Can Box Turtles Swim Or Not? (Ultimate Guide For You)

Box turtles are among pet owners’ favorite due to their docile, friendly, and pleasant personalities. While they enjoy the company of us humans, the human home is not the natural habitat of a box turtle. One fact remains whatsoever – they enjoy wet environments just like the vast majority of turtles. But, can they swim?

We know the box turtles are aquatic creatures but the box turtle looks more like a tortoise. Research shows that they belong to the family Emydidae, also known as terrapins or American pond turtles. Other pond turtles include cooters, sliders, diamondback terrapins, and painted turtles.

This guide will help you know more about can box turtles swim or not. Keep reading to the very end.

Can Box Turtles Swim?

Yes. While the box turtles are not skillful at swimming, they do swim. Their bodies are designed for swimming, except for their short legs, which make it hard for them to flap the water properly.

As a result, the box turtles are more terrestrial than aquatic. This means they enjoy spending most of their life on land, unlike most turtles that tend to spend more time in water and come to land for breath and basking.

For the box turtle, swimming becomes tiring after a few minutes. As the owner, it’s important to put the right amount of water in the tank. Huge tanks can drown these turtles.

Can Eastern Box Turtles Swim?

Eastern box turtles are popular around the meadows, fields, ponds, and woodlands in the Eastern US. The subspecies are known for swimming in shallow waters in puddles, ponds, and streams during the hot season. Sometimes, the eastern box turtle will hibernate in water for days on end if the water is deep for their liking. If water is too deep, they can easily drown.

Can Florida Box Turtles Swim?

These turtles are mainly found in marshlands, wetlands, and swamps around Florida, as the name suggests. In other words, these will not swim often and prefer to lie inside shallow waters. When the water is favorable, the Florida box turtle actually likes to sit in the water without swimming.

Can Three-Toed Box Turtles Swim?

This species of box turtles is mainly found in the southern states of the US. Three-toed box turtles aren’t good swimmers, which means water should be just deep enough to cover the legs, nothing deeper. However, despite being poor at swimming, three-toed box turtles will soak in water longer than other subspecies.

Can Asian Box Turtle Swim?

Yes, Asian box turtles are known to look for water sources during the dry and hot season. These are great swimmers than other box turtle subspecies because they can comfortably flap in 12 inches of water. However, you should not submerge them for extended periods.

Can Northern Box Turtle Swim?

Just like the eastern box turtle, these enjoy spending time in shallow waters. In the wild, Northern Box turtles are likely to be found near deeper water where there’s a supporting plant to help them climb up if the need arises.

Can Coahuilan Box Turtle Swim?

The Coahuilan box turtle is one of the box turtles that enjoys spending a lot of time in water around streams and ponds. They love to swim and forage in water and will also prefer to eat while sitting inside.

Can Gulf Coast Box Turtles Swim?

Yes, gulf turtles love water and will swim throughout the year. However, these generally reside in marshes and swamps alongside the northern Gulf of Mexico. That’s why these box turtles love to spend time in shallow waters as long as the water level is consistent.

Do All Box Turtles Swim?

Well, considering the sea is where the box turtle originated, it would be safe to assume that all box turtles do swim.  However, different species of box turtles show different swimming skills. Some are more adept than others. For instance, ornate box turtles can swim well because they have fat deposits under their shells that make them float. Still, they won’t swim for too long, so you should avoid deep water as an experiment. Although they also swim clumsily, the Coahuilan box turtles spend more time in the water than other box turtles. Generally, all box turtles can swim when the need arises.

Can Box Turtles Swim Underwater?

You might be wondering what would happen if a box turtle is in deep water. As you already know, swimming can be a stressful experience for a box turtle. Well, they can emerge if submerged, but they are bad at it. That’s why they prefer to swim in shallow waters for short distances, after which they want to rest.

This means if they found themselves in deep waters, they would only hold on for a few minutes, after which they head to one side of the pot and cling to it. Many new box turtle owners make the mistake of thinking that it’s water fright, but the fact is that they would rather not stay in water for long.

The only box turtle that can comfortably swim underwater is the aquatic box turtle, also referred to as the Coahuilan box turtle. Still, they prefer to stay on shallow waters most of the time.

How Long Can Box Turtles Swim?

Box turtles like to swim in shallow waters such as ponds, creeks and rivers. Still, they only swim when necessary, for instance, when they need to move to cool down or hunt insects. Keeping in mind that these are not sea dwellers, they quickly grow tired after swimming for a short time.

If they stay in water for too long, it can become tiring for them and result in drowning. This is the opposite of other turtles that can spend the whole day in the water. On the other hand, the box turtle has shorter legs and a large box-like shell that makes it harder to maneuver in the water.

