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What Do Box Turtles Eat In the Wild and as Pets?

Nicole Cosgrove

February 23, 2021

Box Turtles are hardy reptiles with long lifespans in both the wild and in captivity. These turtles can easily live for 30-60 years when cared for properly, and the number one factor in their longevity is a healthy diet.

Box Turtles are of the genus Terrapene, and the most common species of Box Turtles seen as pets are the Eastern Box Turtle, Gulf Coast Box Turtle, Three-toed Box Turtle, and the Western Ornate Box Turtle. All Box Turtles are omnivores, and as such, they will eat a wide variety of animal and plant-based foods both in captivity and in the wild. The proportion of these foods depend on both the age and species of Box Turtle, as some are more carnivorous than others.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what the best diet is for Box Turtles in captivity, as well as what their natural diet is in the wild.

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Box Turtle Facts:

Size: 2-6 inches
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Lifespan: 30-60 years
Species: Ornata
Genus: Terrapene
Class: Reptilia

What do Box Turtles eat in the wild?

In the wild, Box Turtles can typically be found roaming wooded areas, eating a largely omnivorous diet. There are 6 species of Box Turtle and various subspecies that can be found in Northern America, and their diet will depend in large part on their unique locality. That said, they will typically eat a wide range of fruit, vegetables, and leafy greens, plus insects.

Box Turtle
Image Credit: JamesDeMers, Pixabay

In general, hatchlings and young Box Turtles are more carnivorous, and they’ll gradually gravitate toward an omnivorous diet as they get older. In the wild, Box Turtles’ diet consists of a variation of the following:

  • Mushrooms
  • Grass
  • Flowers
  • Berries
  • Fruit
  • Leaves
  • Earthworms
  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Grasshoppers
  • Spiders
  • Eggs
  • Frogs
  • Crustaceans

What do Box Turtles eat in captivity?

The key to ensuring a healthy diet for a pet Box Turtle is to make sure they are getting a variety of fresh foods every day. Commercial Box Turtle food can be purchased in pet stores or online and is a great way to make sure your pet is getting adequate nutrition and vitamin ratios, but fresh food is essential too.

It’s good practice to only feed your Box Turtle a full meal every second day or so and stick to a small snack in-between. This of course depends on the age of your Box Turtle, as well as the time of the year.

Box Turtle Nature
Image Credit: allyartist, Pixabay

Box Turtles will enjoy a wide variety of foods, and around a 50/50 ratio of plant-based food and animal-based food is ideal. The following fruits and vegetables are ideal for Box Turtles:

  • Carrots (shredded)
  • Squash (shredded)
  • Grapes
  • Mushrooms
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Green beans
  • Apples
  • Papaya

As mentioned earlier, Box Turtles are omnivores and need insects and other animal foods in their diet too. These can be bought from most pet stores or found around your garden, and include:

  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Mealworms
  • Earthworms
  • Caterpillars
  • Beetles
  • Grasshoppers
  • Crickets
  • Eggs
  • Pinky mice
box turtle
Image Credit: sphenkel, Pixabay

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Adult vs baby Box Turtle diet

Hatchling Box Turtles have specialized dietary requirements for the first year of their lives and need a lot more protein than adults. Some owners recommend giving babies a completely carnivorous diet, however, it’s probably a good idea to add small amounts of fruit and vegetables too. They may even ignore these foods, in which case there is no reason to worry, but there is no harm in trying as the diet of Box Turtles is still not yet fully understood by experts.

Box Turtles grow very rapidly in the first 4-5 years of life, at which point they reach sexual maturity and their growth rate slows significantly. Still, they may keep growing for another 10-15 years and only reach full size by around 20. At around 5 years old their growth slows, and they’ll need less caloric intake than before. You can even refrain from feeding them a full meal on occasion and just stick with a small snack. This is common practice with reptile husbandry, and it is even beneficial to let your Turtle fast for a day every couple of weeks.

Ideally, an adult Box Turtles diet should consist of 50% protein from animals or insects, around 40% fruits and vegetables, and 10% leafy greens.

Foods to avoid feeding your Box Turtle

eastern box turtle
Image Credit: micahzeb, Pixabay

In the wild, Box Turtles will likely nibble and taste everything they come across, and as their diet has such a wide variety there is very little to avoid giving them. There are, of course, some foods that should be strictly avoided, including:

  • Commercial dog and cat food
  • Diary
  • Processed meat
  • Sugar
  • Wheat (bread, pasta)
  • Potato leaves
  • Tomato leaves
  • Avocado skin and pits

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Final Thoughts

Box Turtles have a widely varying diet in the wild, nibbling and tasting most things they come across. As such, feeding them in captivity should consist of the same wide variety of fruit and vegetables, as this will give them a diet closest to their natural diet. Commercial food is great, but should always be substituted with fresh greens, fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins.

In summary, the diet of a captive Box Turtle should resemble the diet they’d eat in the wild as closely as possible.


Featured Image: Mark_Kostich, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.