Can Box Turtles Swim? Yes, But There’s a Twist

Box turtles can swim, but they are not strong swimmers and prefer shallow water where they can touch the bottom and easily reach the surface to breathe.

Box turtles are one of the most popular pet turtles due to their unique characteristics and fascinating behaviors.

But when it comes to their relationship with water, many people often wonder, “Can box turtles swim?”

This article will explore this question and more, providing a comprehensive understanding of box turtles and their aquatic behaviors.

Do Box Turtle Need Water & How Much?

Box turtles, unlike their aquatic counterparts, don’t live in water. However, they do need water for various essential functions.

Hydration is crucial for a box turtle’s health, and they need water to drink, bathe, and aid in digestion.

The amount of water a box turtle needs can vary based on their size, age, and overall health.

As a general rule, they should always have access to a shallow dish or pool of clean water in their enclosure.

This allows them to drink when they need to and also provides an opportunity for them to soak, which they often enjoy.

Soaking is an important activity for box turtles. It helps them stay hydrated, aids in shedding, and can be a source of enjoyment.

Box turtles typically like to soak in shallow water, just deep enough to cover their shells.

When it comes to the type of water suitable for box turtles, clean water is paramount.

Tap water can contain chlorine and other chemicals that could be harmful to them. Therefore, distilled water or dechlorinated tap water is often the best choice.

If you must use tap water, let it sit for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate before letting your box turtle swim in it.

In nutshell, while box turtles don’t live in water, they do need it for hydration and bathing. Providing them with access to clean, shallow water is an essential part of caring for these unique creatures.

How Well Can Box Turtles Swim?

Box turtles are not the most adept swimmers. They lack the streamlined bodies and webbed feet of aquatic turtles, which are designed for efficient swimming.

Box turtles can paddle and float in water, but their movements are not as graceful or efficient as those of aquatic turtles.

They are more comfortable in shallow water where they can touch the bottom.

How Long Can Box Turtles Swim?

The length of time a box turtle can swim depends on the depth of the water and the turtle’s comfort level.

They can float and paddle around in shallow water for a while, but they are not designed for long swims.

They need to surface regularly to breathe, so they can’t stay submerged for extended periods.

How Deep Can Box Turtles Swim?

Box turtles are not designed for deep water swimming. They prefer shallow water where they can easily touch the bottom and lift their heads above the water to breathe.

If the water is too deep, they can struggle to reach the surface, which can lead to exhaustion and potentially drowning.

In conclusion, while box turtles can swim, they are not built for deep water or long periods underwater.

They are more terrestrial creatures that enjoy the occasional soak or paddle in shallow water.

How Long Can Box Turtle Swim Underwater?

Yes, box turtles can swim underwater, but they are not designed for extended underwater activities.

Unlike some aquatic species, box turtles need to surface regularly to breathe because they cannot extract oxygen from water like fish do.

The exact amount of time a box turtle can stay underwater varies, but it’s usually not very long.

They can hold their breath for a short period, typically around 4-7 minutes, but this can depend on the individual turtle and the conditions.

Stress, water temperature, and activity level can all influence how long a box turtle can hold its breath.

It’s important to note that while box turtles can swim and stay underwater for short periods, they are not strong swimmers and can struggle in deep water.

They are more comfortable in shallow water where they can easily touch the bottom and lift their heads above the water to breathe.

If the water is too deep, they can become exhausted and potentially drown.

Therefore, if you have a pet box turtle, it’s essential to provide a shallow water area in their enclosure and ensure they can easily reach the surface to breathe.

Do Box Turtle Need To Live Near Water?

Box turtles do not need to live near water in the same way that aquatic turtles do. They are primarily terrestrial creatures and spend most of their time on land.

However, they do need access to water for drinking, bathing, and soaking.

In the wild, box turtles are often found in areas with a water source nearby, such as a pond or stream.

This is because they need to drink water regularly and they also enjoy soaking in shallow water, which helps them stay hydrated and aids in shedding and digestion.

In captivity, a pet box turtle’s enclosure should include a shallow dish or pool of water. This allows them to drink and soak whenever they want.

The water should be shallow enough that they can easily touch the bottom and lift their head above the surface to breathe.

So, while box turtles don’t need to live near water in the traditional sense, they do need regular access to clean water to stay healthy.

It’s also important to note that the water should be changed regularly to keep it clean and prevent the growth of bacteria.

What’s The Ideal Water Level in Their Tank

The ideal water level in a box turtle’s tank should be shallow enough that the turtle can easily touch the bottom and lift its head above the water to breathe.

This is typically about as deep as the turtle’s shell is wide.

Box turtles are not strong swimmers and can struggle in deep water. They need to be able to easily reach the surface to breathe, and they should be able to stand on the bottom of the tank with their heads above the water.

