Gulf Coast Box Turtle

Gulf Coast Box Turtle
David A. Northcott/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Species Name:

Terrapene carolina major


The Gulf Coast box turtle is larger than other box turtlesĀ and can reach up to 7 inches in length. They have a domed carapace (shell) that is usually dark brown or black, with few markings (radiating yellow markings may be found on juveniles, but these often disappear in adults). The marginal scutes are often flared. The plastron is usually dark.

The skin is brown but the males may have brighter or white markings on neck and forelegs.

Sexing Gulf Coast Box Turtles:

Males usually have red irises and longer, thicker tails than the females. In addition, the plastron is sometimes concave in males and flatter in females. Typically, the claws on the hind feet are shorter and more curved than those on the females. However, it can be difficult to sex box turtles, unless comparing males and females side by side.


As with other box turtles, Gulf Coast box turtles can be very long-lived, possibly up to 100 years. Sadly, many in captivity will not survive that long (30-40 years is more typical; even shorter with less than ideal care).


While it is possible to keep Gulf Coast box turtles (especially hatchlings and juveniles) in a large indoor terrarium (most aquariums are too small), they do much better in outdoor enclosures where the climate is agreeable.

They should have easy access to a shallow pan of water at all times. As well, they should have access to hiding spots, and loose litter for burrowing. See "Outdoor Pens for Box Turtles" for more on outdoor housing.

Temperatures and Light:

If kept in an outdoor pen, make sure there are both sunny and shady areas available (the turtle should be able to move from cooler to warmer areas as necessary).

Indoors, a terrarium will need a neat source as well as a UVB emitting reptile light. Provide a basking spot with temperatures of 85 - 88 F, maintaining the terrarium with a gradient down to about 75 F. The nighttime temperature should not drop below 70 F.


It is not unusual for Gulf Coast box turtles to wade into shallow water to drink and have a soak. Provide an easily accessible shallow pan of clean water at all times (make sure they can easily get in and out of the water without tipping). Regularly mist their pen or run a sprinkler for added humidity.


Adult Gulf Coast box turtles are omnivores and need a varied diet. Their diet should include vegetables, fruit, and grasses (about 40% of the diet). The remainder can be made up of low fat protein sources; whole live foods are ideal (earthworms, slugs, snails, mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers, small fish, etc) but cooked lean meats and low-fat dog food can be added as a supplement. Hatchlings are more carnivorous. More on feeding box turtles can be found in "Feeding Box Turtles."


Natural Habitat: Gulf Coast box turtles can live in a variety of habitats within their range. They often venture into shallow water to feed on insects and amphibian larvae.

As with other North American box turtles, Gulf Coast box turtles hibernate when it is colder, but in warmer parts of their range, they may not need to hibernate. They are found along the Gulf Coast region from western Florida to eastern Texas.

Box turtle populations are declining (listed by CITES as threatened, and import/export permits are necessary). Many states protect box turtle populations and have laws against collecting box turtles from the wild. It is best to get a pet box turtle bred in captivity from a reputable breeder. Wild caught turtles do not adjust well to captivity and many die from the stress. Pet stores often carry wild caught turtles.