Box turtles are North American turtles of the genus Terrapene. Although box turtles are superficially similar to tortoises in terrestrial habits and overall appearance, they are actually members of the American pond turtle family (Emydidae). The 12 taxa which are distinguished in the genus are distributed over seven species. They are largely characterized by having a domed shell which is hinged at the bottom, allowing the animal to retract its head and legs and close its shell tightly to protect itself from predators.
Box turtles are native to North America. The widest distributed species is the common box turtle which is found in the United States (subspecies carolina, major, bauri, triunguis; south-central, eastern, and southeastern parts) and Mexico (subspecies yukatana and mexicana; Yucatán peninsula and northeastern parts). The western box turtle is endemic to the south-central and southwestern parts of the U.S. (and adjacent Mexico) while the spotted box turtle is endemic to northwestern Mexico only. The Coahuilan box turtle is only found in Cuatro Ciénegas Basin (Coahuila, Mexico).
Because box turtles occupy a wide variety of habitats (which both vary on a day-to-day, season-to-season, but also species-to-species basis), a standard box turtle habitat cannot be identified. Mesic woodlands are a habitat where box turtles are generally found. T. ornata is the only species regularly found in grasslands, but its subspecies the desert box turtle is also found in the semidesert with rainfall predominantly in summer. The single location where Coahuilan box turtles are found is a 360 km2 region characterized by marshes, permanent presence of water and several types of cacti.
Prior to hibernation, box turtles tend to move further into the woods, where they dig a chamber for overwintering. Ornate box turtles dig chambers up to 50 centimeters, while eastern box turtles hibernate at depth of about 10 centimeters. The location for overwintering can be up to 0.5 km from the summer habitat and is often in close proximity to that of the previous year. In more southern locations, turtles are active year-round, as has been observed for T. coahuila and T. c. major. Other box turtles in higher temperatures are more active (T. c. yukatana) or only active during the wet seasons.