Buying a Box Turtle

Box Turtles make interesting pets, but they’re a bit more exotic than a dog or a cat. There are a few things you should know and consider when buying one for the first time.

Picking a Species/Subspecies

The first thing you need to understand is that there is not just one type of box turtle. There are various species and subspecies to choose from, each with their pros and cons. You can read about all of them here on boxturtles.com

The primary factor for to consider is availability. Some species/subspecies will be a lot harder to acquire than others. Some may not even be legal for you to own, depending on where you live and how you get them.

Common eastern box turtle

Common Box Turtle. Picture by Michael Kensinger

Common/Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina) and Three Toed box turtles (T. carolina triunguis) are fairly common and easy to find. Most others are likely going to take extra time and money on your part to locate.

Some of them are quite rare. For instance, the Mexican box turtle (T. nelsoni nelsoni) cannot be imported into America anymore, and the Coahuilan box turtle (T. coahuila) has a very small and dwindling population.

When it comes to appearance, you have many options. Some box turtles have brilliant colors like the Yucatan box turtle (T. carolina yucatana). There are spotted box turtles with tiny colorful specks all over their shell. There are Asian box turtles that have colorful stripes going down their faces and necks. These are just a few examples; each species and subspecies has unique traits in color, size and shape.

A final thing to consider is how difficult the species/subspecies you pick will be to take care of. The different types of box turtles have different personalities and needs, making some of them a challenge to take care of. The Three Toed box turtle is often regarded as one of the easier specimens to take care of in captivity.

Picking an Age

When people decide to get a new dog or cat, they often look for a puppy or kitten respectively. With turtles, some potential owners look for hatchlings in a similar sense. But there are challenges to taking care of hatchlings and it may not be the best decision for a beginner.

While they’re cute, it’s hard to tell early on how many hatchlings from a given batch will reach adulthood.

Baby box turtle

Baby box turtle

Hatchlings also have unique diet needs. They need more protein than their adult counterparts because they’re still growing.

You’re better off purchasing a turtle that has either reached or is close to their full size. That being said, you don’t want a turtle that is too old either. Box turtles don’t live as long in captivity as they do in the wild, and you don’t want to purchase one at the end of its life.

Box turtles also form a familiarity with their surroundings, and taking a box turtle that someone has had in one enclosure for two decades and putting it in a different one can be very stressful for them.

Will you Want More?

How many box turtles do you plan to own? This is a question you want to know the answer to before you get any, even if you just want one right now and the others are a future plan.

Various species/subspecies get along with each other differently. You’ll likely want all of your box turtles to be from the same species/subspecies if you’re keeping them in the same enclosure. Different species/subspecies can sometimes fight, or interbreed and produce genetically inferior offspring. Hybrids should allways be avoided.

Turtles like to have a lot of personal space, so be sure you have an enclosure large enough to accommodate them if you get more than one.

Where to Buy a Box Turtle

You have different options for buying a box turtle.

Some people order them online, but this can be a risky option. You can’t look at the turtle’s health before purchase. You also have no way of really knowing if the photo’s they’ve posted are of the turtle you’re buying. Some sellers use a generic stock-photo of a good looking specimen. This being said.  Buying online from a reputable breeder can be the best way to buy a turtle.  It can also be the only way to legally get the species you want if you are looking for a more rare species.  Large reptile forums can be a good place to find a reputable online seller.

petcoYou can look for box turtles in pet stores, but you’re unlikely to find any exotic specimens. Turtles also don’t get a lot of one on one time with humans in big chain pet stores. The turtle will likely not be very socialized to humans.

Some people breed box turtles professionally. This can be the best option, depending heavily on the breeder. They might have exotic specimens in stock, and they spend more one on one time with the turtles than a pet store. Odds are, you’re actually buying the turtles from the same person who looked after them as eggs and hatchlings. Just be sure to do your research and make sure this specific dealer is on the up and up.

Box Turtle Prices

McCords box turtle

Adult female McCords box turtle – Picture by Torsten Blanck

How much a box turtle costs depends heavily on the species.  You should be able to find Common or Three Toed box turtles within the 25$ to 50$ range without too much trouble. If you want something more exotic, you will essentially be at the mercy of whatever the seller is asking for. Several species of Asian Box turtles sell for several thousand dollars each.

Make sure the person you’re buying from offers some kind of guarantee. You don’t want to get ripped off and buy a turtle that dies in a month. However you should remember that you need to give the turtle a good environment.  If you do not take good care of it you can not complain to the seller afterwards if it dies.

Necessary supplies and the pen is likely to cost you more than the turtle itself. You will need to establish an enclosure, you will need a heating lamp, the enclosure will need décor and a large container for water, you will need to buy food, and it it’s also a good idea to take your turtle in for a vet visit as soon as you get it.

Overall, expect to spend an additional minimum of $50 for your turtles needs, this number potentially pushing up to several hundred if you go for quality items.