Complete Guide to Setting Up an Indoor Box Turtle Habitat

Indoor Box Turtle Habitat: A Complete Guide

An indoor box turtle habitat is a fun way to keep your favorite box turtle in your house.

As long as you prepare their habitat properly and provide them with the right conditions, your box turtle will live to its full potential which could span out to several decades and your family could enjoy bonding for a long time.

What is an Indoor Box Turtle habitat?

If you want to keep a box turtle as a pet then you must know how to care for it. This starts from the environment you want it to live and thrive in and this is where an Indoor box turtle habitat comes in.

An Indoor box turtle habitat is the special enclosure or tank you create for your pet turtle as its home. Like every other pet habitat, it should be a fair representation of its habitat in the wild.

There are different types of box turtles. Generally, box turtles are shy, they do not like to be disturbed. Some even find it difficult to adjust to a new indoor habitat especially if they were initially taken from the wild.

However, this varies according to species and this is why you should know the specie of box turtle you want. This would you guide you in setting up the perfect indoor box turtle habitat.

Box Turtle Species Profile

Box turtles get their name from their defense mechanism. They can enclose and box themselves in their shell by retracting their head and limbs, making it too hard for predators to crack open or swallow them as a result of their high domed shell.

This flexibility is made possible by the presence of a hinge and ligamentous bridges.

The specie originates from North America and Asia and is a member of the genus Terrapene. They also look and behave like the terrestrial tortoise but are from the pond turtle family (Emydidae).

Specifically, the Common box turtle is native to North America and is one of the most popularly known turtles for pet keeping. However, let’s look at more types of box turtles to find out what makes them different and help you make a choice.

Picking a Box Turtle: What are the different types of box turtles?

There are currently seven species of box turtles that have been identified and scientifically placed. Each of them will have slightly different needs in their indoor habitat and care.

  • Common box turtle
  • Three-toed box turtle
  • Coahuilan box turtle
  • Mexican box turtle
  • Spotted box turtle
  • Western box turtle
  • Yucatán box turtle

Common Box Turtle

Common Box Turtle
Common Box Turtle

Common Box Turtle: The common box turtle is by far one of the most popular in the pet trade in its group and this can be related to its distinct personality and bright appearance.

The shell and skin combine colors like dark brown, yellow, or orange patterns to give off their unique appearance.

There are differences in the part of the common box turtle’s body that give away its sex. For instance, the female’s eyes are normally brown or yellow and men typically have red eyes. Also, the female’s plastron is flat, but the male’s is concave.

Common box turtles are also known as Terrapene Carolina and they have several subspecies. Some of these include the Eastern Box Turtle, Florida box turtle, and Gulf Coast Box Turtle

Common box turtles have a shy and reserved personality. They enjoy their own space a little too much, making it hard to adapt to a new environment, and will rather not be overhandled or pet. They are not recommended as pets for children due to anxiety and sensitivity to stress.

Also, common box turtles are mostly terrestrial animals but will need water to soak themselves.

  • Adult size: 4-6 inches
  • Life span: 20-40 years (or more)
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Heat level: 70-90 degrees (different rates for basking,
  • Humidity: 60%

Three-Toed Box Turtle

Three-Toed Box Turtle
Three-Toed Box Turtle

As the name implies, the three-toed box turtle has three toes on its back feet. They have a rather vintage appearance with calmer colors and patterns on their shells and skin. The head and throat of males frequently have orange, red, or yellow markings.

The three-toed box turtle goes by the scientific name Terrapene Triunguis and they are often seen as the ideal species to keep as a pet because it is resilient and doesn’t appear to suffer as much as other species when moved to a new environment. Although like other species, they need adequate space in their indoor habitat to be able to move around and a hiding spot to get some privacy from public eyes.

  • Adult size:3-5 inches
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Life span: 50 years
  • Humidity level: 60%-80%
  • Heat level: 70-85 °F

Coahuilan Box Turtle

Coahuilan Box Turtle
Coahuilan Box Turtle

The coahuilan box turtle is largely aquatic. They spend about over 80% of their time in water compared to other species and so they are also called the Aquatic box turtle or Terrapene Coahuila.  The Aquatic Box turtles have spherical shells covering their bodies and rough, bumpy skin. Due to their water-dwelling nature, algae grows on the top of their shells, known as the carapaces. They often have little black dots on their brown, black, or grey pale skin and their carapaces are a light shade of yellow.

