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The usage of the phrase “box turtle” refers to the Terrapene carolina species and all its subspecies.
1. What is an eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina)?
The eastern box turtle is considered a “land” or terrestrial turtle. It has a large domed shell that varies in color from orange to yellow with an olive to brown background. The top of the shell exhibits a repeated brightly colored palmate or “blotchy” pattern on a drab background. The body of the box turtle can be withdrawn completely into its shell. Male box turtles commonly have red eyes and a concave area on the bottom of their shell. Females typically have brown eyes and a higher domed shell without a concavity.
Eastern box turtles are typically active from April to October. Box turtles can be seen during the day and retreat to resting areas by night. In the spring and fall, box turtles are active throughout the day. They will bask in the morning and forage throughout the afternoon. However, during the heat of summer, eastern box turtles usually move about only during the morning and after heavy rainfalls. Throughout the year, box turtles commonly use wooded habitats for shelter. During winter, box turtles will hibernate under stumps, logs and shrubby areas. Wet areas are also utilized in the warmer months of summer. Box turtles will use pools of standing water or mud to cool themselves when temperatures get too high.
Unlike other animal species, visual cues are critical for finding potential mates. In other words, a male must physically see and recognize a potential mate before it will approach her. Therefore, high adult population density is critical for successful reproduction. Female box turtles may retain viable sperm for years, but the proportion of infertile eggs increases as access to males declines. Even if a female does lay eggs, the eggs and hatchlings rarely survive. Box turtles do not reach sexual maturity until they are eight to ten years old.
2. Why is there a need to regulate box turtle possession in Indiana?
Nationwide research reveals that eastern box turtle populations are in trouble. Current research also indicates that previously unnoticed declines in box turtle populations have become apparent. What were often regarded as ‘good numbers’ in box turtle density, have been determined to be insufficient for healthy population growth and survival. Indiana, like many other states, is taking proactive measures to protect and preserve these vulnerable animals before they become threatened or even endangered. Although Indiana does have a few healthy populations, these populations are widely scattered. New developments, environmental changes, chemical pollution, captive breeding and possession all negatively impact the long-term survival of box turtles in Indiana.
Displaced box turtles, either escaped or released, have a hard time surviving. Those that might survive pose a threat to our native populations. Diseases occurring in captivity may spread rapidly in wild populations. When foreign turtles interbreed with wild turtles, genes are introduced that are less suitable for our local conditions and weaken the overall box turtle population.
The long life expectancy of turtles, in general, makes owning one as a pet a long-term responsibility. The keeper is obligated to care for it long after childhood interest wanes. Unfortunately, most individuals do not consider the long-term care required for owning a turtle and promotes individuals to turn them loose when they are no longer wanted.
Collection as a Pet or for Profit
Continued collection of wild box turtles greatly reduces another box turtle’s chance of reproduction and removes one more viable turtle from the breeding population. To ensure long-term survival, eastern box turtle populations in Indiana cannot sustain additional losses.
3. May I collect a box turtle from the wild?
No, new regulations that become law in the fall of 2004 will not allow the collection of box turtles from the wild in Indiana. If you wish to collect one in another state, you must follow all rules and regulations of that state. If you lawfully collect an eastern box turtle from the wild in another state, you will need a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian in that state before bringing it into Indiana. You will need to apply for a special purpose turtle possession permit within ten (10) days after bringing the turtle into Indiana. You must submit the health certificate and documentation that shows where it was obtained (such as a receipt or copy of a license) with your permit application form.
4. For what other box turtle species (subspecies) does this rule apply?
The new rule for eastern box turtles also applies to all subspecies. These subspecies include: the three-toed box turtle, Florida box turtle, Gulf Coast box turtle and all Terrapene carolina hybrids.
5. Can I possess a box turtle as a pet?
Yes, you can possess an eastern box turtle or subspecies as a pet, but only if you obtain a special purpose turtle possession permit and provide documentation that the turtle was obtained lawfully. A box turtle can be obtained in one of the following ways: as a gift from someone who has box turtles under a special purpose turtle possession permit in Indiana, from another state (if obtained lawfully) or if a wild collected turtle is in your possession prior to November 1, 2004. Documentation that the box turtle was lawfully acquired must be submitted with the permit application form.
6. What should I do if I already have a box turtle or box turtle remains (such as a shell)?
You will need to apply for a free special purpose turtle possession permit before January 1, 2005. Applications can be obtained by calling the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 317-232-4080 after September 1, 2004. If you no longer wish to care for a turtle, please contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife or e-mail Linnea Petercheff for a list of people that can keep box turtles under their permit.
Do not release the turtle into the wild. Its chances of survival are unlikely and it could transmit a disease to a wild box turtle population.
7. Can I possess a box turtle egg, carapace (shell) or other parts of a turtle?
The eggs of all native reptiles (including box turtles) are protected by law and cannot be taken from the wild in Indiana. The shell or any other part of a box turtle is included in the protection of box turtles in Indiana. They cannot be possessed without a permit from the Division of Fish and Wildlife with documentation of how they were obtained. No part of a native turtle can be sold in Indiana.
8. What should I do if I find an injured or sick box turtle?
Sick or slightly injured box turtles should be left in the wild. Box turtles are surprisingly resilient to damage and disease. If left alone, they will, more than likely, heal on their own. If a box turtle appears severely injured, it can be given to a licensed rehabilitator or licensed veterinarian. You cannot possess an injured turtle for more than a few hours to transport it to a licensed rehabilitator.
