Three-toed Box Turtle

ORDER: Chelonia

FAMILY: Emydidae

GENUS: Terrapene

SPECIES: carolina triunguis

Narrow, elongated, high-domed carapace (4.5 to 6.5 inches in length) with marginals slightly flared. Carapace is tan or olive with an obscure pattern. Plastron is tan or yellow. Usually has conspicuous orange or yellow spots on both the head and forelimbs, but in males the head is often totally red. Head is small to moderate in size with non-protruding snout and a medially hooked upper jaw. Males have longer, thicker tails and red versus yellowish-brown irises. They have neither webbed nor elephantine feet. Usually has only three toes on each hind foot.

Southeastern Georgia to east Texas and north to Missouri. Prefers open woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows.

Omnivorous. Carnivorous when young, more herbivorous with age. Eats plants, carrion, snails, worms, insects, spiders, frogs, small reptiles and mammals.

Activity is usually restricted to mornings or after rains. The heat of the day is avoided by sheltering in decaying leaves, mud or mammal burrows. In the hottest weather they will enter a shallow shaded pond and stay there for hours or days. Breeding occurs in the spring and summer. Three to eight elliptical white eggs are laid in flask-shaped nests in light soil. Several clutches are laid each year. Females may lay viable eggs for up to 4 years after mating; semen is stored in glands in the oviducts. Normally 75-90 days incubation are needed before hatching. Box turtles can live 20-30 years.

Male box turtles have a concave plastron to facilitate mating. In both sexes the plastron has a hinge between the pectoral and abdominal scutes which divides it into two movable lobes. This allows them to withdraw their head, legs and tail within the shell and close completely to predators.

The sex of hatchlings depends on the temperature during incubation. Higher temperatures produce mostly females, lower temperatures produce mostly males.

The Three Toed Box Turtles can be found in the RAD Room in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children's Zoo.

Listed as Lower Risk/ Near threatened on the IUCN Red List. Numbers of all box turtles are decreasing because of shrinking habitat, low clutch size and high hatchling mortality. Permits for export and import are required. Many states protect their native box turtles and do not allow collection or trade and sometimes even possession.


  1. Ernst, Carl and Barbour, Roger. 1989. Turtles of the World, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
  2. Hutchins, Michael. Grzimek
  3. Pritchard, Peter. Encyclopedia of Turtles.1979. T.F.H. Publications Neptune, NJ.