15 Types of Box Turtles You Can Keep as Pets

Box turtles are fairly popular reptile pets for their easygoing demeanor, exotic look, and overall manageable lifestyle.

These turtles are rather docile and friendly towards humans, although they’re not exactly fond of being handled too often.

But did you know that there are multiple types of box turtles to choose from? Today, we will discuss 15 of them, which currently rank as the most popular in the pet trade. Let’s jump right in!

1. Eastern Box Turtle

The eastern box turtle comes with a typical look with a large and bulky shell and long head with red eyes.

These turtles showcase a lot of yellow, although their coloring varies depending on age and gender. Males tend to have brighter colors and more well-defined markings compared to females.

Eastern box turtles are more widespread in the eastern and central US in areas like grasslands, wetlands, and forests.

These reptiles rely on their environment to provide them with food and shelter, which is why you’re most likely to find them in areas with thick vegetation. They also prefer to stay close to a water source for easy access to food and water.

These turtles are omnivores and prefer to consume insects, worms, fruits, snails, plants, and flowers, depending on what they can find. Eastern box turtles qualify as great seed dispersal animals thanks to their plant-based meal preferences and seed-rich poop.

Eastern box turtles qualify as protected in many states, so you need to check the animal’s status before committing.

Other than that, they make for good pets but require a specialized habitat with access to fresh water, several hiding spots, and stable and optimized lighting, humidity, and temperature.

2. Ornate Box Turtle

Ornate box turtles are slightly different in appearance as they display less yellow than the eastern variation. The trademark feature that informs you of the turtle type you’re looking at is the shell pattern.

Ornate box turtles have small yellow lines covering the entire surface of their brown shell, making them easily identifiable.

The ornate box turtle can only grow up to 6 inches in the case of males, while females are slightly smaller. This is a typical shell size for most box turtles, regardless of the morph.

This turtle species is more prevalent in the central US in areas like grasslands and prairies. The turtle’s diet is fairly standard, including snails, insects, plenty of vegetation, fruits, flowers, and even small amphibians and mammals like mice.

They also have healthy appetites and are capable of eating daily, especially if food is rather scarce. If plentiful, they might skip a day here and there, depending on how nutritious their meals are.

Ornate box turtles require a varied habitat in captivity, preferably with a lot of open space for uninhibited movement. These reptiles love to explore their environment on all levels, so make sure you include some climbing decorations as well.

They should be easy to care for as pets, provided you ensure stable living conditions, regular maintenance, and good food.

3. Three-Toed Box Turtle

Three-toed box turtles have several unique features that distinguish them from other box turtles. The clearest one is the presence of three toes on each hind leg, which no other box turtle has.

These turtles can also grow slightly bigger, up to 6.5 or even 7 inches in some cases. They also showcase clear shells that lack any markings. Most are brown with clear shell delimitations and often with a wood-like texture.

This small terrestrial turtle is mostly found in the southern US, especially Texas, Oklahoma, or Arkansas, occupying ecosystems rich in vegetation and feeding opportunities.

Three-toed turtles consume a variety of foods, including insects, mushrooms, flowers, snails, small mammals, reptiles, etc.

They can also hibernate and burrow themselves in the soil, which is typical behavior for box turtles in general. Fortunately, box turtles are also great as pets, provided you offer them a comfy and natural-looking stay.

The requirements are also standard for box turtles in general, with UVB lighting, a varied layout, climbing spots, hiding areas, and stable temperature and humidity.

4. Gulf Coast Box Turtle

This species can also reach 7 inches in size and comes with a distinct look that separates it from other box turtles.

The most important one is the color variation, with some individuals being completely black with yellow spots on the shell, while others have yellow bodies and mixed-color shells.

Some specimens also have no shell markings, while others are covered with different shapes, spots, or lines.

You can find this one in the US’s wilderness, inhabiting different mixed ecosystems in states like Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana.

The animal’s diet is standard for a box turtle, with flowers, plants, fruits, insects, and other live prey being part of their meal plan. They can also consume carrion on occasion if nothing else is available.

You can keep them as pets so long as you provide them with a personalized ecosystem and stable parameters. These turtles require at least 30-40 gallons of space to stay physically and mentally active.

They also need a varied layout to keep them engaged and in shape. So, hiding and climbing spots are a must, along with sufficient open space and a source of clean water nearby.

5. Florida Box Turtle

Florida box turtles are very similar to ornate box turtles due to their distinct yellow lines decorating their shells. Almost all specimens showcase these markings, except they’re less visible in females.

Otherwise, Florida box turtles are typically smaller, only reaching 4.5 inches best-case scenario. This makes them easier to keep as pets since they don’t need as much space, to begin with.

As their name suggests, Florida box turtles are primarily found in Florida, but they’re really spread throughout the southern US as well. They prefer to dwell next to a water source, where they hunt and find shelter from predators.

Due to their smaller size, Florida box turtles are more difficult to observe in the wild, but they also have more predators to worry about.

