Do Box Turtles Like Water? Can They Swim? [Full Guide]

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Can a box turtle swim? Box turtles can swim! It’s a common misconception that box turtles can’t swim because of the shape of their body. They look more like tortoises than turtles, so many people think they don’t like the water.

Box turtles actually love the water and can swim for short distances. Although they can swim, they prefer shallow bodies of water where they can soak.

If you never knew that box turtles can swim, keep reading! You’ll find out how much these little turtles love water.

What Is A Box Turtle?

Box turtles are personable little critters that come in all kinds of colors. They are one of the most common turtles found in the wild in the United States.

Turtle Or Tortoise?

Some people say that box turtles are not turtles, but are tortoises. They say this is because box turtles live on land and they think they cannot swim. Technically, all tortoises are turtles anyway. What makes a turtle a turtle is its body which is protected by a bony shell.

All tortoises may be turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. What separates tortoises from turtles is that tortoises live only on land. You may be thinking, a box turtle is a tortoise then, right? Wrong!

Box turtles are not tortoises.

What Makes A Box Turtle A Turtle?

For starters, box turtles can swim. It’s a common misconception that they can’t, but they can!

Their Diet

Tortoises are strictly vegetarian, generally. Turtles are omnivorous. Try feeding a box turtle a worm. You’ll see that they snatch it right up, so they are definitely not vegetarian.

Webbed Feet

Box turtles are part of the family Emydidae, which is the American pond turtle family. Although they closely resemble tortoises in appearance, box turtles are more like pond turtles in structure.

To live in water, a turtle must have webbed feet. Box turtles do spend some time in water — more on that later — so their feet are slightly webbed. Tortoises have no use for webbed feet.

They Look Like Tortoises

Still, box turtle do resemble tortoises because of the doomed shell on their back. Most aquatic turtles have a flatter shell to help them swim, something that tortoises don’t need. They don’t particularly swim well due to their shell, but they do swim.

No matter what they look like, a box turtle is a turtle, not a tortoise.

Asian Box Turtle
Asian Box Turtle

Do Box Turtles Live In Water Or Land?

If you’ve ever thought about keeping a box turtle as a pet, you’ve probably wondered, can box turtles live in water?

While box turtles don’t live in water, they may live near water. They are most commonly found near ponds, meadows, fields, or forests. Box turtles like to go for a dip in the pond every once in awhile, but they are not great swimmers. They spend most of their time on land.

Box turtles prefer to live in areas of warmer water, but if they get too hot, they may seek ways to cool down. This includes underneath shaded logs, or swimming in the pond.

Do Box Turtles Need Water?

Every living creature on the earth needs water, and this includes box turtles. Without it, they will die. Box turtles don’t need to live in water, so they can do without large bodies of water. They do still need it to drink, though. They also need water to help swallow and digest their food.

They also need to live in a more humid environment than other land turtles or tortoises. A large, shallow dish of water will help keep the humidity up in your turtle’s tank. You may also need to mist the sides of the tank several times a day. Most box turtles need a humidity of about 65%.

The amount of water your box turtle needs depends on which species you have. A Florida box turtle is going to need more water than a desert box turtle.

How Do Box Turtles Drink Water?

Box turtles do not have a specialized way to drink their water. They simply stretch out their necks, dip their little mouths into their water dish, and drink.

Do Box Turtles Like Water?

We’ve already determined that box turtles need water, but do box turtles like water?

Box Turtles Love Water

Box turtles really enjoy water. If you’re going to keep one as a pet, you should consider providing water in their enclosure. A box turtle in water is a happy turtle.

Although box turtles can swim, they’re not the greatest at it, and they often look very awkward.

How Much Water Should You Give Them?

If you’re going to provide water for your box turtle, it’s better to provide them with a shallow dish. Giving them a shallow dish rather than a deep one will help them enjoy their water more. It will also prevent any accidents.

Providing your box turtle with the correct amount of water is quite simple. Make sure that you pick a dish big enough that your turtle can fit their whole body in it.

Then, fill the dish up a couple inches. You don’t need a lot of water in there. Give them enough water that they can soak, but not enough that they may risk drowning.

Make sure that you use dechlorinated water and that you clean the dish out a few times a week. Never use tap water unless you treat it with dechlorinator first. The chemicals used in our tap water can be harmful to turtles.

If you do choose to provide them with a shallow water dish, they will happily climb in and out of the water to soak. You will often find them sitting in the water enjoying a short bath.

Read our full guide to how much water box turtles need here.

Can Box Turtles Swim Underwater?

Because they are not terrestrial, box turtles really don’t swim underwater. They don’t generally swim for fun — they’re not good at it — they only swim to get somewhere. They prefer not to swim for long periods of time and risk exhaustion.

They Only Like Shallow Water

You will only find a box turtle in shallow water, and they will not stay there for long. If you ever find a box turtle in deeper water, there is probably something wrong.

Since they’re usually in a hurry to get to their destination, box turtles usually swim at the surface of the water. You’ll usually find them in places like ponds, lakes, streams, or rivers.

Underwater Swimming

Although they technically can swim underwater, they usually choose not too. They’re not good at it. Their shells are awkwardly shaped and would make underwater swimming difficult.

The only box turtle that enjoys swimming underwater is the aquatic box turtle. That’s because — you guessed it — they’re aquatic. Even these turtles have only been seen to swim underwater in shallow waters.

Can Eastern Box Turtles Swim?

Eastern box turtles can swim like every other kind of box turtle. Similarly to other box turtles though, eastern box turtles are not very good swimmers.

Follow the guide we provided above and give your eastern box turtle a dish of shallow water to wade in.

How Long Can A Box Turtle Go Without Water?

Like humans, box turtles cannot survive long without water. Still, we can go significantly longer without water than they can.

Box turtles can only live about 12-24 hours without water, a very short time. Please do not deprive them of water. Make sure they have a nice water dish available to them at all times.

Conclusion

Box turtles love water, even if they aren’t the best at swimming. They have big, bulbous shells and feet that are barely webbed. These characteristics don’t provide great conditions for swimming.

Still, box turtles can swim in shallow bodies of water, they just look funny doing it. Even though they don’t swim well, they love to soak in water for hours, so they will appreciate it if you give them a nice, shallow dish of water.

Want to know what box turtles can eat? Click here. You can also find all our turtle guides here.

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Jason Williamson

By Jason Williamson

Jason is a huge animal lover with many pets of his own. He loves sharing all his knowledge of all creatures here and learning more whenever he can.