You can obtain the name(s) of licensed rehabilitators in your area by contacting one of the following:
9. May I breed box turtles?
No, box turtles may not be bred in Indiana. Captive breeding of box turtles can have detrimental affects on wild box turtle populations:
Please read FAQ number 2 for more specific information about the impacts listed above.
Under the new permit, mature male and female eastern box turtles must be housed separately. However, if a female does lay eggs and they hatch successfully, the new box turtles must to be added to the list of turtles possessed under the turtle possession permit. Box turtles obtained in this fashion cannot be sold or released into the wild in Indiana. Box turtles possessed under this permit can be given to another individual in Indiana who has a special purpose turtle possession permit. Non-native species of turtles can be captive-bred in Indiana; for a list of native species, please click here.
10. Is the DNR pursuing box turtle restoration efforts in Indiana?
This regulation has been implemented as a proactive measure to protect and preserve native Indiana box turtle populations. At this time, the DNR has no intention of reintroducing or breeding box turtles. The DNR hopes to conserve and naturally restore the already-present native population of box turtles before levels reach the point of making a restoration necessary. Restocking or breeding to restock at this time would be premature and is detrimental to the overall survival of wild populations.
11. May I release a turtle into the wild?
Box turtles that are possessed under the special purpose turtle possession permit cannot be released into the wild. They can be given to other individuals who have a special purpose turtle possession permit. Recipients of already-permitted box turtles must apply for a new permit in their name. Do not release a turtle that has been kept in captivity into the wild. It is unlikely to survive and it could transmit a disease to wild box turtle populations. Other species of turtles may be released into the wild only under the following conditions:
12. What do I do if I find a nesting turtle, nest or eggs?
Leave them alone. If a nesting turtle is encountered, do not approach them. Box turtles can easily be scared away from nesting sites. Box turtles may start digging several nest sites before deciding on a suitable location. A mesh fence may be placed around a nest to protect the eggs from predators. This enclosure should be checked daily to ensure that newly emerging turtles are not caught. Do not try to excavate a turtle nest on your own. Disturbing the position of turtle eggs may kill the turtle embryo. If you see a nest that is about to be destroyed because of new development, you may contact a local rehabilitator for assistance. A licensed rehabilitator can raise the young and release them back into the wild. Do not try to save the eggs or nest yourself. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to save every nest.
13. What are the requirements for a permit?
An application form for the special purposes turtle possession permit must be filled out within ten (10) days of taking possession of a box turtle that was not taken from the wild in Indiana before January 1, 2005, or if the box turtle was lawfully acquired in Indiana prior to that date. A receipt, copy of a valid hunting or fishing license, copy of a rehabilitation report form, and all other documentation must be submitted with the application form. A conservation officer must inspect each cage or enclosure and sign the application form. Your local conservation officer may be contacted by calling 317-232-4010, calling law enforcement's regional headquarters (after hours - in the north, call 765-473-9722; in the south, call 812-837-9536) or by calling your local sheriff's department.
The cage or enclosure must make escape of the turtle(s) unlikely and prevent wild turtles from getting in the enclosure (if kept outdoors). The turtles must enough space for exercise and be handled, housed and transported in a sanitary and humane manner. There are no cage size requirements. Mature male and female turtles must be caged separately in an effort to prevent breeding. There is no limit to the number of turtles that can be kept under this permit. All turtles having a carapace length of 4 inches or more must be marked with an AVID reader-compatible PIT tag (similar to a microchip used for dogs). Records must be kept for each turtle possessed and an annual report is required to renew the permit.
For more information about PIT tags you may contact your local veterinarian, a certified PIT tag dealer or contact AVID directly. Online information about Avid can be found by doing a search for “Avid microchip”.
Possession of box turtle parts (such as a shell) also requires a special purpose turtle possession permit. For all newly acquired turtle parts, an application for the special purposes turtle possession permit must be filed with the DNR within ten (10) days of taking possession of the turtle part. If the parts were lawfully acquired and are in your possession before November 1, 2004, a permit application must be filed with the DNR before January 1, 2005. The application form must be filled out as completely as possible. A receipt or other documentation indicating that the part was lawfully acquired must be submitted with the application. Each turtle part must be uniquely and permanently marked.
14. How do I get an application for a permit?
To obtain an application form, you will need to contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife's Indianapolis office at 317-232-4080 or e-mail the request, including your name and address, to Linnea Petercheff.
15. Does the permit cost anything?
The permit is free.
16. How long does the permit last?
The permit expires on December 31 of the year the permit was issued.
17. What are you going to do to help educate others about this issue?
Information about box turtles and new regulations will be available through the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s website. Fact sheets, the new regulations and a copy of these frequently asked questions will be distributed throughout Indiana to licensed rehabilitators, herpetological societies, environmental education and conservation organizations and groups, colleges, universities, special advisory groups, pet stores, garden centers, reptile shows, hunting and fishing license vendors and all employees of the Department of Natural Resources. Handouts, posters and other items will be used to help spread the message.
Please contact the Nongame Education Specialist at 317-232-4080 after January 1 if you are interested in these materials.
18. What can I do to help box turtles in the wild?