The males and females of this box turtle differ in a few ways from one another. Males have larger shells and longer, thicker tails and grey-colored pale eyes are more common in males than in females. Also, the average carapace length of a male Coahuila box turtle is 16.8 cm, whereas the average carapace length of a female is 15 cm. The Aquatic box turtle is however an endangered species and will not be easily found to be made as a pet.

  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Life span: 18 years
  • Heat level: 27 to 29°C

Mexican Box Turtle

Mexican Box Turtle
Mexican Box Turtle

The Mexican Box turtle also called Terrapene Mexicana is native to Mexico and is hardly found out of the state because its export was banned and it’s not in the pet trade. Mexican box turtles are not used as pets because they don’t have a successful record of breeding away from their habitat and this has led to many deaths.

When removed from their homes, Mexican box turtles will keep looking for it and this stress can cause illness or death. This isn’t the turtle you want to put in your indoor box turtle habitat, for your sake and the sake of the turtle.

Mexican box turtles have brown shells with fine patterns which can fade over time when kept in captivity with little access to direct sunshine. The shell can occasionally exhibit bright yellow markings and their skin may feature iridescent red or yellow patterns. On the sides of the face, these brighter areas are frequently seen.

  • Adult size: 7-8 inches
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Life span: 100 years (in the wild)
  • Heat level: 70-90 degrees

Spotted Box Turtle

Spotted Box Turtle
Spotted Box Turtle

The spotted box turtle is commonly called Terrapene Nelsoni and it also has subspecies which are the northern and southern spotted box turtle. They are generally hard to find because they are endemic species that only live in one isolated location and are only active in one season. They haven’t been successfully bred in captivity and all spotted box turtle pets are wild-caught.  You can easily identify Spotted Box Turtles as a result of the tiny, many markings or spots that can be found all over their shell and skin. These dots make them quite beautiful.

The lower shell of a box turtle gives out its sex. The lower shell of the male specimens frequently curves concavely. This aids them in mounting the female during mating while the lower shell of the female will appear flatter in comparison.

  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Lifespan: 27 years (in captivity)
  • Adult size: 5-6 inches
  • Temperatures: 70-90 degrees

Western Box Turtle

Western Box Turtles
Western Box Turtles

Western Box Turtles also called the Terrapene ornata have two subspecies. The desert box turtle subspecies are distinguished from the Ornate box turtle by having thinner and more frequent yellow stripes on its carapace.

Generally, the western box turtle isn’t one of the biggest in its species. When they reach maturity they measure only about 4-6 inches and the males are smaller. There are also color differences between both sexes and the males have longer and thicker tails, larger inner claws on the back foot, and reddish coloring on the legs and occasionally the jaw. Males also have cloaca openings that are located further back. Red eyes are typically red in males as well.

  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Adult size: 4-5 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years (in captivity)
  • Temperatures: 70-88 degrees

Yucatán Box Turtle

Yucatán Box Turtle
Yucatán Box Turtle

The Yucatan box turtle is also called the Terrapene Yucatana and is an endemic species as well. Its shell is pale in color with a few dark markings that resemble stars. It also has a light-colored head. Each foot of it has four toes. Yucatan Box Turtle males typically have complex and distinctive coloring, including white faces. In rare situations, the pigmentation of the females is far less than that of the males and can give the impression that the two sexes belong to completely distinct species. This box turtle species is also not in the pet trade and is hardly seen even around the area of its distribution. It would be hard to get one as a pet, but it’s not impossible.

  • Life span: 40 years (over a 100 years in the wild)
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Adult size: 6 inches
  • Heat level: 70-90 degrees
  • Humidity: 60% – 80%
Complete Guide to Setting Up an Indoor Box Turtle Habitat
Indoor Box Turtle Habitat

How to Set Up an Indoor Box Turtle Habitat

The quality of your indoor box turtle habitat will determine how well your turtle will live. Looking at the species and their temperament, you need to get their habitat right or stand the chance of losing them too soon. In 3 simple but detailed steps, we’ll show you the right way to set up an indoor box turtle habitat.

Choosing the enclosure and setup

You may be tempted to get a glass tank for your pretty turtle to keep an eye on it from anywhere in the room. Even though your heart is in the right place, it’s a bad idea. Box turtles do not do well in transparent tanks. Asides from the fact that they love to have private moments and they also find the see-through concept disturbing and will keep hitting at the glass or trying to crawl up it. Ultimately, this can increase their stress level and you don’t want that.

