How to Determine Box Turtle Age?

How to Determine Box Turtle Age

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

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A box turtle’s age plays a significant role in its life. So as a box turtle owner, it is your responsibility to know your box turtle’s exact age.

There are several ways to determine a box turtle’s age. Determining age by counting rings and observing size are the two most popular methods. There are a few more methods, but none of them gives as an exact result as these two methods.

If you are new to this sector, or confused about these methods, this article might help you to clear your thoughts. In this article, I will discuss the process elaborately.

What Are The Methods Of Determining A Box Turtle’s Age?

A box turtle’s average life span is 30 years to 70 years. Some subspecies can live up to 100 years. So it is hard to keep track of its age. Hence, you can adopt two methods to determine your box turtle’s actual age.

  1. Ring Counting
  2. Size Checking
  3. Bone Examination

Determine Age By Counting Rings

In this method, you have to count the rings on your box turtle’s shell. Here are the steps you need to follow for this method.

  1. Select a scute
  2. Compute the rings
  3. Calculate the age

It sounds easy, right? Let’s see how we can do it.

  • First of all, clean your box turtle’s shell properly so that all its scutes become visible.
  • A box turtle’s shell is covered with a large number of scutes. These scutes grow with a turtle over a considerable period. It will not give you the exact age number, but it will definitely help you to get a close one. 
  • The scutes can not give you the exact age, because the growth rate of these depends on different variables and subspecies. You have to choose one particular scute for this method.
  • Now have a closer look within the scute. You may think we will determine the age by counting scutes, but that is not it. A scute can not tell you the age. 
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If you look carefully, you will see rings within the scute. Those rings are the main key here. You will find two types of rings in the scute.

  1. Wide rings (all broader rings in the same color)
  2. Narrow rings (all thin rings in the same color)
Determine box turtle Age By Counting Rings

Keep in mind one thing that these two types of rings will not have the same color. 

The wide rings in the scutes represent the period of healthy eating, and warm seasons that the box turtle has passed. On the other hand, narrow lines represent winter seasons that the box turtle has passed in peace.

  • Count the rings within a scute.
  • Once you have counted the rings, you are ready for calculating the box turtle’s age. 
  • Divide the whole ring number with two, for example, if there are 16 rings in a scute, now you divide it with 2. 

Now, 16/2 = 8.

So, your turtle is eight years old. It is not an exact age, but it is a close one. 

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See also  How To Hatch Box Turtles From Eggs?

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What Is The Problem With Ring Count Method?

You have already understood that this method can not give you the precise age. The reason behind this is, the growth of scutes is different from subspecies to subspecies. Moreover, if a box turtle gets enough healthy food, its scutes and rings will grow faster than the others.

A box turtle, both wild and pet, will have rings on the scutes. Some species and subspecies do not have clear scutes on their shell. It is because water or other elements can make them less visible.

Ring counting method is valid for the baby box turtles. The rings are more visible on them. When a box turtle crosses 15 years, this method becomes less effective. The rings start growing closer after that age and make it difficult to count.

Determine A Box Turtle’s Age By Size Checking Method

box turtle age by size
Collected From This Source

It is practically proved that a box turtle’s size can determine its age. In this method, you have to check the size of the box turtle to determine its age. Here are some steps you can follow to run this method correctly.

  • To measure your turtle’s size accurately, use the proper measuring gauge.
  • Start measuring from its tip to tail. It will help you to get a fundamental idea about its length.
  • If you mishandle your box turtle, or make it stressed, it will become aggressive. To avoid this type of situation, treat your turtle with care. Play with it for some time or give it food, which will cheer your box turtle up.
  • We know that a box turtle has several subspecies. To determine the box turtle’s age, you have to collect the size chart of all its subspecies. The size chart is available both online and offline. 
  • After collecting the chart, now look for the subspecies you own. Look at the size against the age. Collaborate your box turtle’s current size with the chart, and you will find its age.
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Does Size Checking Method Work?

Statistics prove that this method works in most cases. But there can be some errors for specific cases. 

  • Some box turtles tend to grow faster than others. If a box turtle gets enough food and a healthy environment, it may have good growth. On the other hand, some box turtles do not grow according to its age. It can be because of any sickness or some environmental issues. So, the size checking method will not show a close result in both cases.
  • A box turtle in a captive situation grows faster than the wild one. Many reports prove this statement. It will work as an error for this method.
  • Size checking method does not work if the turtle is at its full growth. 

Moreover, like the ring counting method, this method will also give you a closer age number, not an accurate one.

Bone Examination Method

Bone examination method is not for traditional box turtle owners. Scientists use this method to determine the aquatic box turtle’s age. Only the water species or subspecies of turtle is applicable for this test.

Aquatic or semi-aquatic box turtles generate annual rings on the bone. By conducting some proper experiments, scientists can determine the age. It gives a theoretical and more precise result.

This method is not effective for box turtles because box turtles do not spend much time in the water.

Except for these methods, sometimes you can determine a box turtle’s age by observing it properly. Each box turtle shows some signs of aging. If you know them correctly, then it is not a hard task for you. You have to observe their shells carefully.

For a wild box turtle, you can observe the following signs,

  • There will be many tears and wear on the shell
  • The scutes will be smooth
  • You may find dent on the shell
  • The box turtle will carry scars if it is old enough

Though you will not be able to tell its accurate age, you can guess its age range for sure.

To maintain good health for your box turtle, determining age is truly necessary. In the article, I have tried to explain everything. I hope this will help you in determining your box turtle’s age.

Determining The age of a turtle: infographic

If you want a printable version of this infographic, click here!

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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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