|Joe at work today. A male Eastern Box Turtle.|
Box Turtles are the most common terrestrial turtle in the eastern United States. They are small to medium sized turtles, attaining a maximum length of about 8 inches and having a highly domed carapace. A key characteristic of box turtles is their hinged plastron (bottom of the shell) that can be shut completely to exclude predators. Superficially, box turtles resemble tortoises but they are actually more closely related to many aquatic turtles and belong to the same family as spotted, bog, chicken, map, and painted turtles, as well as sliders, cooters, and diamondback terrapins. Box turtles in the United States are divided into two species, the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina), which ranges from Texas throughout the southeast and north to Michigan and southern Massachusetts, and the western box turtle (Terrapene ornata), which ranges west of the Mississippi to Colorado and New Mexico.
Eastern box turtles are highly variable in shell shape, pattern, and coloration. Based on these differences, four subspecies of eastern box turtles have been designated. The most widespread subspecies is simply known as the eastern box turtle (T. carolina carolina). This turtle ranges along the entire east coast of the United States from Massachusetts to northern Florida, as far west as the Mississippi River, and north to the Great Lakes. Although this subspecies is highly variable in coloration, it is often more brightly colored than the other subspecies and almost always has four claws on the hind feet.