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Turtles/Box Turtle Care


QUESTION: I have two baby box turtles (not even a year old) and one (the smaller one) is not eating. I know they are carnivores at this age and I have been feeding them wax worms, so the larger one is so excited to dig into the wax worm, but the little guy shows no interest at all... Is it stress, is it that he's/she's still a hatchling, maybe it doesn't want wax worms? I don't know but I do know they aren't really picky. My dad told me to leave it alone until I do the daily soaking. I just want to figure out why it wont eat, it also rarely moves around and always has its head sticking partially out.... is it scared, nervous, or stressed. They are both indoors in a tank and I need to get a reptile light a.s.a.p. but I cannot afford one at the moment.  I do have a zoo-med reptile heating pad. The substrate I'm using is just plain dirt.... I just need to know why he/she isn't eating....

ANSWER: Hi Makaylah,

Ugh, I just wrote a long answer for you and Allexperts lost it when I went to post!  I'll have to try to remember all I wrote.

First off, if you can give me a little more information, I can help you out more.  I need to know how big they are, how big the tank is, and the warm/cool temperatures.  Pictures of the enclosure would help, too.  I can give you some suggestions based on the information you've give me so far, though.

1)  Box turtles don't do well in tanks, so unless the tank is large (at least 40 gallons), I would switch to a cement mixing tub (2 x 3 ) from Lowe's or Home Depot, or a similarly sized tub.  This will work for a couple of years, and at that point they should be big enough for an outdoor enclosure.  They should ideally live outside at that point.  

2)  Hatchling box turtles need a LOT of moisture.  Just soaking isn't enough.  If they're very small, their substrate should be all sphagnum moss (not peat moss), and kept quite wet.  When they're older (six months and up), you can start putting them on a mix of the moss, coir, and playsand (all mixed together), but they still need moisture.  If they dehydrate, they won't eat.  The moss will also allow them to burrow easily.

3)  Turtles need basking heat from above, so get rid of the heating pad.  I'm assuming you don't have a source of UVB, which is vital for their shell growth--they can't metabolize calcium without it.  There's many UVB bulbs out there, but most of them are worthless.  Get a 100 watt ZooMed Powersun, which will provide both heat and UVB.  You can order one online for about $40.  Set it up so there's a basking spot (measure temperature on the substrate right under the bulb) of 88-90 degrees (no higher) and cooler areas of around 70 degrees.  That way, they can move around to regulate their temperature.  

4)  Wax worms are fine as part of a varied diet, but not as the only food.  They need animal protein, fruit, and greens.  It's true that they're mostly carnivorous at this age, but should still be offered small amounts of fruit and greens a few times a week.  I'll post a link at the end that will give you suggestions for foods.

So, in short, they need an open, airy enclosure, plenty of moisture, proper warm/cool temperatures, UVB, and a good, varied diet.  I suspect that your little guy is not eating because he's  too dry; too warm or cool; or lacking UVB.  If you can provide the additional information I asked for, I may be able to give some more suggestions for you.

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

QUESTION: Well the baby is eating now and he/she is no bigger than a quarter and the tank is about 30 20 gallons, i finally bought the lights that are needed and I come to find out that he/she only like red wigglers at the moment. But I won't get rid of the heating pad, i turn off the lamps at night and leave the heating pad on so they stay warm but i have a UVA and UVB light one of them is for basking but I cant afford a new substrate at the moment but I should be getting a nice reptile soil that holds in moisture. They are doing fine. I mist them before I go to school, when I get home, and before I go to bed my dad does the mistings when I'm gone. Okay well I am sure I finally got the hang of it. Thanks For The Help!

They don't need heat at night, and a drop in temperatures is good for them.  I would still get rid of the heating pad.  Unless you have a thermostat for it they can get very hot and too much heat from below isn't good for them.  Make sure the substrate stays very moist--the part under the basking lamp should be quite boggy/muddy.  Misting is good, but every few days stick your finger into the substrate to check on dryness and water as necessary.  You can try other foods as you go along.  Also keep in mind that you need a more open/bigger enclosure when you can get one (or build one).  Good luck!


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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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