Box turtles will stay in shallow water for long periods of time but will swim in deep water for a short period of time. You will not stumble upon a box turtle flapping water in the middle of the river or lake.

The best box turtle swimmers will not exceed 30 minutes at a single stretch. In fact, if you notice your box turtle has exceeded 20 minutes inside water, it’s essential to check on them. If drowned for too long, box turtles may develop health issues and possibly death.

How Often Do Box Turtles Swim?

They will stick to land or shallow water areas like swamps and ponds unless they want to move from point A to B in search of something or to avoid a threat. Although many people assume they should be tortoises, box turtles do need water for hydration, temperature regulation, and proper digestion.

Water needs to be around 750F or 240C and be as deep as the nose. If a box turtle is caught in deep water (essentially water that covers its entire shell) over a long stretch, it might panic, tire out while swimming, and drown. Box turtles only need a shallow place to wade because they are very poor swimmers with much weaker feet.

A sloped dish is a great start for your baby turtle to make it easier to enter and exit. In case you notice your box turtle has overturned in deep water, you should get it out and place it in a dry place to dry out.

How Do Box Turtles Breathe Underwater?

Just like other species, box turtles lack gills, so they breathe through the nose. However, unlike most turtles, the box turtle doesn’t hold air for long and will need to come to the water surface to get some air. Additionally, box turtles have a unique orifice called cloaca at the back of the shell that facilitates breathing. Unfortunately, the box turtle’s cloaca isn’t evolved enough to support long periods of breathing underwater, like in other species.

Are Box Turtles Aquatic?

Box turtles are categorized as semi-aquatic because it’s different from other aquatic turtles. Unlike the box turtle, aquatic turtles live, look for food, forage, and sleep underwater. On the contrary, box turtles live on land more than underwater. However, they will enjoy a daily dunk in the pool if they find it. Ensure that the pond is shallow so that the shell doesn’t get submerged. In addition, they do enjoy eating while sitting in the water.

How Fast Can A Box Turtle Swim?

Due to their flawed characteristics compared to others, box turtles are slow and clumsy swimmers. They have shorter limbs, and the large shells on their back doesn’t help. They can only swim for shorter distances before rest. The fact that they are experienced living more on land is another reason they won’t swim faster.

In an experiment, a box turtle can move at 0.25mph over a short stretch and 0.17mph over long distances when walking. This is less than 100 yards per day. This is slower compared to other turtle species such as cooters that can walk at 1.07 mph. In water, box turtles tend to be much slower.

How Much Water Do Box Turtles Need?

All turtles are aquatic, which means they will spend time in the water. However, the amount of water and duration inside water is different depending on the species. But generally, box turtles will spend less time in the water because they get tired of swimming. Still, they need a more humid environment to thrive. The amount of water you need will be determined by the type of box turtle. For instance, desert box turtles require less water than Florida box turtles.

As a result, when housing the box turtle, ensure you have a flat tray of water around for drinking and soaking. The water level should not exceed its shell’s height halfway. This level makes it easier to walk inside water and can aid feeding.

The water needs to be fresh and clean to avoid infections and keep them healthy. Therefore, ensure to clean the tank regularly and change the water at intervals of 2 weeks. Additionally, maintain a humidity of about 65% for the common box turtle.

As for the Coahulian box turtle, you need to buy or build an aquarium because it spends more time in the water. Although it doesn’t swim as aptly as other turtles, Coahulian box turtles may need an enclosure with a capacity of about 75 gallons of water. The water needs to be sufficient but avoid making it too deep to prevent drowning.

Can I Add More Water For My Box Turtle?

It’s best to keep the water level low for the box turtle in the main tank. However, if you need to add an extra tank, you can add another swimming spot for them as long as it’s only a few inches deep, usually 4 to 7 inches.

If the tank is big enough, you can create a beach-like landscape that box turtles usually love. Many new owners usually fill the water tank, especially when raising the box with other species. For instance, when you’re petting the red-eared slider and three-toed box turtle, you need to know their swimming skills are different, and your box turtle might struggle immensely.

Can I Take My Box Turtle Out For Swimming?

Well, being a turtle, you may want to take your box turtle to swim. Keep in mind that box turtles will struggle to swim in deep waters, so you need to ensure they exit the water easily when they want to.

Here are a few tips when taking your box turtle out for swimming.

·       They Should Exit the Water with Ease

Since box turtles aren’t adept swimmers, they will need to take breaks regularly. The best way to ensure this is by making it easier to exit the water. If the shore is far for them, they may not reach the end and might drown instead. As a result, look for shallow waters for your box turtle to swim.

