Box Turtle Behavior

.Every Day Natural Behavior
.Behavior: The Day In The Life Of A Box Turtle
.Aggressive Behavior Toward Other Turtles
.Aggressive Behavior Toward People
.The Homing Instinct: Return To Birth Place

How to Calm Your Turtle When Handling


Every Day Natural Behavior
Scroll Down The Page To Read Common Box Turtle Behaviors.

Turtle Always Following Me Around

Your turtle is begging for a juicy worm. Then again, maybe it just loves you!

Head Held High In The Air

Your turtle smells something in the wind, or is looking over a high obstacle.

All Limbs Extended Out

Your turtle is sunbathing (Basking). Yes, Box Turtle's bask too!

Digging With Front Legs

It is hunting for bugs or digging down for a nice nap.

Two Turtles Are Sniffing Each Other Or One Bites At Other's Head
A male and female have become interested in mating. (More Info)

Digging With Back Legs

Your female is gravid and digging a nest to lay her eggs. (More Info)

Sniffing An Object

The turtle is investigating if something is edible, if it is edible it will take a bite!

Ramming Shells Together

Two males are fighting, you should separate them immediately (More Info )

Withdrawn Into Shell

The turtle is alarmed, walk slowly and wait for it to face the world again.

My Turtle Yawned?

Turtles can yawn, but something may have bothered it, leave it be and watch.

My Turtle Hissed At Me!

When a turtle withdraws into its shell, air is released making a hiss sound. It is caused by the compression of the turtle's lungs when the turtle withdraws its head / limps inside its shell.

Turtle Snapping Jaw Shut

A study by Davidson College revealed that a box turtle snapping its jaw shut can produce sounds as loud as 75 dB. This sound can be used to scare away predators or possibly even be used as a mating call.



Behavior: The Day In The Life Of A Box Turtle

Box turtles start their day by emerging from their resting place and basking in the morning sun. The rest of the day they generally forage for food un till nightfall. Most species will not come out in the open later in the day unless it had rained. Every few days a box turtle will stop and take a drink from a pool of clean water, and when temperatures get too high a box turtle will soak for a few hours.

When nightfall comes a turtle will seek a spot to settle down for the night, often the same place the previous night, under logs, shrubs, or in a pile of leafs. In summer a turtle will normally only dig as deep as 4 inch's, but in winter they dig as deep as they can in order to escape the frost line. Exactly how deep depends on where you live, and how deep the frost line can reach into the ground. Usually a turtle will hibernate about 2~4 inches into the ground, however the frost line can change throughout the winter, and so will the depth a turtle will be willing to dig down.

-If you go hiking and want to see a few box turtles; do it in the morning after a rain. The rain loosens the dirt and wakes the turtles up, making them then want to enjoy the morning shower in a more open area.



Aggressive Behavior Toward Other Turtles

We all know animals will fight over territory, dominants, and breeding rights, this also apply to Box Turtles.

When a box turtle is in an area it finds suitable for life, it will "claim it as it's territory". This can be male or females, and they will fight to defend it from other turtles. If you are adding a new turtle to a habitat, it will naturally explore and find its own territory, and will eventually run into one that is already claimed. This is when territorial aggression happens and the new turtle will be attacked by the other.

To avoid this you can remove all turtles from the habitat, and let the new one explore for an hour or two. Once it is done walking out the enclosure and found its spot to settle down, you can put the others back one at a time, allowing each to calmly find their own place to sleep and forage. Habitats should have at least 1 or 2 hiding spots for each turtle.

When a number of males are kept in a small habitat with not enough females to go around, they will fight over dominants. When two males are fighting they will ram shells together and bite. For every male there should be at least 2 females of the same species to avoid this problem. Having a large habitat with a hiding spot for each turtle can also help.

Sometimes younger turtles will attack the smaller, less aggressive ones. The aggressive turtle will bite the other and even pull it around. Never keep turtles from different batches together, especially when they become a year old. When you witness a turtle showing signs of aggression to another turtle place it into another enclosure immediately!

As explained in Dominants, there should always be enough females for all the males, but even in the largest enclosures two males may end up fighting over one female.

No Information Available At This Time



Aggressive Behavior Toward People

I have done a lot of research on what would make a box turtle aggressive but didn't find much. They are a very peace-loving species which is why they are so popular in the pet trade.

No Information Available At This Time



The Homing Instinct: Return To Birth Place

A Box Turtle has a very strong instinct to return to its home (which can the size of a foot ball field and as big as a square mile). No matter how far away or how long ago it was, a turtle will wish to find the location it was born.

If a turtle is moved more than a quarter mile away from its birth place it will not easily find its way. It can search for years and may never reach its original territory, and that could lead it to a fatal end. Not only will this increase the chances of the turtle getting run over or not staying safe from predators and the climate, its relentless searching can spread any deceased it may be carrying to other turtles as it travels along.

When a turtle is plucked from the wild and taken to a new location, it will never be as happy and healthy as it originally was. Even the largest, most beautiful of enclosures it is placed into can't stop the turtle's urge to escape and head to home sweet home.

My Comment (From The Web-Master, Jenne)

"Of course, slowly over time most owners claim their wild-caught turtles adapt to their new surroundings, -and I am one of them, but even I find my turtles trying their darnest to escape, even if that means climbing vertical up a wall, and attempting to swim across my deep pool, anything to get home, even if it goes against their usual instincts.

Before Turtle Town was what it is now, when the gate to the garden was open, a turtle would escape. They would all end up on the east side of the property, amazing east is the direction they are from, one even escaped the property and was never seen again. We know he escaped through the far most east gate of the yard when a worker left that gate open, but there's no way to be certain of how or when it happened, or where he ended up.

Who knows, maybe 'Helmet' is still trekking home."



How to Calm Your Turtle When Handling

When a turtle is picked up the first several times, it doesn't understand what is going on and it assumes it is upside down or in water, so it will kick its legs and push agents your fingers trying to get back on land.

If your turtle flicks its head backswords at your hand trying to bite you, it doesn't want to be picked up right now and you should put it down and leave it alone for awhile. If you look at your turtle and it opens its mouth, being picked up is bothering it and you should put it back down and leave it alone.

The "Stay!" Hand Gesture
Only use this method with new turtles that simply must be calm when handling!
This is a method I use to clam my fussing turtles when I need to pick them up and examine them. If your turtle is kicking around and trying to escape your grasp try putting your hand in front of its face, this will startle it slightly, and it will withdraw into its shell. When it slowly faces the world again it will mostly likely be more relaxed and you can continue with whatever you were doing, examining or palpating for example.

The sudden hand movement startles it for obvious reasons, but it is also the shadow that comes over its face when this happens. Small animals have an instinct where if a shadow passes over it quickly, it will run for hiding or withdraws into its shell, fearing it was the shadow of a predator.


-Of course startling your turtle into submission may cause it take longer to trust you and get used to being handled. Handling your turtle slowly, and often enough will help your turtle to better trust you.

"I can pick up some of my older turtles and they will just hang there, completely relaxed with all their limps out, looking around enjoying the free ride, because they are used to the experience."