ensures that there would be no fighting.

Here is one thing you must remember. After mating, you have to separate the box turtles. Or else, the male box turtles will keep bothering the female box turtles, and they will get sick. 

Find A Good Pair For Breeding

If you can not afford to maintain the golden ratio for mating, you have to find a good pair for the process. Even if you keep the ideal rate, you can follow the instructions to find out that your box turtles are perfect for breeding. 

  1. First of all, make sure that you have both male and female box turtles. I recommend you maintain the 2:5 ratios, which increases the success rate. I have already discussed how to identify a box turtle’s sex.
  2. Next, make sure the box turtles are of the same species or subspecies. Crossbreeding of box turtles can cause genetic abnormalities and undesired specimens. Again, the crossbreeding of some subspecies is okay. For example, if we cross breed the Eastern box turtle and the Three-toed box turtle, the hatchlings will be 99% okay.
  3. The breeders have to be physically and mentally healthy. It is essential because mating can be stressful for the box turtles. So you have to make sure that they are healthy enough to take the challenge. You can visit the vet to check a box turtle’s health condition.

Pre Mating Preparation

After selecting perfect box turtles for breeding, now you can move on to the next stage. Yes, your box turtles can go through the process, but they are not ready yet. You have to prepare the breeders for the action.

The breeders have to go through two processes to be completely prepared.

  1. Cooling process
  2. Diet

Cooling Process

The cooling process includes cooling off period and after cooling off period.

Cold Off Stage

You have to cool your box turtles before breeding to enhance the rate of success. It is essential for the captive turtles because, in the wild, box turtles breed after cold weather. So, the primary purpose is to provide the temperature pattern a box turtle experience in the wild. 

Nesting season for box turtle can slightly vary from subspecies to subspecies. Naturally, box turtles get anxious to mate from March or April. So the cooling period should be around December to February. You have to maintain the period for box turtles strictly.

These are the things you have to do during the cold off stage.

  • Throughout the 12 weeks (December to February), you have to maintain the box turtles’ enclosure’s temperature between 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • You have to leave your box turtles alone during this time. You have to provide food regularly. But you may observe that your box turtle is not eating at all. 
  • If you are raising your box turtles in an outdoor habitat, you might not need cooling of the process because the box turtle will be amidst nature. It will cool them off, or the box turtles will hibernate. If you do not know about hibernation, click here

After Cooling Off Stage

After February, the cooling-off period is over. Now you have to provide the natural temperature inside the habitat. For a box turtle, the temperature should be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ideal temperature different box turtle subspecies are given below.

SubspeciesDaytime temperature ( Fahrenheit)Basking area temperature (Fahrenheit)Nighttime temperature (Fahrenheit)
Eastern box turtle70-75°85-88°65-70°
Ornate box turtle70-90°85-88°65-70°
Florida box turtle70-90°85-88°65-70°
Three toed box turtle70-75°85-88°65-70°

Diet

A proper diet is essential for the breeders before starting the mating process. I have mentioned earlier that the breeding process can be stressful for the pet turtles and so they have to stay healthy. And diet is the best way to keep them fit and ready for mating. Also, the food should ensure that the female box turtles are getting enough amounts of calcium and vitamin D3 because these help them to lay healthy eggs.

A healthy diet for the box turtles:

Plant based itemsAnimal based items
Well-washed butter lettuce, bananas, melon, blueberries, strawberries, peas, vegetable scraps, cooked sweet potatoes, tomatoes, leaves, dandelion flowers, and mulberry leaves, chopped and steamed broccoli corn on the cob, and lots of green leafy vegetables.Earthworms, snails, feeder goldfish, crickets, kale, boiled egg

To fulfill the box turtles’ calcium requirements, you can provide cuttlefish bones in the enclosure, or you can give them calcium supplements as well. If you raise your box turtles in an outdoor enclosure, they do not need any artificial source for Vitamin D3. They get it from direct sunlight. But if the habitat is indoor based, then you have to provide full-spectrum reptile light or D3 supplements.

To know about a box turtle’s ideal diet, click here.

Now your box turtle is ready to go through the mating process. You have to make a proper environment where the breeders can mate without any trouble.

Set Up The Enclosure

Even if your box turtles are not breeding, you should always provide a balanced diet and other things they need. It becomes more essential to meet all their needs when they are going through the breeding process.

So, here the things that should be inside the enclosure.

  1. You have to provide a large container of freshwater. Make sure the container is large enough for the box turtles to soak their bodies and drink water.
  2. Set up a heating lamp at the edge of the enclosure. It is essential to set up the light in one corner because it gives the box turtles the freedom to move away from the heat. 
  3. You have to set up brushes, logs, and other hiding spaces. These let the box turtles burrow into the soil. The hiding space is for the female box turtles in case they want to hide from the male ones.
  4. Cover the walls of the enclosure with paper or cardboard. If the walls remain visible, the box turtles get stressed and can not continue their daily activities.
  5. Provide a balanced diet and enough food for all the breeders. Click here to see the balanced diet chart of a box turtle.

