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The Asian box turtle is an excellent choice for first-time turtle owners. Easily obtainable in the U.S., both captive bred and wild-caught turtles are available. Captive-bred specimens are your best choice, as they tend to handle stress better than wild-caught individuals. The wild population is also under considerable pressure, as the Asian box turtle is a prized food in many countries.
Size and Description
Four subspecies of Asian box turtle show up in the pet trade. The smaller subspecies reach an adult length of 5 to 7 inches, while larger subspecies can grow to 12 inches.
Whatever their size, all Asian turtles have a blocky, almost tortoise-like body. The upper carapace is black or brown. The skin is black, although the intensity of skin color depends on the individual, with some having faded coloration.
The face is the most striking feature of the Asian box turtle. Yellow lines run down the length of the face. Like many land tortoises, the box turtle can fully retract its head into its shell.
With proper care, an Asian box turtle can live between 100 to 150 years. The average captive turtle, however, lives 40 to 60 years. Stress, dirty enclosures and improper diet may all reduce the box turtle’s lifespan.
Despite looking like a land tortoise, the Asian box turtle spends much of its time in the water. Some spend the bulk of their time submerged, only coming out of the water to bask. A 20 gallon aquarium will provide sufficient room for one or two box turtles (presuming you don’t have a foot-long specimen). The enclosure should be 50 percent water and 50 percent land.
Water depth can be anywhere from 2 to 8 inches, and should be filtered to lower the risk of disease. Water temperature should be between 75 and 88 degrees. The basking area should be completely dry with a heat lamp. Add a few artificial plants to provide hiding places and give a sense of security.
Don’t use a gravel substrate for turtle tanks. The animal may swallow gravel, causing serious blockages and health problems.
It’s possible to keep Asian box turtles in outdoor ponds as deep as two feet. The turtles benefit from natural sunlight, and may consume garden pests (although they’ll never be efficient enough to qualify as mosquito control products).
Asian box turtles are omnivores, consuming a range of plant and animal life in the wild. In captivity, variety is essential for a healthy diet. A captive turtle may be fed any of the following:
- Night crawlers
- Romaine lettuce
- Turtle pellets or other commercial turtle food
In addition, include calcium and multivitamin supplements to ensure the turtle receives all necessary nutrients.
Possible Health Problems
While not especially prone to disease, Asian box turtles can become ill if their water and environment aren’t kept clean. Stress has a serious effect on box turtles, increasing the risk of serious respiratory infections.