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Turtles/Baby Eastern Box Turtle


QUESTION: I just acquired a baby eastern box turtle. I have him in a 10 gallon tank right now. When do you suggest moving him/her into something bigger and outside? I live in Texas we have very HOT summers and sometimes can get really cold in the winter. Is this weather ok for a box turtle. Also on the UVB lighting what watt should be used a 50 watt UVB came with the light. How often do you feed the baby and with what? Any tips or things I should know I don't want to stress him out or do something bad for his health.

ANSWER: Hi Rebecca,

The very first thing you should do is get him out of the tank ASAP.  It's much too small for even a baby box turtle, and tanks aren't appropriate for them anyway.  For now, the best enclosure would be a cement mixing tub, which you can get at Lowe's or Home Depot for about $15.  Get the bigger one, which is about 2 x 3, and will do for a hatchling to juvenile.  This will provide plenty of space for exercise, and also allow for a proper temperature gradient.  

It's also important to confirm that you actually have a hatchling/juvenile, and weren't just told that.  It's very common for pet stores to claim that WC adult Russian tortoises are CB hatchlings, for instance.  A hatchling box turtle is only about 2", so very small.  An adult or subadult is much bigger, and needs a different setup.  If you do have a hatchling, moisture is very, very important.  The substrate should be sphagnum moss (not peat moss) for a young hatchling, and a mix of moss, coir, and playsand for a juvenile, and kept quite moist at all times.  Adults also need moisture, but dehydration is less of a risk for them.

There are no good 50 watt UVB bulbs, so I would get rid of that.  Replace it with a 100 watt ZooMed Powersun bulb, which will provide both heat and UVB.  You need a basking area of about 88-90 degrees, and then cooler areas that can go down to about 70 degrees (no night heat).  The light should be on for 12-14 hours a day.

Box turtles do much better outside, so next spring build a secure outdoor pen for him.  Box turtles can both climb and dig, so make sure you take those factors into consideration.  The pen should be heavily shaded, but have some sun throughout the day, and should also be well planted.  Water it often because of the heat.  Box turtles can hibernate outside as well, although if you do have a hatchling you might want to overwinter him for a couple of years.

Daily feedings are fine, but don't overfeed.  At a young age, they are primarily carnivorous, but should be offered greens and fruits in small amounts daily as well.  A wide variety of foods is important!  For more detaiiled care information, including a complete food list, see  If you have more questions, please post back.  

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QUESTION: What would I use if the house gets colder at night for the turtle where it's below 70 degrees? I was also told to soak him twice a day is that correct?

I am having a hard time keeping the humidity up. I am going to go out and look for the moss. Do I wet the moss?

I have some of that reptile bark in there now do I mix it with the moss?

ANSWER: Hi Rebecca,

Whoever gave you the care information is...well, not very informed.  You do have a juvenile box turtle, btw.  Soaking twice a day is not going to counteract the dehydration problem because that reptile bark is bone dry.  Get the moss (look for it where the orchid supplies are--it's labeled as "sphagnum moss" and will probably be the Mosser Lee brand).  Soak it in warm water, and then put it in the enclosure.  Get rid of the bark--it won't hold moisture, but worse, it's not good for the muscle development in his legs.  If you put something under the cool end so it's elevated about an inch, water will collect at the warmer end and make it nice and boggy.  You'll need to add water every couple of days, and it's not a bad idea to spray it all down with water a couple of times a day.  Young box turtles really need that moisture.  In a few months, mix in coir and playsand with the moss, but keep in mind that the moisture still needs to be high.  Air humidity is less important, but that moss needs to be wet.

He should be soaked about 3 times a week in lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes.  More often isn't necessary (but keep that substrate moist!).  

He doesn't need any heat at night unless your house gets very cold.  A night drop as low as the 50s is just fine.  

PS.  He needs to be out of the tank as soon as possible.  Get the tub when you get the moss, and you'll be set.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: So do I only use the moss or leave some bark in the bottom. How often do I take the moss out? Do you clean moss or just buy more?

So he can be in a cool temperature like that. I was so worried about that. So at night he gets no light then during the day I have a 5 uvb strip and a basking light. Is that ok?

I really appreciate your help.

Hi Rebecca,

No, don't use the bark at all, just the moss for right now.  You can spot clean the moss and then replace it after about three months, and when you replace it, do a mix of moss/coir/playsand (also keeping that moist).  

Box turtles on the whole prefer somewhat cooler temperatures than, for instance, tortoises do.  They still need the warmer basking area, but will often seek out shady, fairly cool areas.  Cool nights are fine for them.

Did you get the mixing tub?  I would replace your lights with the ZooMed Powersun I mentioned earlier.  You can buy it online at  What you have now is probably useless in terms of UVB, and for a hatchling/juvenile, UVB is extremely important.  Unfortunately, most UVB bulbs don't provide the amount of UVB they claim to, but I know people who have tested the Powersun extensively, and it's a good bulb.


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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