Small Breed Rescue of Southern California

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Contents:

Housing
Description:
Our Preferred environment for box turtles is outdoors however our specific region poses complications that can be detrimental to the health and safety of your turtle. Southern California only natively supports water turtles and desert tortoises as our climate and fauna are not conducive to supporting a land turtle. Box Turtles do best humid in open woodland habitats like marshes, meadows, and pastures which have ready access to freshwater such as a swamp, pond, or stream. This turtle’s small size also makes it very vulnerable as prey when housed outdoors. Possums, raccoons, weasels, coyotes, foxes, ravens, hawks, roadrunners, rats and more are all known to eat small turtles and are prolific in our communities here. Therefore these small turtles need to be kept in fully enveloped enclosures that are capable of keeping those predators out but still letting the sun in. Creating an outdoor enclosure that can supplement this environment while still keeping your turtle safe can be quite complicated and expensive. As such, we recommend all but the most advanced adopters keep your box turtle indoors in our area.



Outdoors:

The accepted best practice for Box Turtles is to make sure the sides of the fully enclosed enclosure are sunk down 12" below the surface, or deeper in soft earth if there is no bottom to your enclosure. This ensures that they can burrow but it is unlikely they will burrow under and out. Box turtles are also excellent climbers so an open topped enclosure provides an easy escape route. Box turtles have been known to climb up stucco walls so a wood or concrete sided enclosure may be no match. Your Box Turtle can grow up to 6 inches at which point it will require a moderate amount of space to be happy. We usually recommend at least 1 square foot per inch.

Ornate box turtles should be kept on a sandy soil substrate deep enough to burrow in, generally no less than 12 inches deep in outdoor pens. This can be covered lightly with twice-milled cypress mulch for aesthetics. Hatchling ornate box turtles should be kept in slightly more humid conditions than adults. An average humidity level of between 40 to 50 percent is the nominal humidity level to keep adult ornate box turtles at. To prevent dehydration in hatchlings, keep them between 60 to 70 percent humidity.

If kept outside in a turtle pen, the access to regular natural sunlight negates the requirement for supplemental lighting. However, care should be taken to make sure the enclosure is situated to provide an ambient temperature being about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, a basking site between 90 and 95 degrees, and a cool area be kept between 70 and 75 degrees.

It is a very good idea to let your Box Turtle burrow in Southern California. Keeping any turtle on an outdoor patio or anything above ground when it’s over 100 degrees is too hot for them. Turtles are most active when temperatures are between 60 and 90 degrees, but they remain active during the cooler parts of the day in midsummer, or they sleep underground in a burrow. Turtles can hibernate underground during the winter if they are allowed some time to dig a burrow before cold temperatures set in. Their burrow is how they can safely regulate their temperatures. While the majority of our Southern California weather is ideal, we do have some prolonged periods of hot and cold temperatures that a nice burrow can mitigate. This does pose some dangers. In a heavy rain, your turtle burrow could flood and they can drown. Having an above ground enclosed and weather proof hide box that is filled with earth is a safe way to allow your turtle to burrow without worrying about drowning, and it allows the turtle a nice shaded place to escape the heat, and an insulted place to weather some of the colder days.

Access to fresh water is essential, and in dry areas a lack of moisture can be life threatening. The enclosure should be sprinkled with water daily to keep the moisture levels high, more often on hotter dryer days, and access to standing shallow fresh water should be provided at all times.

Indoors:

Hatchling ornate box turtles can be kept in plastic shoebox-sized enclosures with a large, extremely shallow food and water dish (large enough to soak in, shallow so they don’t drown). Adult ornate box turtles may be kept in small groups in 30- or 40-gallon breeder tanks or commercially available turtle/tortoise tubs.It is vital that water dishes be kept very clean and changed regularly to avoid bacterial infections.
Ornate box turtles should be kept on a sandy soil substrate deep enough to burrow in, generally no less than 4 inches deep. It is usually wise to provide a mound of moistened sphagnum moss to burrow in on the cool side of the enclosure. Hatchling ornate box turtles should be kept in slightly more humid conditions than adults. An average humidity level of between 40 to 50 percent is the nominal humidity to keep adult ornate box turtles at. To prevent dehydration in hatchlings, keep them between 60 to 70 percent humidity.

Ornate box turtles of all ages should have access to UVB fluorescent lighting, in addition to a spot lamp to provide a hotspot when housed indoors. For indoor caging, both cool and warm ends should be provided with the ambient temperature being about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A 75-watt spot lamp should be used to provide a basking site between 90 and 95 degrees, and the cool end should be kept between 70 and 75 degrees. Under no circumstances should a heat rock be used to provide the heat for a box turtle, as this will almost always lead to potentially life-threatening burns!

Access to fresh water is essential, and in dry areas a lack of moisture can be life threatening. The enclosure should be sprinkled with water daily to keep the moisture levels high, more often on hotter dryer days, and access to standing shallow fresh water should be provided at all times.
Diet and Feeding
Description:
Like all American box turtles, the ornate box turtle is omnivorous. In the wild ornate box turtles actively hunt and consume grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and earthworms. Additionally, ornate box turtles will graze on low-growing vegetation, berries and even mushrooms. In captivity it is important to provide a varied assortment of foods, as the diversity of the ornate box turtle diet can lead to them being picky eaters. Commercially bred cockroaches in addition to crickets, mealworms, earthworms, hard-boiled eggs, ground beef and even canned cat/dog food (which should be your last choice due to the high fat and processed meat content) make for excellent sources of protein. Berries, sliced melon, mushrooms, mustard greens, collard greens and dandelion greens round out the vegetarian side of the menu. It is important to your ornate box turtle’s health to provide a rich calcium source for your turtles as well as a source rich in beta carotene or vitamin A. Therefore, insects should be dusted with a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement prior to being offered.

Handling
Description:
Ornate box turtles are very active, alert, and full of personality that other turtle species can sometimes lack. If set down on the ground, ornate box turtles will almost immediately explore their surroundings with a speed and boldness that captures the hearts of their keepers. This is not your “sit-and-watch-the-world-go-by” turtle. The ornate box turtle embodies every bit of the spirit and character that is associated with the Midwestern United States.