Despite their smaller size, Florida box turtles require the same level of care in captivity as any other box turtle, however big.

Provide them with a clean water source, preferably a pool to facilitate occasional soaking and bathing, several dark hiding spots, and a nutritious and diverse diet.

6. Desert Box Turtle

Desert box turtles follow the same size pattern as most box turtles, sitting between 4 and 6 inches, depending on gender. Males are always larger to justify their need to fight with each other over pretty much anything.

Desert box turtles are probably the dullest among all box turtle species. They lack any flashy coloring, as they mostly display a sandy brown. This is typical for desert reptiles, no matter their species.

Desert box turtles are most widespread in regions like Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, but you can find them in other areas throughout the southern US as well. The preferred habitat is desertic and rocky, with a variety of hiding spots and little vegetation.

Despite the scarce environment, desert box turtles have an equally varied diet as any other type of box turtle. They consume insects like beetles, grasshoppers, and cicadas but also enjoy cacti, leaves, berries, and even carrion whenever possible.

Needless to say, desert box turtles require a personalized habitat with slightly higher temperatures than usual and a natural-looking setup. Provide them with plenty of rocks, logs, and other decorations that can serve for hiding and exploration.

Other than that, desert turtles have similar requirements to any other species, including a varied and nutritious diet, proper humidity, and overall stable parameters.

7. Mexican Box Turtle

Mexican box turtles can get slightly larger than the average, capping at 8 inches in the case of the largest males. But this isn’t necessarily their trademark and most impressive feature.

Instead, it’s the blue coloring present on the face, neck, and sometimes the shell. These are among the most colorful box turtles you can find because blue is an unusual color for turtles in general.

Some individuals can also come with blue shells and black and red bodies for an even more impactful look. These types of turtles are mostly found in Texas, with only sporadic sightings being reported in other areas throughout the southern US.

These omnivorous reptiles require a diverse diet of plants, fruits, insects, worms, and flowers, which they have no problem finding plenty of in their natural habitat.

The main issue with this one is that you may have difficulties finding it in the wild. Mexican box turtles are fairly rare, which is why they are generally protected and even banned from the pet trade.

However, you can get captive-bred specimens instead, so long as you live in Mexico and are ready to pay between $4,000 and $6,000 or more for one.

8. Yucatan Box Turtle


Yucatan box turtles only get to 6 inches, but their overall appearance is what recommends this species as truly unique and exotic. They have bright-orange shells with a light coloring, often mixed with brushes of black.

The turtle’s body is either light grey or yellow, with varied black or brown splashes on the head or neck. Some turtles have completely white heads, which makes them even rarer.

Yucatan box turtles are only found on the Yucatan Peninsula and very rarely, if ever, in Mexico, Belize, or Guatemala.

They have similar requirements to all box turtles in terms of feeding and overall habitat, which would qualify them as great pets, especially thanks to their exquisite coloring.

The problem is that Yucatan box turtles are endangered, and collecting, keeping, or trading them is banned by law.

At best, you can hope to find a captive-bred specimen, since these don’t fall under the same strict regulations, but they’re extremely rare and likely very expensive.

9. Spotted Box Turtle

Spotted box turtles fall in the standard 5-6-inch range, but they diverge from the pack via their unique and exhilarating coloration. Most spotted box turtles are brown, yellow, or even orange, with hundreds of tiny yellow spots, sprinkled over the entire shell.

Some variations exist among the individuals, with some exhibiting fewer or more faded spots than others. Males tend to be more colorful overall due to them using their coloring to impress and attract females.

Spotted box turtles can be found in areas like Arizona and New Mexico, but they can inhabit a multitude of ecosystems throughout the southern US.

The reptiles’ diet is consistent with the standard box turtle preferences, which include insects, worms, small animals and reptiles, fruits, plants, etc. They require a varied diet to satisfy their nutritional requirements and stay healthy over the years.

You can keep spotted box turtles in captivity, just expect them to be rather difficult to find due to their popularity and poor supply. More importantly, get ready to pay up to $600 or more for one specimen, depending on the animal’s uniqueness.

Some spotted turtles are tar-black with rows of yellow spots on the shell, which makes them more expensive than other morphs.

10. Asian Box Turtle

I’m not going to lie; Asian box turtles diverge from the pack a bit. These turtles are highly recognizable by their unique appearance, making them stand out from the turtle crowd.

Asian box turtles have black or dark shells with subtle demarcations and slim and black legs. Most individuals have yellow necks with black stripes covering their faces and a yellow plastron.

The difference between these turtles and other box turtles lies in the face. If you could only see the turtle’s head and nothing else, you could swear you’re looking at a toad. The turtle has a small mouth, no beak, and an inflatable neck pouch for a plus of character.

Asian box turtles are fond of water, as they like to swim more than other species. Even so, they require a portion of land to stretch their reptile legs and bask in the sun for a bit.

Fortunately, these turtles are fairly cheap, getting as low as $30 in some cases. The only problem to expect is that of availability, especially if you live in the US.

