Backyard Wildlife: Box Turtle

By Ellen Lambeth; photos by Steven David Johnson

This turtle comes wrapped in its very own box!

Tap image for a closer view.

Be on the lookout for a slow-moving reptile like the one above. Depending on where you live in the United States, you might come across either an eastern or a western box turtle close to home. Though box turtles enjoy an occasional dip in a pond, you’re more likely to find them wandering on dry land.

A box turtle’s top shell is shaped like a high dome. Its bottom shell has hinged flaps. When danger threatens, the turtle pulls in its head, tail, and legs. Then the flaps snap shut, with the turtle closed up tight—safe inside. That makes a tough defense against a hungry predator, such as a skunk or crow.

When not defending themselves, box turtles are on the lookout for food: bugs and slugs, roots and fruits, earthworms and mushrooms, and much more.


Tap image for a closer view.


  • In the fall, watch for box turtles heading for cover, where they’ll bury themselves under leaves or in soft soil. In spring, watch for them coming out of hibernation and searching for food and places to lay eggs.
  • Keep an eye out when mowing lawns. Many young turtles fall victim to the sharp blades.
  • If you see a box turtle crossing a road, move it to the other side in the same direction it was facing—ONLY IF IT IS SAFE TO DO SO.
  • Don’t “rescue” a box turtle by taking it to a new place. Box turtles know only their own home areas, which are very small.
  • Never keep a box turtle as a pet. Too many have been collected and sold as pets, and there are fewer in the wild than there once were.
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