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Terrapene carolina, 085

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Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus 1758) –
Eastern Box Turtle, Common Box Turtle

A. Ross Kiester1 and Lisabeth L. Willey2

1Turtle Conservancy, 49 Bleecker St., Suite 601, New York, New York 10012 USA [[email protected]];
2Department of Environmental Studies, Antioch University New England, 40 Avon St.,
Keene, New Hampshire 03431 USA [[email protected]]


Summary. – The Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina (Family Emydidae), as currently understood, contains six living subspecies of small turtles (carapace lengths to ca. 115–235 mm) able to close their hinged plastrons into a tightly closed box. Although the nominate subspecies is among the most widely distributed and well-known of the world’s turtles, the two Mexican subspecies are poorly known. This primarily terrestrial, though occasionally semi-terrestrial, species ranges throughout the eastern and southern United States and disjunctly in Mexico. It was generally recognized as common in the USA throughout the 20th century, but is now threatened by continuing habitat conversion, road mortality, and collection for the pet trade, and notable population declines have been documented throughout its range. In the United States, this turtle is a paradigm example of the conservation threats that beset and impact a historically common North American species. In Mexico, the greatest need for the subspecies that occur there is to further assess their distribution, habitat requirements, economic status, and conservation threats.

Distribution. – Canada (extirpated), Mexico, USA. Broadly distributed in eastern and southern USA from southern Maine and New Hampshire to Florida and west to Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and disjunctly in Mexico in San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz, and also disjunctly in Yucatán, Campeche, and western Quintana Roo.

Synonymy. Testudo carolina Linnaeus 1758, Terrapene carolina, Emys (Cistuda) carolinae, Cistuda carolina, Cistudo carolina, Terrapene carolina carolina, Testudo carinata Linnaeus 1758, Terrapene carinata, Cistudo carinata, Testudo brevicaudata Lacépède 1788 (nomen suppressum), Testudo incarcerata Bonnaterre 1789, Testudo incarceratostriata Bonnaterre 1789, Testudo clausa Gmelin 1789, Emydes clausa, Emys clausa, Didicla clausa, Terrapene clausa, Cistudo clausa, Cinosternon clausum, Pyxidemys clausa, Cinosternum clausum, Testudo virgulata Latreille in Sonnini and Latreille 1801, Emys virgulata, Terrapene virgulata; Emys schneideri Schweigger 1812, Monoclida kentukensis Rafinesque 1822 (nomen suppressum), Terrapene maculata Bell 1825, Terrapene carolina maculata, Terrapene nebulosa Bell 1825, Terrapene carolina nebulosa, Testudo irregulata Daudin in Gray 1830 (nomen nudum), Emys kinosternoides Gray 1830, Terrapene kinosternoides, Emys cinosternoides Duméril and Bibron 1835 (nomen novum), Cistudo carolina cinosteroides, Cistudo cinosternoides, Terrapene cinosternoides, Cistudo virginea Agassiz 1857, Cistudo eurypygia † Cope 1870, Terrapene eurypygia, Toxaspis anguillulatus † Cope 1899, Terrapene anguillulatus, Testudo munda † Hay 1920.

Subspecies. – Six subspecies are currently recognized: 1) Terrapene carolina carolina (Linnaeus 1758) (Woodland Box Turtle) (distribution: eastern USA from southern Maine to northern Florida, New York and Michigan, west to southern Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, northern Mississippi and Alabama; also historically southern Ontario, Canada); 2) Terrapene c. bauri Taylor 1895 (Florida Box Turtle) (synonymy: Terrapene bauri Taylor 1895, Pariemys bauri, Cistudo bauri, Terrapene carolina bauri, Terrapene innoxia † Hay 1916a, Trachemys nuchocarinata † Hay 1916a (nomen dubium), Terrapene singletoni † Gilmore 1927 (distribution: peninsular Florida, USA); 3) Terrapene c. major (Agassiz 1857) (Gulf Coast Box Turtle) (synonymy: Cistudo major Agassiz 1857, Cistudo carolina major, Terrapene major, Toxaspis major, Terrapene carolina major, Cistudo marnochii † Cope 1878, Terrapene marnochii, Terrapene putnami † Hay 1906, Terrapene carolina putnami, Terrapene canaliculata † Hay 1907, Terrapene formosa † Hay 1916a, Terrapene antipex † Hay 1916) (distribution: along the Gulf of Mexico, USA, panhandle of Florida, southern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and southeast Texas); 4) Terrapene c. mexicana (Gray 1849) (Mexican Box Turtle) (synonymy: Cistudo (Onychotria) mexicana Gray 1849, Onychotria mexicana, Cistudo mexicana, Cistudo carolina mexicana, Chelopus mexicanus, Terrapene mexicana, Terrapene mexicana mexicana, Terrapene carolina mexicana, Terrapene goldmani Stejneger 1933) (distribution: eastern Mexico in San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz); 5) Terrapene c. triunguis (Agassiz 1857) (Three-toed Box Turtle) (synonomy: Cistudo triunguis Agassiz 1857, Cistudo carolina triunguis, Terrapene triunguis, Onychotria triunguis, Terrapene carolina triunguis, Terrapene mexicana triunguis, Terrapene whitneyi † Hay 1916b, Terrapene bulverda † Hay 1920, Terrapene impressa † Hay 1924, Terrapene llanensis † Oelrich 1953) (distribution: southern and central USA, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas); 6) Terrapene c. yucatana (Boulenger 1895) (Yucatan Box Turtle) (synonymy: Cistudo yucatana Boulenger 1895, Terrapene yucatana, Terrapene mexicana yucatana, Terrapene carolina yucatana) (distribution: Yucatán peninsula, Mexico, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán).

Status.IUCN 2014 Red List: Vulnerable (VU A2bcde+4bcde, assessed 2011); CITES: Appendix II (as Terrapene spp.)



Kiester, A.R. and Willey, L.L. 2015. Terrapene carolina (Linnaeus 1758) – Eastern Box Turtle, Common Box Turtle. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(8):085.1–25, doi:10.3854/crm.5.085.carolina.v1.2015, //iucn-tftsg.org/cbftt/.

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Adult male Terrapene carolina carolina from Virginia, USA.
Photo by Peter Paul van Dijk.



Distribution of Terrapene carolina in the United States and Canada (now extirpated) (upper map) and in Mexico (lower map). Purple lines = boundaries delimiting major watersheds (level 3 hydrologic unit compartments – HUCs); red dots = museum and literature occurrence records based on Iverson (1992) and Kiester and Bock (2007) plus more recent data, including specific information from Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey (a joint project of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission), the New York State Herp Atlas Project, and the authors’ personal data; yellow dots = historic observations where populations have likely been extirpated; broad gray lines = approximate boundaries between the U.S. subspecies as delineated by Dodd (2001), with T. c. carolina (1) in the northeast, T. c. bauri (2) in peninsular Florida, T. c. major (3) along the Gulf Coast, T. c. triunguis (4) in the west, and a broad zone of hybridization (h) between the four subspecies in the southeast; T. c. mexicana (5) in eastern Mexico and T. c. yucatana (6) on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; green shading = projected native distribution based on GIS-defined HUCs constructed around verified localities and then adding HUCs that connect known point localities in the same watershed or physiographic region, and similar habitats and elevations as verified HUCs (Buhlmann et al. 2009; TTWG 2014), and adjusted based on authors’ subsequent data.