The box turtle or box tortoise is one of several species of turtle. It can refer to either those of the genera Cuora or Pyxidea, which are the Asian box turtles, or more commonly to species of the genus Terrapene, the North American box turtles. They are largely characterized by having a domed shell, which is hinged at the bottom, allowing the animal to close its shell tightly to escape predators. Otherwise the two genera are very different in habitat, behavior, and appearance, and as such are not even classified in the same family. Even though box turtles have become very popular pets, their needs in captivity are complex and the capture of turtles can have serious detrimental effects on the wild population.
The average life span of box turtles is 40 years. However, it is possible for a box turtle to live for over 100 years.
A further threat to these animals in North America is the capture and sale of wild-born box turtles. A 3-year study in Texas indicated that over 7,000 box turtles were taken from the wild for commercial trade. A similar study in Louisiana found that in a 41-month period, nearly 30,000 box turtles were taken from the wild for resale. Once captured, turtles are often kept in poor conditions where up to half of them die. Those living long enough to be sold usually suffer from conditions such as malnutrition, dehydration, and infection.
Indiana and other states have laws against collecting the turtles from the wild. In many states, it is illegal to keep them without a permit. Collecting box turtles from the wild may cause irreversible damage in the populations, as these turtles have a low reproduction rate and have a hard time finding a mate.
Most turtle and tortoise societies recommend against box turtles as pets for small children. Box turtles are easily stressed by overhandling and require more care than is generally thought. Box turtles can be easily injured by dogs and cats so special care must be taken to protect them from household pets and neighborhood animals. Box turtles require an outdoor enclosure, consistent exposure to the sun and a varied diet. Without these, a turtle's growth can be stunted and its immune system weakened.
Finding box turtles in the wild and taking them as pets, even for a very short period of time, can have detrimental effects. Box turtles want to stay within the same area where they were born. If one is moved more than a half-mile from its territory, it may never find its way back; but may spend years unsystematically searching. This exposes the animal to danger and also disrupts the breeding cycle.