Box turtles are largely terrestrial and so you’ll be setting up a terrarium. For a good indoor box turtle habitat, any of these three can be used for your setup.

  • a wooden enclosure called a turtle box
  • A plastic container
  • Or a wading pool

Whichever of these three setup ideas you go with for your indoor box turtle habitat ensure its deep and wide enough. Box Turtles like to explore their habitat by roaming, soaking, and digging so make sure you provide them with enough area. The recommended size is at least 4 by 4 feet in width and height. This measurement is high enough to keep your box turtle from crawling out and deep enough to provide digging space.

For a long-lasting wooden enclosure, consider waterproofing the sides and bottom. Remember not to use transparent plastic containers and ensure you get a cover over your enclosure to prevent your box turtle from getting out

Preparing the Habitat

Substrate: For turtles to have enough room to dig, the bedding should be at least 3 to 4 inches (10 cm) thick. Combining soil and any common substrate like coconut husk fiber, orchid back, Peat moss, or sphagnum moss. Any of these substrate mixtures are good at holding moisture and will make your box turtle all comfy.

Temperature level: Box Turtles are ectothermic meaning they need external sources of heat to keep their body warm and you need to provide a source of heat in your indoor box turtle habitat. Using a heat lamp is the easiest way to do this. A box turtle needs about 12-14 hours of heat each day so get an incandescent bulb (they provide heat) and set it over half of the enclosure to make it warm enough. Test the temperature using a thermometer to make sure it is just right. The heat level should be about 85 degrees and should not be too hot for you to feel. The humidity level should also be at about 60% – 80%. Ensure you keep tabs on the moisture of the substrate.

Lighting: Box turtles also need lighting to survive indoors. If you can expose them to sunlight for about an hour daily that would be great. Otherwise, you should get a UV lamp. The UV lamp should be at least 14 inches away from the turtle’s level and should be a source of both UVA and UVB rays.

Create hiding spots: Box turtles don’t like to be visible always. Creating a hiding spot or safe space for them is a must to curtail their anxiety. You can simply do this by bending a bucket over and pushing the tip into the substrate. This way they can crawl into it and get some privacy as long as they need to.

Creating swimming area: Box turtles are largely terrestrial but are members of the pond turtle family so they have to soak in water. Don’t pour water directly into the terrarium. Instead, get a bowl of fresh water and place it inside the habitat for the box turtle to drink and soak in for as long as it wants.

Place a Food Plate or Tray

You don’t want your turtle eating the bedding or substrate of its terrarium, so you should put a food plate for feeding. Make sure to also clean the plate and water bowl often.

Indoor Box Turtle Care
Indoor Box Turtle Care

Don’t forget to make your Indoor Box Turtle Habit even better with the perfect toys for turtles.

Indoor Box Turtle Care: Frequently Asked Questions

A box turtle is a big commitment and you should empower yourself with the right information to help you nurture your beautiful pet. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions on indoor box turtle care.

Do Box Turtles like to be held?

Box turtles do not like to be overhandled. They can be held but not too often because this irritates them and can cause them to bite your hands or nip at them.

How Long Can Box Turtles Live?

Box turtles are very fragile when they are still hatchlings. They can easily be discomforted but once they make it through the early years and get to maturity, their chances of dying are very slim.

Adult box turtles live for 40-50 years on average, although many of them can live for more than 100 years too. However, like other pets, their growth will be influenced by the quantity and quality of their diet and recreated habitat.

What Do Box Turtles Eat?

Box turtles are omnivores and opportunistic feeders. This means they can eat both meaty foods and plants. Some of the meaty options include worms like mealworms, wax worms, silkworms, earthworms, and insects like grasshoppers, crickets, moths, and slugs. On the veggie side of the menu options dark leafy vegetables should make up most of the diet and then flowers and fruits can be added.

Do box turtles need a heat lamp?

In an indoor box turtle habitat, yes! They certainly do. Box turtles like to bask in the sun and your heat lamp will provide them with the warmth.

What is the best bedding for a box turtle?

The best bedding for an indoor box turtle habitat is one that is completely organic and can hold moisture well enough. As recommended earlier in this article, a mixture of organic soil and substrates like moss and coconut fiber would do.


You are not new to all the intricacies involved in keeping a pet box turtle, but creating the ideal indoor box turtle habitat is an excellent step toward nailing it. Once your terrarium is set up, you can get to know what your box turtles like better as you bond over the years but make sure you make healthy choices if you want them around for a long time.