Box turtles require little introduction because they’re already fairly known in the reptile trade.
These small and colorful turtles (up to 7 inches in size) are simply adorable and unique-looking, with their red eyes and yellow-and-black coloring.
But can you keep them as pets? Today, we will discuss everything box turtle-related in terms of requirements, behavior, whether they make for good pets, and what you need to make it happen.
So, let’s discuss!
Can You Keep a Box Turtle as Pet?
Yes, you can. Box turtles, as a whole, are neither endangered nor vulnerable, so you shouldn’t have problems with owning one from a legal standpoint.
However, you should always inform yourself on this issue to find out the local regulations in this sense.
That’s because box turtles come in several variations and groups, depending on where they live, and not all groups have the same conservation status.
Some groups of box turtles do rank as vulnerable or as animals of conservation concern, depending on the geographical distribution and local threats to the animal’s habitat and lifestyle. Generally, though, box turtles are fair game in the pet trade.
However, and this is a big ‘however,’ just because you can get a box turtle as a pet doesn’t mean you should.
Today, we will assess the pros and cons of owning one such reptile to detail this point better.
Pros of Owning a Box Turtle
If you plan on getting a box turtle, consider the following advantages:
- Low-maintenance – Box turtles are fairly self-sufficient once you’ve placed them in the ideal ecosystem, and they have everything they need. A suitable habitat and sufficient nutritious food are more than enough for them to remain healthy, happy, and comfortable over the years. This doesn’t mean that you can subtract yourself from the daily and weekly maintenance duties, it’s just that these shouldn’t take too much time or effort overall.
- Long lifespan – Nobody wants a short-lived pet because we tend to become attached to our pets and consider them as family members. Fortunately, this small and cute turtle can remain by your side for literal decades. The average lifespan of a box turtle sits between 25-35 years, but some have been known to even get to 100 years of age. In captivity, these turtles typically live around 40-50 years with good care.
- Teaching responsibility – These turtles are the best pet for a child if you want to teach them responsibility and educate them on what it takes to keep a pet. Not to mention, it provides adults and children alike with a deeper understanding of the turtle’s needs and lifestyle as a species. This can increase people’s respect for animals in general, which, in turn, translates to improved conservation efforts.
- Unique and exhilarating behavior – Turtles are exotic pets that exhibit vastly different behaviors when compared to standard pets like cats and dogs. This makes them fascinating to observe and interact with, even though you want to keep physical interactions to a minimum. Turtles are reptiles above all else, which means they’re not exactly fond of handling and petting.
These pros are generally enough to convince most turtle or reptile lovers to commit. But you can’t and shouldn’t do that without learning about the cons as well.
So, let’s check those out too.
Cons of Owning a Box Turtle
Some of these cons might take you by surprise, partly because we’ve already mentioned them as pros.
Such is the case with the first one:
- Long lifespan – On the one hand, the turtle will remain by your side for decades to come, potentially for the rest of your life. This is a good thing for obvious reasons but bad for other, not-so-obvious ones. The main one is the long-term commitment. Box turtles require stable care and maintenance over the years to come to stay healthy. The long-term commitment may be off-putting for some people, as their own lives, goals, and expectations change over the years.
- Specialized care requirements and habitat – Box turtles require a variety of things to stay healthy and happy over the years. These include a personalized habitat with a basking spot, hiding places, burrowing capabilities, ecosystem diversity, a nutritious and varied diet, and regular vet checkups. These requirements are often time and money-consuming, which could be acceptable short-term but unacceptable long-term. And really unacceptable very long-term, given that box, turtles can live 40 years or more in captivity.
- Health risks to humans – The main concern here is Salmonella. This bacterium can transmit to humans and produce symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, fever, and even death in the case of children, old, or immuno-compromised individuals. Most importantly, turtles cannot get infected, they’re just passive carriers. So, you can’t know whether your box turtle carries Salmonella or not without taking it to a vet for an in-depth diagnosis.
- Health issues – Box turtles can not only transmit diseases to humans but fall sick themselves. These reptiles are generally more prone to health issues like respiratory infections, shell rot, and parasites, especially when kept in subpar living conditions. This fact alone can place a lot of strain on new and inexperienced owners, which can translate to additional financial and time expenditure.
- Hibernation – Box turtles hibernate in the wild when the cold season approaches, but they may not need to hibernate in captivity if environmental parameters are stable and temperatures are high. However, I said ‘may not need to hibernate’ because some box turtles stop eating and prepare for hibernation regardless of the artificial conditions in captivity. If you have one of those lizards, you need to prepare yourself accordingly and provide the turtle with the ideal conditions for hibernation. This begins with setting up the right layout, according to what turtles need when hibernating. Which can be costly and lead to logistics problems if the tank is too small.
Turtle lovers decide for themselves which way the pros and cons scale goes depending on their preferences and determination.
However, if you do decide to adopt a box turtle as a pet, keep in mind that these reptiles are considered unsafe due to their potential for spreading Salmonella.
Ethical Considerations for Keeping a Box Turtle
There are 2 primary ethical considerations to assess before getting a box turtle:
- The turtle’s long-term wellbeing – Box turtles demand long-term commitment from their keepers because they require specialized living conditions. If you’re not sure whether you can meet these conditions over decades to come, it’s not worth it. The animal will experience poor life quality and a shorter lifespan because of it.
- The impact of the pet trade – If the box turtle population in your area is dwindling, you should consider the ethical impact of engaging in the pet trade, to begin with. On the one hand, you’re taking a turtle out of its dangerous ecosystem and providing it with a long, stable, and worry-free life for decades to come. On the other hand, you’re depriving the ecosystem of that turtle that could’ve contributed to a more stable population in the area.
You also have the legal aspect to take into account, depending on the turtle’s legal status in your state.
Alternatives to Owning a Box Turtle
If you’ve decided to skip the entire turtle ownership phase, but want some good alternatives, consider the following options:
- Owning other small reptiles – If box turtles are off the table, consider any number of potential reptiles like lizards, snakes, or even other turtles. Some of the most popular reptile pets today include bearded dragons, leopard geckos, crested geckos, ball pythons, and Burmese pythons, each with their own requirements and lifestyles.
- Visiting the zoo more often – This is a great option if you want to enjoy the turtle without having to commit to several decades of extensive care. Plus, the zoo you’re visiting has many other animals on display aside from the turtle.
- Volunteering with a turtle rescue organization – This is a good option if you enjoy getting your hands dirty to help the wild turtle population, given that any help is widely appreciated. Check the turtle’s status in your local area and see whether you can be of any help in this sense.
You can also educate yourself on box turtles to see how you can help the local fauna or even consider larger scopes of aiding the general turtle population, no matter the place.
Many types of box turtles live in rough ecosystems that cause instability among the population.
In this sense, you have multiple sources available for educating yourself. These include books, documentaries, short series, online articles, videos, etc.
Box turtles are small, cute, and adaptable, but they’re not exactly easy to care for as pets.
I only recommend getting one if you’re ready to invest time, money, and attention into your pet’s wellbeing for years to come.