·       Water Shouldn’t Be Running

Apart from the depth, you should also consider the pace of moving water. If the water is running, your box turtle is likely to simply sit in the water and probably just paddle a bit. This, in turn, can increase the risk of drowning.

·       Avoid Leaving the Box Turtle Unsupervised In Water

Since box turtles lack proper swimming skills, one must be careful whenever they swim. You should monitor when it’s swimming and know when it may be gasping for air or swimming under the water surface.

Can a Box Turtle Get Sick From Swimming?

If exposed to water for too long, box turtles can get sick. Remember that the box turtle is terrestrial and will need to bask after swimming for short periods. If there are no basking spots, the turtle may not dry properly and develop shell and skin complications. Besides, if the water contains too many minerals and additives, it can harm your turtle’s health. Also, if the basking session is not long enough, their body temperature can remain low, affecting immunity, metabolism, and digestion.

Should I Keep My Box Turtle In Water?

Unfortunately, box turtles would rather live outside water than in it. When you do, make sure the aquarium is not filled with water. A pool with a few inches of water in their enclosure is allowed, but nothing deeper than this to avoid drowning risks. Still, you shouldn’t leave the box turtle underwater because they are susceptible to drowning because they easily get tired while swimming. Keep a close eye on them when swimming and make it relatively easy to walk out of water.

Do Box Turtles Need To Live Near Water?

Not necessarily. Box turtles in the wild will usually not need water unless a need arises. They may need to swim through a stream or brook to look for food or avoid danger, but they don’t need deep waters. Box turtles prefer to spend more time in a dry environment.

Can Box Turtles Live In Pond?

Box turtles can often be found near lakes, rivers, and ponds. The perfect of all are the ponds because they offer adequate shelter and privacy and sunny basking spots. Besides, ponds are less likely to get contaminated and are shallow enough for the box turtle to cool off.

How Well Can Box Turtles Swim?

Although box turtles can swim, they aren’t good at it compared to other turtles. Sea turtles have flippers to survive in the sea, and some have webbed feet that allow them to stay around water. On the other hand, the box turtle has elephantine legs and comnar feet that resemble the legs of an elephant. In other words, the box turtle’s limbs are not built for swimming. Despite the short and stumpy feet of box turtles, they still enjoy swimming.

Can Box Turtles Live In Water?

Just like other turtle species, box turtles need a water environment to live. However, they do not dwell inside water as other turtles would. The box turtle does not shine when it comes to swimming, so it wouldn’t thrive in water. In the case of predators, the box turtle is likely to be vulnerable because they are not fast enough. The box turtle would rather sink to the pond’s bottom and drown rather than swim to the surface for rest when tired.

Can Your Box Turtle Use Tap Water?

As noted already, most box turtles will not require an aquarium, but they need water for their well-being. They need enough water to drink and soak in every day. But is it safe for your turtle to drink and swim in tap water?

Typically, any freshwater should be safe for the box turtle. However, if the water contains chlorine, fluoride or other additives, it can be hazardous for the turtle to swim in. Chorine and chloramines can irritate the turtle’s eyes and leave chalky white spots on the shell. This can negatively affect the beauty of your box turtle.

As such, you might want to avoid tap water and opt for distilled mineral water. Fortunately, your box turtle does not require a lot of water to survive. This means you can manage to buy a few liters of bottled water every 2 or 3 weeks.

As for the Coahuilan box turtle, an aquarium is needed and might require too much water. For this, tap water will suffice, but you may need to condition it.

Can Box Turtles Drown?

Yes, box turtles can drown if they end up in deep water by accident. This is because they swim more slowly and get tired fast because swimming for them takes more energy. They can only hold their breath for a maximum of 30 minutes before they start drowning. That’s why you need to keep their tanks shallow and water clean to keep them comfortable.

The American Animal Hospital Associate (AAHA) cautions against placing turtles in deep pools and tanks to reduce drowning risks.

Final Words – Can Box Turtles Swim?

As we’ve already seen, box turtles swim, but they do it so clumsily in shallow waters. Still, the answer depends on the subspecies because some can do it better than others. For instance, the eastern box turtles are better swimmers than the three-toed box turtles. Additionally, it can also be determined by the practice a turtle has had.

Since the box turtles are poor at swimming, you may need to monitor them when swimming in water deeper than 4 inches to prevent drowning. They lack webbed feet like other turtles, and the heavy shell makes the experience even more tiresome.

Keep in mind that there’s no harm in allowing your box turtle to swim in shallow pools as long as they don’t spend too much time there.

We hope this guide will help you know the swimming requirements of your box turtle to ensure they have a long, happy, and healthy swimming life.

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