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Can Box Turtles Swim? – The Ultimate Guide

By Kerry
Updated on

Box turtles are a species of terrestrial turtle, which means they spend most of their lives on land. Because of this, many people have questioned whether or not the species can swim or live in water.

Box turtle on a rock

Box turtles are native to North America, where they can be found in woodlands, forests, and swamps. The species can be identified by its domed shell, which sets it apart from other turtles. Box turtles can also retract into their shell as a way to avoid predators and other dangers.

But can box turtles swim? In this article, we will take a closer look at whether box turtles can swim, as well as other important information you need to know.

Can Box Turtles Swim?

The short and simple answer is yes – box turtles can swim. In fact, the species has been recorded swimming in the wild.

However, this does not mean that all box turtles are capable of swimming, as certain species are less adept than others. In some cases, box turtles can even look awkward when entering the water.

Unlike aquatic turtles, who are born with webbed feet, box turtles are born with short legs and individual toes. While these features make it easier to survive on land, they do not work well when it comes to swimming.

Because of this, it is recommended that you build a safe habitat for your pet turtle, as box turtles will need shallow water and plenty of room to wander.

Despite not being the best swimmers, box turtles still need to spend some time in the water. Although they will use this time differently than aquatic species.

In short, box turtles are able to swim. However, they aren’t built for deep water and can be clumsy in their movements. If you compare a swimming box turtle to a red-eared slider, you will see the difference in their skills and abilities.

Can All Box Turtles Swim?

Now that you know box turtles can swim, you are probably wondering if this applies to all box turtles or a specific species. To help answer this question, we have compiled some information about box turtles and their habitats:

Eastern Box Turtles

Eastern box turtles on white background

Eastern box turtles can be found in meadows, fields, and woodlands – where they have been known to swim in pools and streams. The species is able to hibernate underwater and can even cover short distances. But if the water is too deep then the turtles could sink to the bottom and drown.

Florida Box Turtles

Florida box turtles walking

Florida box turtles are native to the titular state – where they can be found in wetlands, marshes, and swamps. The species prefers to live in shallow water and will spend its time basking in the sun. Because of this, Florida box turtles don’t really swim and prefer to sit in the water.

Three-Toed Box Turtles

Three-toed box turtles on white background

These box turtles are native to the southern states and are not known for their swimming prowess. Because of this, these turtles should be kept in shallow water, as they love to soak and rest in the sun.

Gulf Coast Box Turtles

Gulf coast box turtles getting out of the water

Gulf Coast box turtles are native to the swamps and marshes of Mexico – where they are known to swim in shallow waters. Because of this, the species thrives in the gulf regions, where the water level remains consistent throughout the year.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, as it would be impossible to record the swimming abilities of each species. However, it seems that most box turtles can swim when needed, although there are some exceptions.

While most box turtles live around water, there are some species that are secluded in dry and barren conditions.

For example, there is no record of the Desert box turtle being able to swim, which could be related to its natural habitat. The same goes for the Asian box turtle, which also lives in harsh areas.

Our general consensus is that most box turtles are able to swim when needed. Whether that be for hibernation or to escape a predator. However, this does not mean that box turtles are comfortable in deep water, as they can drown at certain depths.

Can Box Turtles Swim Far?

Box turtles will commonly swim on the surface of the water, especially when swimming in lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks. Because the species is terrestrial in nature, they will not swim for pleasure and will use their abilities to travel or reach food.

However, this does not mean that box turtles can swim great distances or that they will remain in the water for long periods of time. This is a complete contrast to aquatic turtles such as cooters and sliders, which will spend their days swimming at the bottom of rivers and lakes.

For this reason, it is rare that you will see a box turtle swimming in a large pond or lake, as they prefer to remain on the land. In most cases, you will instead encounter sliders and cooters around large bodies of water.

Can Box Turtles Swim Underwater?

Because box turtles are terrestrial animals, they do not usually swim under the water. Instead, they prefer to stay above the surface and will only submerge themselves when necessary. This includes during hibernation or when they need to hide from natural predators.

However, this does not mean that box turtles cannot dive underwater, as they have been recorded doing so. It is just uncommon, as box turtles tend to avoid getting wet.

While it remains unclear how long a box turtle can remain submerged, the species has been documented diving for up to 60 minutes. Although this may seem like an extremely long period of time, it is still much shorter than other aquatic turtles.

