The Eastern box turtle is a subspecies of the Common box turtle. Box turtles are slow crawlers, extremely long-lived, slow to mature, and have relatively few offspring per year. Eastern box turtles have a high, dome-like carapace and a hinged plastron that allows total shell closure. The carapace can be of variable coloration, but is normally found brownish or black and is accompanied by a yellowish or orangish radiating pattern of lines, spots or blotches. Skin coloration, like that of the shell, is variable but is usually brown or black with some yellow, orange, red, or white spots or streaks. In some isolated populations, males may have blue patches on their cheeks, throat, and front legs. Furthermore, males normally possess red eyes (irises) whereas females usually display brown eyes. Eastern box turtles have a sharp, horned beak, stout limbs, and their feet are webbed only at the base.
Eastern box turtles are found mainly in the eastern United States. They occur as far north as southern Maine and the southern and eastern portions of the Michigan Upper Peninsula, south to southern Florida and west to eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Eastern box turtles are considered uncommon to rare in the Great Lakes region. Eastern box turtles prefer deciduous or mixed forested regions, with a moderately moist forest floor that has good drainage. They can also be found in open grasslands, pastures, or under fallen logs or in moist ground, usually moist leaves or wet dirt. They may also occur near streams and ponds.
Eastern box turtles are social and diurnal creatures. They like to take "baths" in shallow streams and ponds or puddles, and during hot periods may submerge in mud for days at a time. However, if placed in water that is too deep (completely submerged), they may drown. In order to escape the midday heat, Eastern box turtles rest under logs, leave piles, in abandoned burrows or even in the mud. Eastern box turtles that live in southern regions remain active throughout the winter. However, in the northern regions where it gets too cold, they find a comfortable place and enter a hibernation-like state which is called a brumation. This usually begins in October or November and ends in April. Eastern box turtles have a very effective defense technique. When feeling danger they hide their head, tail, and limbs into their shell and clamp it shut. This way very few predators can attack these turtles.
In the wild, Eastern box turtles are opportunistic omnivores and will feed on a variety of animal and vegetable matter. They eat earthworms, snails, slugs, grubs, beetles, caterpillars, grasses, fallen fruit, berries, mushrooms, flowers, duck weed, and carrion.
It is known that Eastern box turtles don't form pair-bonds which means that they have either a polygynous (one male and multiple females) or polygynandrous (promiscuous) (both sexes have multiple partners) mating system. Eastern box turtles can breed at any point throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall months, but egg-laying is most likely to occur in May and June when rain is frequent. After mating the female finds an appropriate nesting site. Temperature affects the sex of offspring, developmental rate, and possibly fitness. With the help of their hind feet females dig a shallow nest in loose soil. Eggs are generally deposited shortly after the digging phase, and each egg is deployed into a particular position. Nests are then concealed with grass, leaves, or soil. A female can lay anywhere from 1 to 5 clutches of about 1 to 9 eggs in a single year, or even delay laying her clutch if resources are scarce. Incubation depends on temperature but averages 50 to 70 days. Hatchlings are well developed at birth and reach reproductive maturity when they are 5 years old.
Destruction, degradation, and fragmentation of the habitat is the biggest threat to Eastern box turtles. They also suffer from pollution and pesticides, roadkills, fires, and predation of eggs and hatchlings. These box turtles are also collected in large numbers for the domestic and international pet trade and for 'turtle racing'.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Eastern box turtle total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Due to feeding upon a wide variety of animals, Eastern box turtles control the numbers of these species’ populations throughout the area of their habitat. These turtles also act as seed dispersers as they eat berries of different kinds of plants.
Thousands of box turtles are collected from the wild every year for the domestic pet trade, primarily from South Carolina, the only remaining state where they can legally be captured from the wild and sold for profit. Captive turtles may have a life span as short as three days if they aren't fed, watered, and held in a proper container. The vivid shell color found in many Eastern box turtles often fades when a turtle is brought into captivity. This has led to the mistaken belief that the color fades as the turtle ages. The Eastern box turtle is protected throughout most of its range but many states allow the capture and possession of box turtles for personal use. Although box turtles may make hardy captives if their needs are met, and are frequently kept as pets, they are not easy turtles to keep, owing to their many specific requirements.