Eastern Box Turtle
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Eastern Box Turtle

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina
Classification: Nongame species
Abundance: Statewide except for Outer Banks

Species Profile (PDF)


Photo by NCWRC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This small, charismatic terrestrial turtle is seen frequently in fields, forests and neighborhoods throughout North Carolina. The Eastern Box Turtle is one of four subspecies of box turtles found east of the Mississippi and is the most common terrestrial turtle in the eastern United States. The box turtle was named for its ability to completely box up inside its shell when it feels threatened.

Eastern Box Turtles are characterized by their highly domed top shell, called the carapace, which can be brightly colored with a middorsal keel down the center. Carapace color varies greatly between individuals, containing smudges, streaks, blotches, or mottling that can be yellow, reddish, orange, or brown. The single hinge on their plastron, or lower shell, allows complete closure and is located just behind their front legs. Plastrons are usually dark brown with some yellow or orange blotches. Skin color is usually brown or black with yellow, reddish, or orange patterns. They have four toes, without webbing, located on each hind foot. Male and female box turtles are sexually dimorphic as adults. Adult males are most often larger than females and the marginal scutes along the rear of the carapace are usually flared. Males have larger, blockier heads with brighter coloration than females. Usually, but not always, males have orange or red eyes while females have brown eyes. Males have a concave indention in the rear lobe of their plastron that is useful during breeding when mounting females. Females may have a slight indentation, too, but more often have a flat plastron. Females have smaller, less curved rear claws than the males who have distinctively stout, curved rear claws.

For more information read the Eastern Box Turtle species profile.

The Eastern Box Turtle is classified as a nongame species with no open season. It is unlawful for any person to take, or have in possession, any nongame mammal or bird unless that person has a collection license or is collecting fewer than 5 reptiles or fewer than 25 amphibians that are not endangered, threatened, or special concerned species.

There are no reported problems with this species. 

N.C. biologists are concerned about declining numbers of box turtles in areas where they once were considered abundant. As a priority species in the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan, populations are closely monitored. In 2008, staff from several N.C. Universities, NCWRC, and State Parks, along with private landowners began a box turtle mark-recapture study to help monitor box turtle populations around the state. We could use your help, too. The Herpmapper website (http://www.herpmapper.org) is an online database available for anyone to log their box turtle sightings into. Photographs, location information, and other details that you include are then available for our biologists view and monitor regularly.