box turtle won't eat

Not open for further replies.

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 23, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
Box Turtles Not Eating Well
Researched and compiled from information by Mary Hopsen

Most new turtle keepers try too hard to make their new turtle happy. It is best to look at how wild turtles live for the best information. There are NO box turtles living in the wild eating only wax worms or meal worms. These are fine foods, used in moderation, as part of a highly varied diet. Heavy emphasis on live foods has hurt a lot of captive turtles, and doesn't make sense in view of what we know from wild turtles.
Each turtle has a different personality and that's just fine. All turtles benefit from a wide variety of foods being offered. Try putting a hunk of cantaloupe in the habitat and walk away. Your box turtle isn't likely to look at it until about 4:30 to 5:30 in the morning, when no one is around. Or he might dive right in. Or not. Just leave it. A couple days later, make a nice omelet in a pan prepared with olive oil. Put some grated carrots in it too, with maybe a bit of cuttlebone scraped in. After it's thoroughly cooled, put it on a flat rock and go away. Leave it overnight in case the turtle isn't interested in eating until the early morning. Try some red lettuce. Many turtles that have resisted plant matter will happily eat red lettuce. Just put it in and walk away. Leave it a couple days.
Use a different food at each feeding, and completely stop using wax worms and mealworms until the picky eating habits have cleared up. Overuse of live foods has done a lot of damage to captive turtles, and may be implicated in the deformities that are developing in captive turtles. Live foods are highly enticing to many box turtles, leading to picky eating habits and vitamin deficiencies. When a turtle can expect to be fed “candy,” it won't go looking for healthier foods. In the wild, finding live food isn't guaranteed, so turtles automatically learn to eat whatever is available. The turtle hobby swings wildly in its opinions on care and we are currently in the extreme swing of “live food.” If people would remember to look at the wild turtles, they could avoid some of the silliness. All things in moderation. Wild box turtles naturally eat about half plants and half animal matter. They go looking for calcium in a separate form when they feel the need.
Another fact of nature is often ignored by even excellent, experienced keepers: turtles cycle through daily temperature changes. They don't need to be warm all the time. In fact, that will interfere with these natural rhythms. There is an optimum body temperature range – 82 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit – which will allow the turtle to digest food most efficiently. They will want to reach that temperature for a couple hours each day. Then they will want to cool down. And by the way, they can reach those optimum digestion temperatures at much lower ambient air temperatures if there is a bright light. Constantly overheating a turtle will lead to a variety of health problems, including kidney failure. It is best avoided. Have a temperature gradient in the habitat from a cool end about 70-76 degrees to the warmer area about 80-86 degrees. Never let it get above 90. Many people, including many vets, do not realize that constant high temperatures are harmful.
UVB lights can be helpful, especially with juveniles who are growing their bones and need to do it right. With the cuttlebone always available, a highly varied diet, and UV for part of the day, turtles should be able to put all the ingredients together. Humidity and hydration are also important for this. Using UVB lights that aren't too bright or hot can be very helpful with shy turtles. Tube fluorescents are ideal for this type of turtle. There isn't one right light for all settings and all turtles.
Regarding “light therapy”: Put the turtle in a plain tub or box – no substrate or hiding place – with a bright, warm light over him for about 2 hours a day. Then give the turtle a 15-20 minute soak in tepid water. Then put him back in his habitat and place a hunk of cantaloupe in front of him and move quickly out of his sight.. Do not try to shove it down his throat. This will lead to stress and resistance. It will make him even more reluctant to eat. Don't offer foods he has recently rejected. And don't bother with carrot by itself. Cantaloupe is bright-colored and puts out an enticing aroma, so it is often accepted by reluctant feeders. A big hunk is better than cut up pieces. The most natural time for box turtles to eat is at dawn.
The next day after the light and the soak, put some smelly cat food in front of it and move quickly out of sight. The cat food can be prepared with some cuttlebone scrapings, minced greens, and grated carrot.
On the third day after the light and soak, put an egg omelet in front of her and walk away. The omelet can be prepared with chopped bell pepper and cuttlebone scrapings.
Turtles can live a very long time without eating. It's much less important than water and humidity. You need to break the torpor with lights. Don't feed the same food items over and over, but offer something novel each day. Look for smelly and bright colored foods. Many different fruits fill the bill. You can also try leaving red lettuce in the habitat all the time. The turtle might discover it at the most natural feeding time, that is, very early morning when you aren't around.
Box turtles are crepuscular in nature. That means they are naturally inclined to be active and foraging very early in the morning, then later at dusk, not when it is convenient for us. This is the natural way they avoid the damaging effects of UV radiation from the sun, which is at its peak in mid-day. They also utilize the natural dew that forms then for higher humidity. So having foods in the habitat when it is relatively dark and when no one is around can lead to improved appetite. Make sure your turtle gets the natural temperature cycling – cooler at night – because this aids in creating a desire to forage at daybreak.
If you cannot break the dormancy with light therapy and novel food stimuli, it is possible that your turtle is fighting an infection. In that case, veterinary care would be required. But try doing light therapy and novel foods for a couple weeks first. Make sure the light doesn't overheat the turtle or damage the skin and eyes with excess UV radiation. Jus a 40 watt Reveal bulb over the box can do the trick. A tube UVB fluorescent isn't likely to hurt the turtle either. But those super-hot, ultra-bright UV/heat combo lights are often avoided by shy or sensitive turtles.

(Researched and compiled from information from Mary Hopson. )
Last edited by a moderator:


New Member
5 Year Member
Nov 9, 2012
Living with eastern boxies and breeding them for over 30 years here in Jersey I know the 'boxies won't eat' problem. Sometimes no matter what you do or try to feed a wild caught one they will die!t Some don't live in more than a 50 by 50 yard space there whole life. Here in the east coast we have carpets of pine needles and leaves 2 feet thick they never come out of, only to mate. Captive bred boxies will not ever turn down a mushroom or mulberries/ blackberries. Also you might try a tiny piece of chopped meat or feeder gold fish live, slugs , worms or snails. I have never seen one turn down chopped meat. I have also found my adult female eating a decaying snake that was in its pen. It's a local small snake with bad attitudes. Mix chopped meat with earthworms/crickets/ mushrooms/dandylion leaves/blackberrie/and pumpkin.mash all together and you will have the happiest and healthiest boxies ever
Not open for further replies.