University of Massachusetts Amherst

Massachusetts North American Amphibian Program

Eastern Box Turtle

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Herp Atlas 1992-1998 Survey

  • The map below shows the distribution of the Eastern Box Turtle in Massachusetts based on the original intensive volunteer survey that took place from 1992-1998.
  • Download pdf of map

Updated Distribution Map

Terrapene c. carolina (4.5-6.6”)
MA Status: "Threatened." Illegal to harass, kill, collect or possess.

Eastern Box Turtle

The Eastern Box Turtle is a small, terrestrial turtle ranging from 4.5–6.6 inches in length. It is so named because a hinge on the lower shell (plastron) allows it to enclose head, legs, and tail completely within the upper (carapace) and lower shell. The adult box turtle has an oval, high-domed shell with variable coloration and markings. The carapace is usually dark brown or black with numerous irregular yellow, orange, or reddish blotches. The plastron typically has a light and dark variable pattern, but some may be completely tan, brown, or black. The head, neck, and legs also vary in color and markings, but are generally dark with orange or yellow mottling. The Eastern Box Turtle has a short tail and an upper jaw ending in a down-turned beak. The male box turtle almost always has red eyes, and females have yellowish-brown or sometimes dark red eyes. Males have a moderately concave plastron (female’s are flat), the claws on the hind legs are longer and the tail is both longer and thicker than the females. Hatchlings have brownish-gray carapace with a yellow spot on each scute (scale or plate), and a distinct light colored mid-dorsal keel (ridge). The plastron is yellow with a black central blotch, and the hinge is poorly developed.

The Eastern Box Turtle is a terrestrial turtle, inhabiting many types of habitats. It is found in both dry and moist woodlands, brushy fields, thickets, marsh edges, bogs, swales, fens, stream banks, and well-drained bottomland. Box Turtles overwinter in upland forest, a few inches under the soil surface, typically covered by leaf litter or woody debris. During the spring, Box Turtles start to forage and mate in the forest and fields. In summer, adult Box Turtles are most active in the morning and evening, particularly after a rainfall. To avoid the heat of the day, they often seek shelter under rotting logs or masses of decaying leaves, in mammal burrows, or in mud. Though known as “land turtles”, in hottest weather they frequently enter shaded shallow pools and puddles and remain there for periods varying from a few hours to a few days.

The Eastern Box Turtle is omnivorous, feeding on animal matter such as: slugs, insects, earthworms, snails, and even carrion. Box Turtles also have a fondness for mushrooms, berries, fruits, leafy vegetables, roots, leaves, and seeds.

Mating is opportunistic and may take place anytime between April and October. Females nest in June or early July and can travel great distances to find appropriate nesting habitat. Nesting areas may be in early successional fields, meadows, utility right of ways, woodland openings, roadsides, cultivated gardens, residential lawns, mulch piles, beach dunes, and abandoned gravel pits. Typically four or five white, elliptical eggs are deposited at intervals of one to six minutes, with the incubation period depending on soil temperature. Hatchlings emerge approximately 87–89 days after laying, usually in September.

 Adapted from the MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program’s Eastern Box Turtle fact sheet. 2007



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