Start The Breeding Process

Now you can start the mating process. You have to put the box turtles inside the habitat. After placing the box turtles, there is nothing you can do to make them mate. You have to wait and provide them with the best care.

After a specific period, the mating process will be over, and the female box turtles will ready to lay eggs. You have to prepare another enclosure for the female box turtle to lay eggs. A female box turtle needs a softer and thicker layer of soil to burrow, and it lays eggs in such a manner that it can be challenging to find.

So as soon as the mating process is over, take the female box turtle inside another enclosure.

Set Up The Nesting Box

In captivity, it is difficult for the mother turtle to find the perfect spot for laying eggs because the substrate may not be deep enough. So a ready-made nesting box or handmade nesting box can help you to overcome the issue. You can use a second enclosure instead of making a nesting box too.

To make a nesting box, you would need, 

  1. High-quality topsoil
  2. A large container
  3. A water sprayer
  4. A lid

Now create a 6 to 8 inches deep layer with a soft substrate. Spray water to keep the soil moist and comfortable. Connect the nesting box with the main enclosure. You can read the article on how to make a nesting box to know more about the methods.

Perfect Spot For Laying Eggs

Female box turtles prefer soft and humid spot for laying eggs. In most cases, the mother box turtle makes her egg chamber next to a tree limb or rock. So make sure that you have provided that in the enclosure or the nesting box.

A box turtle does not lay eggs on the surface. It digs the soil very deep, goes inside, lays eggs, covers the hole with dirt or soil, and leaves the chamber.

Take Care Of The Eggs

A mother box turtle can lay three to four eggs. These eggs are white, thin-shelled, spongy, and oval-shaped. Generally, the eggs remain covered with dirt, mud or leaves inside the ground.

The eggs are safe inside the hole, and there is a possibility that these will hatch naturally. But sometimes, when the environment is not favorable, you have to incubate the eggs.

Incubate The Eggs

If you want to incubate the box turtle’s eggs, you will need an incubator for this. After getting an incubator, you have to prepare the machine for the process.

  • First, you have to clean the incubator with a cheap bleach solution. You can use commercial incubator disinfectant for cleaning too.
  • You have to clean every part of the incubator. 
  • Set up the temperature and humidity inside the incubator. Perform a test run for 24 hours before putting the eggs inside the incubator.
  • You have to use the substrate to bury the eggs partially. Vermiculate or pearlite is some of the best substrates you can use. 

Prepare The Eggs For Incubation

Removing eggs from the hole is the most challenging task. As the eggs are fragile and bury deep inside the ground, it can be broken easily. So, remove the eggs with great care. Now clean the eggs with a paintbrush.

During the incubation period, you should not turn the eggs upside down. It would decrease the success rate. To avoid the situation, you can mark on the top of the eggs before putting them inside the incubator.

Box Turtle Hatching

Box turtle’s eggs take 8 to 12 weeks to hatch. But the period depends on the subspecies and embryos development. Sometimes it depends on the temperature of the incubator too.

You can not expect each egg to hatch. One out of four eggs can be infertile. Again, some eggs may take more time to hatch.

Care For The Hatchlings

It is essential to take care of the baby hatchlings. You have to ensure proper housing, food, and medical care to the baby box turtles.

The Housing Of The Hatchlings

  • Keep the hatchlings in an indoor habitat for one year to keep them under observation.
  • You can use a 10gallon tank for build enclosure for the hatchlings.
  • Use terrarium moss and reptile bark substrate as the base layer. 
  • You have to spray water to keep the bedding moist and humid.
  • You have to attach a lamp and provide heat to the enclosure for 12 hours a day.
  • Set up a UV light source to make sure the hatchlings stay healthy.

Feed The Hatchlings

When it comes to hatchlings, you do not need to provide food every day, but you have to give them fresh water. At the early stage, baby box turtles prefer protein and meat than plants. So you have to feed those chopped worms, vitamin and mineral supplements for over a year.

The hatchlings need protein most because, at that stage, their shell and bones are getting healthy. If you do not give them a sufficient amount of protein, they may suffer from physical abnormalities.

Medical Care For The Hatchlings

Baby box turtles are most vulnerable to diseases because their immune system is not stable. Even a slight change in the weather can make them sick. To stay safe, you have to follow the instructions given below.

  • Do regular checkups of the hatchlings.
  • Whenever you think one baby box turtle is sick, you have to isolate it immediately.
  • Give the box turtles the proper food they need.
  • Make sure the enclosure is clean and healthy for them.

Final Words

Well, I have illustrated everything you should know on how to breed box turtles in captivity. I hope you guys have found the information helpful.

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

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