Do Box Turtles Swim?

Box turtles tend to be some of the most common types of turtles that are kept as pets, and it only makes sense that many of their owners wonder whether or not they can swim.

Over the course of this guide, we’re going to take a look at whether various types of box turtles can swim and whether the water they swim in makes a difference.

Can Eastern Box Turtles Swim?

Eastern box turtles are also commonly referred to as land turtles and they are known for being slower at crawling relatively slowly compared to other turtles. There are a few characteristics that apply exclusively to eastern box turtles so you can recognize them alongside other box turtles.


For example, you’ll recognize female eastern box turtles because of the flat plastron on the females of the species.

Yet another factor that makes them easier to identify is how the males of the species tend to have a concave one, making it easier for them to fit with females while mating.

Since box turtles tend to be relatively slow and clumsy compared to other turtles, many people wonder whether they can swim.

Since turtles are largely aquatic animals, you’ll have a hard time finding a species that doesn’t swim, regardless of how ungainly they may look while they’re in the water.

You may be surprised to hear that eastern box turtles can swim, though you wouldn’t expect it by watching them.

Most people don’t think that eastern box turtles can swim easily because of how they look when they enter the water, since their trademark clumsiness carries over when they’re swimming.

Can Three-toed Box Turtles Swim?

The three-toed box turtle is yet another variety of box turtle that is native to the United States, and you’ll find these turtles present in the southern states.

Three-toed box turtles are so-named because of the three toes that they have on their back feet, though some may have four toes.

There is debate as to whether four-toed variants of this species are hybrids that are crossed with eastern box turtles or if this is a mutation that’s naturally present within the three-toed species.

You’ll often find dark blotches on the skin of three-toed box turtles as a major identifying factor.

Three-toed box turtles are really good at adapting to their environments, making them one of the most popular turtle species available since they can live in enclosures with relatively few issues.

Due to this very adaptive nature, three-toed box turtles are surprisingly good swimmers compared to other box turtles.

However, you won’t find that three-toed box turtles are that much better than other box turtles, but they tend to like swimming more frequently than their sibling species.

They still share the same kind of clumsy swimming style that you’ll find in other box turtles, but they’re quicker than many other box turtles.

Can Gulf Coast Box Turtles Swim?

The gulf coast box turtle is the largest variant of the box turtle that you’ll commonly come across, and these turtles tend to have a few other factors that set them apart from the other species.

For example, gulf coast box turtles feature a darker shell that’s nearly black yet features spots and blotches.

Unlike other box turtles, there tends to be a bit of variation between the color and shape of the markings on these turtles.

Some turtles may have stripes that identify them while others have marks or spots.

These marks tend to be yellow, which is one of the few consistent identifying factors you’ll come across.

Gulf coast box turtles tend to live along the gulf coast, as their name would suggest, and they’re most commonly found in states like Florida or Louisiana.

These box turtles are relatively common in swamps and other areas that have relatively stagnant bodies of water, so they need to be somewhat good swimmers.

Like other kinds of box turtles, the gulf coast variety is a relatively good swimmer but it still has the same kind of uneasy look that other box turtles do when they enter the water.

Don’t let this discourage you though since box turtles are adept swimmers that are equally at home in the water as they are on land.

Do Box Turtles Live in Water?

One of the things that you should know about box turtles is that they aren’t exactly as comfortable living in water as some of their relatives in the turtle family.

For example, red-eared sliders and other species of turtles tend to be more comfortable living in deep tanks where they can submerge themselves.

This is largely due to the webbed feet that these other turtle species have.

On the other hand, box turtles usually have blunter feet that are more suited to living on land.

This is why you’ll typically want to avoid putting your box turtles in enclosures where there’s too much water for them to be comfortable.

Why Can’t Box Turtles Swim Well?

In their natural habitat, box turtles tend to live around water because they need it to remain healthy, but unlike other turtles, they aren’t fully at home in an aquatic environment.

Instead, box turtles tend to be happy when they can live on solid ground around aquatic areas, which is why they’re commonly found in swamps.