In addition to a shallow water area, a box turtle’s enclosure should also include a dry land area where the turtle can bask and rest.

The enclosure should be large enough to allow the turtle to move between the water and land areas freely.

Remember to change the water regularly to keep it clean and prevent the growth of bacteria. Providing a clean, appropriate environment is essential for the health and well-being of your box turtle.

Can Box Turtles Swim in Tap Water?

Box turtles can swim in tap water, but it’s important to note that tap water often contains chlorine and other chemicals that can be harmful to them.

If you must use tap water for your box turtle’s enclosure, it’s recommended to let it sit for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate before adding your box turtle to it.

Alternatively, you can use a water conditioner that is designed to make tap water safe for reptiles.

These products neutralize chlorine and other harmful chemicals, making the water safe for your box turtle to swim in.

Distilled water or filtered water is often a better choice for box turtles, as it doesn’t contain the potentially harmful chemicals found in tap water.

Regardless of the type of water you use, it’s important to change the water regularly to keep it clean and prevent the growth of bacteria.

Which Box Turtle Species Can Swim?

Different types of box turtles have varying abilities when it comes to swimming.

The Eastern box turtle, for example, is not a strong swimmer and prefers to stay on land.

The Coahuilan box turtle, on the other hand, is an aquatic box turtle species that is more comfortable in the water.

However, even the aquatic box turtles aren’t as adept at swimming as other types of turtles, like the pond turtle.

Species of Box TurtleDescriptionSwimming Ability
Eastern Box TurtleCommon in eastern U.S. with high-domed, colorful shell.Prefers land, ventures into shallow water for hydration.
Three-Toed Box TurtleFound in central U.S., typically has three hind toes.Similar to Eastern, prefers land and shallow water.
Gulf Coast Box TurtleLarge species found along the Gulf of Mexico.Prefers land, ventures into shallow water for hydration.
Ornate Box TurtleFound in central U.S., known for yellow shell markings.Prefers land, uses shallow water for hydration and cooling.
Desert Box TurtleAdapted to arid environments, found in southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico.Primarily terrestrial, requires less water but still needs hydration.
Coahuilan Box TurtleMost aquatic box turtle, lives near spring-fed pools in Mexico.More comfortable in water but not as adept at swimming as aquatic turtles.
Different box turtle species and their swimming ability

How Often Should They Soak in Water?

Box turtles should have the opportunity to soak in water daily. Soaking helps them stay hydrated, aids in shedding, and can be a source of enjoyment.

In the wild, box turtles often soak in puddles or shallow bodies of water. In captivity, you can provide a shallow dish or pool of water in their enclosure for this purpose.

The water should be shallow enough that they can easily touch the bottom and lift their head above the surface to breathe.

While box turtles should have daily access to water for soaking, they don’t necessarily need to soak every day.

Some box turtles may choose to soak every day, while others may only soak a few times a week.

It’s important to monitor your box turtle and adjust their care based on their individual needs.

If your box turtle seems to be soaking more often than usual, it could be a sign of a health issue, and you should consult with a veterinarian.

Can Box Turtles Drown?

While box turtles can swim, they are susceptible to drowning if the water is too deep. They are not designed to swim in deep water like sea turtles.

Therefore, it’s essential to ensure the water level in their tank is shallow enough for them to touch the bottom and easily reach the surface to breathe.

Do They Enjoy Being Held and How to Hold Them

Box turtles, like many reptiles, have different personalities and tolerances for handling.

Some may tolerate and even seem to enjoy being held, while others may be more shy or nervous.

It’s important to pay attention to your box turtle’s behavior and body language when handling them.

If they seem stressed or scared, it’s best to give them some space.

When handling a box turtle, always be gentle and supportive. Here’s the right way to do it:

  1. Wash your hands: Always wash your hands before and after handling your box turtle to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  2. Approach from the side: Sudden movements from above can scare your turtle, as this is how predators approach. Instead, move your hand slowly from the side.
  3. Support their body: Use a gentle grip and make sure to support their entire body, especially their underside. Never pick up a box turtle by its tail or limbs, as this can cause injury.
  4. Keep them low: Always hold your box turtle close to the ground or a table to prevent injury if they manage to wriggle free.
  5. Limit handling time: Even if your box turtle seems to enjoy being held, it’s important to limit handling time to reduce stress.

Remember, frequent handling can be stressful for box turtles, so it’s best to limit handling to when it’s necessary, such as during tank cleanings or health checks.

Always handle your box turtle with care and respect to ensure their well-being.

About David Nitta

I am a lifelong lover of turtles and have dedicated years of research to understand and care about this wonderful creature. I regularly post blogs, mostly from what I read and my own experience, covering everything from turtle care, health, feeding habits, habitat setup, and so much more.