It should also be noted that during these dives the turtle does not swim and instead sinks to the bottom until it is ready to surface. For this reason, it can be assumed that box turtles are capable of swimming underwater, although the occurrence is rare.

Can Box Turtles Live Underwater?

When caring for box turtles, it is important to remember that they are terrestrial creatures, which means they have been built for the land and not for the water.

While some box turtles are able to swim, this does not mean that they are able to live in the water full-time, as they are not aquatic animals.

This is why box turtles are rarely found living in freshwater environments, as they prefer to live near streams and small bodies of water, where they can easily access fresh drinking water.

As mentioned above, box turtles will submerge themselves when threatened by predators or during times of stress. For this reason, many people believe that they can live underwater, but this belief is incorrect.

Despite being able to breathe air while submerged, box turtles are unable to survive in an environment that is completely void of oxygen. As a result, they must return to the surface every few hours to take a breath.

When keeping box turtles, it is important that you build them a habitat that is spacious and filled with shallow water, as they will still need to soak from time to time.

Can Box Turtles Live Without Water?

Box turtle looking up

If you are wondering if box turtles can live without water, then the answer is no. If you want your box turtle to thrive, then you will need to provide them with plenty of space and a source of clean drinking water.

Water helps turtles to swallow their food, while also keeping them hydrated in warm weather.

Despite their limited swimming abilities, box turtles will also need shallow water for them to soak in, as well as somewhere to bask. In addition, box turtles require a large amount of space in order to move around freely.

Unlike their aquatic counterparts, box turtles are not born with webbed feet, which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to swimming.

Because of this, you will need to make sure that the water level in their enclosure remains at a consistent and shallow depth. This way, they will always have easy access to fresh water and a place where they can sit.

However, there is another reason why you should provide your box turtle with shallow water.

Can Box Turtles Drown?

Since box turtles are generally considered to be slow swimmers, they are more susceptible to drowning. Although they may be able to reach the surface after being submerged, they are unlikely to do so unless the surrounding area is very shallow.

In addition, box turtles are prone to drowning because they burn more energy swimming than most other species. As a result, if you keep your box turtle in a pool that is too deep, then they could drown or have trouble staying above the surface.

So how much water do box turtles need? The general rule of thumb is that they need to fit their entire body in the water.

However, you should never put your box turtle in water that is deeper than its head. For this reason, we would recommend filling their tank with only a few inches of clean water.

Can Box Turtles Swim In Tap Water?

Since box turtles don’t need much water in their tanks, you might be tempted to fill your enclosure with water from the tap. Something that we would not recommend, as it could prove fatal to your turtle’s health.

Instead, you should fill the turtle’s tank with distilled water, as this is cleaner and more suitable for your reptilian pet.

There are many reasons why you should avoid using tap water to fill your turtle’s tank. First of all, tap water contains fluoride, which is toxic to reptiles.

Second, tap water tends to contain higher levels of minerals and metals, such as calcium and magnesium. These elements can cause problems for your turtle if they get into their system.

In contrast, distilled water is much more natural and does not contain any chemicals or cleaners. It is therefore safe for your box turtle to drink, even though it has been filtered through a machine.

While turtles are known to swim in ponds and lakes, distilled water still remains a better option for them than tap water, as it is clean and pure.

Box turtles don’t need a lot of water in their habitat, so you won’t have to purchase a large amount of distilled water when caring for your pet.

Can Box Turtles Get Sick In Water?

Yes! Box turtles can get sick just like any other animal. They can also catch diseases from one another, especially if they live together in an aquarium.

If you keep multiple turtles in a single tank, you should consider separating them by sex. This way, you will be able to prevent your male turtles from mating with female turtles, thereby preventing disease transmission between the two groups.

Another thing that you should take care of while keeping box turtles is making sure that they aren’t overexposed to water, as this can also have a negative impact on their health.

It is important to remember that box turtles are terrestrial, which means they should not be left in the water for long periods of time.

If your box turtles are unable to bask and dry themselves, then they could develop skin problems and other nasty conditions.


Can box turtles swim? The answer is yes – although their abilities are somewhat limited due to their terrestrial nature. As long as they have access to enough freshwater, they can survive without having to spend too much time in the water.

However, you should make sure that you keep your box turtles away from deep water, as some species can drown when exposed to certain depths.

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About the author


Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners.Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.