This means that box turtles are relatively out of practice when it comes to swimming, and they tend to have a worse technique than other kinds of turtles when it comes to swimming.

Jerky and abrupt movements disrupt the smoothness of a swim, and box turtles are well-known for these two qualities.

Another issue is that box turtles are simply not properly biologically designed to swim as efficiently as possible.

This is because box turtles tend to lack the webbed feet that you’ll find present on other turtle species, with their legs being more suitable for use on land, though they can swim in a pinch.

In most cases, box turtles use swimming as a means to an end instead of swimming around as a primary means of locomotion.

For example, if a box turtle needs to get to the other side of a pond, then they’ll typically endure the swim, but they try to avoid the deeper parts of the water they’re crossing.

How Much Water Do Box Turtles Need?

Since all turtles are aquatic creatures, then box turtles certainly need a little bit of water to remain healthy in captivity.

However, unlike the vast majority of other turtle species, you typically don’t want to put your box turtle in an enclosure where it has to deal with deep water that may end up getting the best of it.

In most cases, you’ll want to avoid putting your box turtle in an enclosure that has any form of deep water.

There should be a spot in your tank that is as deep as your turtle so that it can soak and submerge itself when it wants to, but you typically don’t want to have water any deeper than this.

Along with this deeper part of the enclosure, you should also have a part of your turtle tank that is relatively shallow so that your turtle can sit in the water without having to swim.

It may seem perplexing, but turtles tend to love water that they can sit in, but they’re not the biggest fans of swimming.

This also has to do with the shell shape of box turtles, since they tend to have a less streamlined shell than other kinds of turtles.

Box turtles tend to have circular shells that flow less smoothly through the water when they’re swimming, though they also provide more protection to them on land.

Can a Box Turtle Swim in Tap Water?

In the vast majority of cases, when you’re filling up a turtle enclosure, you’ll want to avoid using tap water.

This is because tap water tends to contain additives that may not be good for your turtle’s health.

For example, fluoride that is added to your turtle’s water may end up harming it.

While fluoride may not necessarily be harmful to animals or human beings, it has a tendency to make your turtle’s shell look white and chalky.

This isn’t necessarily bad for your turtle, but it makes it look like your turtle isn’t receiving all of the care that it deserves, so you may want to avoid it.

Since turtles naturally live in water that doesn’t have a bunch of additives in it, it only makes sense to provide them with that kind of habitat at home.

While box turtles don’t spend as much time as their relatives in the water, you’ll still want to only use the best possible water for their tanks.

So what should you use for your turtle’s enclosure other than tap water? It’s typically a good idea to stick with distilled water when you’re filling up your turtle’s living space.

While turtles may not naturally live in distilled water, this ensures that you can get rid of all of the water’s possible additives.

Can Box Turtles Swim Underwater?

Since box turtles typically only ever swim in shallow water, it begs the question of whether they can also swim underwater.

In the vast majority of cases, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a box turtle swimming underwater because of how inefficient they are at swimming in the first place.

While box turtles can work their way out of deep water if they ever end up in it, they will typically avoid getting into positions where they can fall deep into the water.

You’ll find that they keep to shallower areas in the wild and you should keep that in mind when you’re designing their enclosures.

How Long Can Box Turtles Swim?

Box turtles typically can’t swim as frequently as other species of turtles because of how little practice they have at swimming.

While box turtles enter the water relatively often, they don’t swim for long distances like their other turtle species siblings, and you’ll only see them actually swimming for a relatively short time.

On the other hand, box turtles can spend an extended period of time in the water if they’re not swimming.

Box turtles, like many other turtle species, like to soak themselves in water when they’re relaxing so they can more easily manage their body temperatures, being cold-blooded animals.

Can a Box Turtle Drown?

While turtles may be aquatic animals, they don’t have gills, so they can’t breathe underwater. Instead, turtles regularly surface so that they can breathe using their lungs to take in air.

You’ll want to make sure that the water in your box turtle’s enclosure isn’t deep enough for your turtle to drown, especially if your particular turtle isn’t that good of a swimmer.

Leave a Comment