If the turtle isn’t available in your area, you might need to order it from another continent, which could boost expenses considerably.

The good news is that Asian box turtles are fairly common in the pet trade, so you shouldn’t have issues finding them on US soil.

11. Chinese Box Turtle

Chinese box turtles are the largest specimens so far, with males being able to reach 12 inches, which is impressive by box turtle standards. This reptile doesn’t cut corners in terms of appearance, either.

The typical Chinese box turtle has a dark-brown shell with yellow or orange patches, dark legs, and bright-yellow heads with no visible markings.

This reptile’s head is flat and visibly powerful, with short but sharp beaks. There’s no denying that Chinese box turtles have a unique charm that’s very difficult to replicate with other species.

As the name suggests, this species is endemic to China, and it’s mostly found in grasslands, prairies, and local forests, preferably near a water source. Their diet is omnivorous, but no surprises there, and they fare quite well in captivity.

The only difficulty is finding the right setup for them, as Chinese turtles are pretentious about their ecosystem’s layout. Plenty of hiding spots are necessary, a large soaking area, preferably a pool, and plenty of open space for walking and exploration purposes.

The typical Chinese box turtle ranges between $300 and $400 in price, but you can find them cheaper as well, depending on the seller and market availability.

12. Vietnamese Box Turtle

Despite finding themselves on the same continent as the Chinese and Asian variations, Vietnamese turtles are considerably different in appearance. These reptiles can reach 8 inches at their peak and come with a unique and highly recognizable body.

Most specimens have bright-yellow shells with splashes of brown, black, or even dark red in some cases. These turtles have yellow heads and necks and brown and yellow limbs.

Some variations exist between different individuals, with some exhibiting a black and red body and shell that diverge from the norm. Interestingly, males usually possess very tall shells, while females have them flatter.

This is likely due to their reproductive adaptation since males couldn’t mount females if they also had dome-like shells.

Vietnamese box turtles aren’t difficult to keep in captivity. At least, not any more difficult than the standard box turtle. The same applies to this species in terms of feeding, layout, and overall housing requirements.

Consider at least 40-50 gallons of space for one specimen to have sufficient room for various decorations, necessary equipment, and the turtle itself.

13. Japanese Box Turtle

Japanese box turtles can reach 8 inches in the wild, but most won’t get that high due to poor food availability, habitat challenges, disease, and predation, among other things.

You can recognize the Japanese box turtle by its wide and bulky shell and dark body with thick scale-like structures.

The turtle has a small head with very large and protruding eyes, surrounded by folds of thick skin. The turtle has powerful legs and long and sharp claws that aid in locomotion, feeding, and burrowing.

Everything else about Japanese box turtles is standard for the species. This includes the omnivorous diet, environmental requirements, and ease of adaptation to life in captivity.

Japanese box turtles are notorious for their easygoing demeanor and docile temperament, so long as you provide them with the ideal living conditions.

These turtles are fairly popular and available on the pet market and come with an average price range between $150 and $300, depending on the specimen.

14. Indian Box Turtle

India possesses several species of box turtles that fall under the ‘Indian’ tag. These include the Amboina box turtle and Keeled box turtle, among other local variations.

The Amboina species (Cuora Amboiensis) is the one that’s most often associated with the notion of the Indian box turtle, so we’ll focus on this one. This species can reach 7 inches tops and comes with a black, dome-like shell and a light-colored body.

The neck and face are generally yellow, and the reptile comes with black bands over its face that reminds of war paint. The shell is always black or dark brown, with no visible markings.

Everything else fits the standard box turtle profile, from the omnivorous and varied diet to the specific environmental conditions that include the presence of water and thick vegetation.

These turtles are fairly common in captivity and popular in the reptile market. Although, this depends on where you live and the reptile’s availability in your area.

15. Russian Box Turtle

We close this list with one of the most colorful and intriguing species so far. The Russian box turtle is fairly sizeable and capable of getting to 10 inches in the wild.

The main feature that separates this turtle from other box turtles is its coloring. Most Russian box turtles are entirely yellow, with only sporadic black or brown patches on the shell and, sometimes, the body.

The coloring is responsible for much of the reptile’s fame in the pet trade, but the turtle is not expensive. Expect to get a specimen for up to $300, but some can get as low as $50, hatchlings especially.

And then you have the more peculiar and unique morphs that can jump into the thousands of dollars.

Aside from their unusual appearance, Russian box turtles stay true to their nature. They come with an omnivorous orientation, can eat anything, and demand box turtle-specific environmental conditions to thrive and live long and happy lives.


Box turtles exhibit immense variation, depending on where you get them from. Fortunately, this variation only rests in the animal’s appearance, not in behavior, diet, or overall requirements.

The latter may vary slightly, depending on the species and its preferred ecosystem, but not by much.

This is great news because once you’ve seen and learned about one box turtle, you’ve learned about all of them. So, you can easily change to or buy a different type over time should you choose to.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...