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Turtles/Hatchling Box Turtle Care


QUESTION: Hi! My name is Spencer and my neighbor keeps many different kinds of tortoises and turtles. Some of their box turtles just hatched and they gave me 2 hatchlings. They both still have their egg tooth and are still very small. We have a pond in the pack yard filled with a bunch of koi and we used to have 3 red eared sliders in it and 1 snapping turtle. They all left. These two will be kept inside as it is getting close to winter. We plan on making an outdoor enclosure next spring/summer for them. And then bring them in for the winter next year. We don't know what we need for them now, what/how to feed them, what lights and heating we need, and overall, what to do. Thank you for anything you can do for us. ~Spencer

ANSWER: Hi Spencer,

With hatchling box turtles, you really need to be careful to keep a lot of moisture in their habitat.  Rather than using soil or similar substrate, sphagnum moss (not peat moss--Mosser Lee is the brand they carry at Lowe's in the potting soil area) makes a good substrate because it will hold moisture really well.  When they are bigger (6-12 months) you can start mixing in other substrate (coir/playsand mix), but it will still need to stay fairly moist in at least half of the enclosure.  Cement mixing tubs (Lowe's or Home Depot) make good enclosures--they come approximately 1 x 2 or 2 x 3.  Either size would be fine for hatchling boxies.  

Box turtles like it slightly cooler than other species, so a basking area of 85-88 degrees is fine.  A good bulb for heat/UVB is the ZooMed Powersun (100 watt).  Use it in a dome fixture, and I'd get either a lampstand (ZooMed) or construct your own.  The bulb needs to be at least 12" above the substrate, but check for proper temperature.  You may need to raise it higher if it's too warm.  To measure temperature, lay a themometer on the substrate right under the basking lamp--don't measure air temperature, or the basking temp will be too high.  

For food, if you can get very small redworms (red wigglers) or mealworms, perfect.  Live bloodworms, pinhead crickets, etc. are also good.  Frozen bloodworms are also fine, but sometimes they need that wiggling to trigger their hunting instinct.  Once they're eating well, you can always chop worms if need be.  Also offer a variety of fruit, veggies, and greens, but in small amounts because they tend to be fairly carniorous.  

Depending on how much they grow over the winter, you might want to hold off on building that outdoor enclosure.  Ideally, their growth should be fairly slow, and small box turtles can slip through really small spaces, so it can be very diffucult to escape-proof a pen.  The other issue is that if the enclosure is too big, they can be really hard to find, especially if they dig in.  So if they're under about 3", it's safer to use something with solid bottom and sides, like a mixing tub, and then build a screened cover for it.  The tub can be planted with small plants, and set in an area that gets dappled sun/shade.  

Here's a link to a website that goes into greater detail:  If you have any questions at all, please post back and I'll do my best to answer them.  

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QUESTION: Great thank you so much! I appreciate all of the help and I will definitely come back to you if I need any more help or have any more questions. Thank you so much again~Spencer

You're very welcome.  Good luck with the little guys.  Just remember, not too hot and plenty of moisture so they don't dehydrate.  If you have a gram scale, it's a good idea to weigh them once a month or so to track weight gain.  Oh, and I almost forgot--a few times a week, give them a soak in shallow water.  They should have a shallow water dish in the enclosure, too, but it's good to actually soak them every few days just to make sure they're hydrated.  


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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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