Eastern Box Turtle

Terrapene carolina


Box turtles are some of the most recognizable and loved turtles in the United States. They are easily identified by the presence of uniquely hinged plastron, and are usually able to completely close themselves up in defense. Patterning is highly variable and is determined by regional subspecies dynamics. Mississippi is home to 3 subspecies: the Gulf Coast Box Turtle, the Three-toed Box Turtle, and the Eastern Box Turtle. Carapace patterning is usually orangish or yellowish spotting or blotching (older Three-toed and Gulf Coast individuals may be unmarked), with orange or yellow markings on head, front and hind legs. Sizes range from a 6 inch carapace maximum length to up to ~ 10 inches in large Gulf Coast specimens. Crucial threats to this species include road collision and habitat loss.

Adult female crossing a road, Greene Co. (MS)

Identifying Traits

  • Hinged, moveable plastron
  • Domed, sometimes brightly patterned carapace
  • Brightly marked head and legs (not always)

Subspecies Present:

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina);

Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major);

Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)


Mixed hardwood forests, pine forests and lowlands, coastal marshes, urban yards



Opportunistic scavenger and predator. Often observed when crossing roadways and easily visible. During inclement conditions, high heat, or at night, they will wedge themselves under leaf litter, loose sands and soils, or under harder cover to rest. This state of being for a box turtle is called “in form.”


Various invertebrates, fruit, fungi, carrion. Adults subsist on more vegetative matter than younger turtles but may eat carrion or invertebrates when encountered. Box turtles are also fond of various fungi, including native species that are toxic to many other species (Genus Russula for example). Scavenger generalist diet.

Adult female (top), yearling (bottom left), and hatchling (bottom right) Gulf Coast Box Turtles, Jackson Co. (MS)
Mating pair of Terrapene carolina major, Jackson Co. (MS)
Hatchling size, Jackson Co. (MS)
Young male T. c. major, Jackson Co. (MS)
Large adult male Gulf Coast Box Turtle, Jackson Co. (MS)
Old adult female, Stone Co. (MS)
Adult male T. c. carolina, Tennessee (only seen in northeast Mississippi)