The Three-toed box turtle is a small land turtle. Its carapace (upper shell) is brown or olive in color and is sometimes patterned with yellow marks or lines. The plastron (lower shell) is the same drab color as the carapace. The turtle’s skin is brown or gray with variable amounts of red, orange, and yellow on the head and front legs. As its name suggests, the Three-toed box turtle has three toes on its hind feet. Aside from a few subtle differences, male and female box turtles look quite similar.
The average three-toed box turtle measures about 6 inches (15.2 cm) long.
At least 60% of a box turtle’s diet is composed of animal matter, including slugs, snails, worms, crayfish and insects. The rest of its diet consists of plant material such as mushrooms, moss, berries, and grasses. The box turtles at Cosley Zoo are fed a commercial turtle diet, earthworms, fruits and vegetables.
Three-toed box turtles come out of their winter dormancy in March or April and mate shortly thereafter. The female turtle looks for nesting sites in June or July. The female digs with her back feet and uses her legs to press the soil up against the walls of the chamber. Digging the egg chamber is very time-consuming, taking up to eight hours. The female then lays three or four oval-shaped white eggs that are each about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) long. The eggshells are thin and flexible. The eggs incubate for three months before hatching.
Three-toed box turtles are land-dwelling turtles that occasionally soak in shallow puddles of water. Suitable habitats include moist forested areas, wet meadows, pastures, and flood plains.
Some individual box turtles are estimated to be more than 100 years old. In the wild, they have high juvenile mortality rates, but those that make it to adulthood usually live 25-40 years. Box turtles raised in human care live an average of 50 years.
Box turtles help to distribute seeds by eating seed-producing berries. They also eat some insects that are considered pest species.