STATUS: Common to locally uncommon or rare statewide. While they have declined over the past two decades, box turtles still are frequently encountered (especially after rains) in, or near, forested areas. Includes subspecies and intergrades of T.c. carolina (eastern box turtle) and T.c. bauri (Florida box turtle). Low Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) grows to about 7 inches in length and has slightly webbed toes with four toes located on the hind feet. Their plastron (lower half of the shell) is hinged which allows them to draw the front and rear sections together against the carapace (upper half of the shell), which “boxes in” the turtle for protection. Box turtle’s shells come in a diverse array of shapes and color patterns. Males usually have red eyes and females have yellowish-brown eyes. There are two other subspecies of box turtles in Alabama. They differ from the Eastern box turtle in the following ways. The three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis) has three toes on the hind feet. The Gulf Coast box turtle (Terrapenecarolina major) approaches 9 inches in length.
DISTRIBUTION: The Eastern box turtle is primarily found north of the Tennessee River. Intergrades between the Eastern box turtle and the three-toed box turtle occur between the Tennessee River and coastal plain. The Gulf Coast box turtle occurs in counties near the Florida line and intergrades with the three-toed box turtle in the lower coastal plain.
HABITAT: Preferred habitats are wooded wetlands and moist forested areas. Hot and dry conditions force the turtles to inhabit wet areas like stream banks, wetlands, and pond edges.
FEEDING HABITS: Box turtles are considered omnivorous, because their diet consists of a wide variety of food items. Flowers, roots, fungi, berries, snails, slugs, insects, fish, frogs, salamanders, snakes, and eggs are all possible meals for box turtles. Young turtles are carnivores, but after they reach the age of five or six years, they become primarily herbivores.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Box turtles take 6 to 7 years to reach sexual maturity, and are one of the slowest reproducing turtle species in the world. After breeding, females lay two to seven elongate eggs in a cavity underground. Sometimes two or more clutches are laid per breeding season. Young box turtles hatch in early fall and are about 1.5 inches long. Baby box turtles are rarely seen because they spend most of their time partially underground or under rotting logs. Box turtles commonly live to be 25 or 30 years old, and some reports claim they live more than 50 years.
Mount, R.H. 1975. The Reptiles and Amphibians of Alabama. Ala. Agric. Expt. Sta., Auburn University. pp. 296-299.
AUTHOR: Frank Allen, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries