Plants and Animals

Terrapene carolina carolina Eastern box turtle

species photo
Mary Rabe
species photo
Mary Rabe
species photo
Mary Rabe
species photo
Steve Grund
species photo
Daria Hyde
species photo
Daria Hyde
species photo
Steve Grund
species photo
Steve Grund
species photo
Steve Grund
species photo
Steve Grund
species photo
R. Wayne VanDevender

Key Characteristics

The Eastern Box Turtle is a small land turtle with a high-domed carapace (top part of shell) and a hinged plastron (bottom part of shell) which allows it to close its shell tightly and hide its head, legs and tail. The carapace has a slight keel (raised ridge) along the midline and ranges from 5-8 inches (12-20 cm) in length. It is brown or black with a highly variable pattern of yellow or orange markings within each scute (a large scale or plate). The plastron can be yellowish, brown or black and is either plain or marked with blotches or lines. Males are usually larger and more brightly colored than females, often have reddish or pinkish eyes (brown in females) and a concave plastron (flat or slightly convex in females).

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5T5
State Rank: S2S3 - Rank is uncertain, ranging from imperiled to vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 26 2014
Baraga 1 1977
Barry 24 2018
Benzie 2 1981
Berrien 34 2017
Branch 2 2019
Calhoun 10 2017
Cass 16 2011
Clare 2 1994
Eaton 1 2008
Hillsdale 1 1933
Houghton 1 1977
Ingham 2 2004
Ionia 7 2019
Isabella 1 1964
Jackson 8 2008
Kalamazoo 36 2019
Kent 19 2019
Lake 11 2019
Leelanau 1 1979
Lenawee 9 1986
Livingston 1 1998
Manistee 10 2011
Mason 9 2018
Mecosta 2 2003
Monroe 3 2000
Montcalm 2 2018
Muskegon 15 2018
Newaygo 10 2018
Oakland 3 2014
Oceana 9 2016
Ottawa 6 2018
St. Joseph 6 2009
Van Buren 18 2017
Washtenaw 6 2001
Wexford 1 1960

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


The Eastern Box Turtle is Michigan's only truly terrestrial turtle. It typically occurs in forested habitats with sandy soils near a source of water such as a stream, pond, lake, marsh or swamp. They also may be found in adjacent thickets, old fields, pastures, or vegetated dunes. Access to unshaded nesting sites in sandy, open areas, is critical for successful reproduction.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Conservation efforts should concentrate on protecting large tracts of habitat especially on public land to provide the box turtle additional protection from the effects of development. Wetland hydrology and quality should be maintained by preventing improper off-road vehicle use, implementing minimum development set-back distances, leaving buffer zones during timber harvest, grazing and agricultural operations, minimizing use of herbicides and pesticides in or near wetlands, and/or controlling invasive plants. Upland nesting areas should be identified, protected and in some cases created. Construction of new roads should be minimized or routed to avoid separating foraging and/or overwintering habitat from nesting areas. Finally, the public should be educated about the laws protecting reptiles and amphibians and encouraged to leave wild turtles in their natural habitats rather than collecting them for pets.

Active Period

Active from fourth week of April to fourth week of October

Breeding from first week of May to second week of October

Nesting from first week of June to third week of July

Survey Methods

Eastern Box Turtles can be seen anytime during the active season between April and October, although most sightings coincide with nesting or egg laying which occurs from early June through mid-July. Weather is an important factor in determining turtle activity as they often emerge to feed and are often found after a rainstorm. Otherwise, box turtles spend a great deal of time buried under leaf litter, brush piles and rotting logs, especially during hot, dry weather.

Visual encounter survey

Survey Period: From first week of June to third week of July

Time of Day: Daytime
Air Temperature: Above 60 degrees
Precipitation: Just after rain

Survey Period: From fourth week of April to fourth week of October

Time of Day: Daytime
Air Temperature: Above 60 degrees
Precipitation: Just after rain


Survey References

  • Karns, D.R. 1986. Field Herpetology: Methods for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota. Occ. Pap. No. 18. J.F. Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Technical References

  • Ernst, C.H., J.E. Lovich, and R.W. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 578pp.
  • Harding, J.H. 1997.Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 378pp.
  • Harding, J.H. and J.A. Holman. 1990. Michigan Turtles and Lizards. East Lansing Cooperative Extension Service, Michigan State University Bulletin E-2234. 94pp.
  • Hyde, D.A. 1999. Special Animal Abstract for Terrapene c. carolina (Eastern box turtle). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 3pp.
  • Stickel, L.F. 1950. Populations and home range relationships of the box turtle, Terrapene c. carolina (Linnaeus). Ecological Monographs. 20: 352-378.