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Box Turtle Swim

Box Turtle Swim | Can Box Turtles Swim or Not?

Box turtles are a prevalent pet turtle species. It is also a terrestrial species among turtles.  Therefore, it would spend most of its lifetime on dry land. So, people are curious about box turtle swim and keep asking us whether box turtles can swim or not.

So, I researched it, and here’s the answer.

Yes, box turtles can swim, but their swimming capacity isn’t that great. Also, it is recommended that your pet box turtle has fewer swimming reasons for its health.

Also, I will now discuss factors related to box turtle swimming capacity and its effect when it is forced to swim vigorously for one reason or another.

Can Box Turtle Swim or Not?

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The short answer to this burning and popular question is put here.

Box turtles can swim. In fact, many people both in the wild and in enclosures have seen the box turtle swimming. But, they aren’t adept swimmers, and you will find their swimming somewhat clumsy.

So, why can’t box turtles swim like typical aquatic turtle species?

Well, aquatic species like red-eared slider comes with long and webbed that enable them to swim efficiently and swiftly. However, box turtles, unlike these aquatic species, have very short legs. Also, their toes are individual instead of webbed.

These two features create obstructions in their actual swimming capacity.

Since box turtles find it difficult to swim, you need to be extra careful while preparing their habitat at home. Always use an aquarium or pond with shallow water instead of deep water for these turtle species.

Also, ensure sufficient dry space and basking spots for them. It will help them navigate in the dry land than swimming, and it will also relieve them from additional stress.

Will All Subspecies of Box Turtle Swim?

Honestly speaking, there’re not many subspecies or types of box turtles. You will find as many as 14 kinds of box turtle types in the wild and enclosure.

All these box turtles find their origin in the sea turtle. Similarly, most of today’s box turtles in captivity are linked with the American pond turtle family. It is perhaps and importantly safe to say that almost all box turtles can swim, especially when necessity comes forward. For instance, if any predator chases these species, they will definitely go into the water and swim for life.

But there’s a difficulty.

If the water level inside the pond or tank is too deep in the pond, it will exponentially increase the chance of a box turtle drowning while it swims in the pond. Hence, never prepare the box turtle ponds too deep otherwise, you will lose your slow-moving friend.

How Long Can Your Box Turtle Swim?

So, here’s another burning question that box turtle owners look for an answer to. Box turtles will swim on the top surface of the water and won’t go deep into it. They swim mainly to go into an actual location and will only cross small ponds or creeks if they come across their path.

Since box turtles aren’t aquatic and not experts at swimming, they won’t swim for an extended period. Ideally, their swimming period won’t be more than a few minutes.

So, you will rarely observe any box turtle swimming in the middle of a large pond or lake. It is highly contrasted with the red-eared slider, painted turtles, and even cotters that will spend most of their life in water and swimming.

So, here’s the summary-

A box turtle won’t swim for long in the water, and you will rarely see it crossing a large lake or pond unless it is escaping from predators.

Will Box Turtle Swim Underwater?

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We have already mentioned that box turtles swim mostly in shallow water and cross any water body through its surface mostly.

So, what happens if it has to cross a large lake or pond with deep water?

If a box turtle is forced to swim in deep water, say underwater for a long time, it will get tired soon and start drowning. You will find it resting underwater near shallow spaces while crossing big ponds and lakes for the same reason.

However, the capacity to sit underwater for resting isn’t highly remarkable for the turtle either. Although I haven’t counted it, it won’t be more than a few minutes.

Hence, you must rescue the pet box turtles from underneath the water if you find them resting. Because in most cases, it won’t be able to come above the surface if it is too exhausted due to excessive swimming.

Ideal Water Level and Parameters for The Box Turtle Habitat

Since we now know that box turtles aren’t great swimmers and can’t swim in deep water for long, it brings us to the all-important question.  What is the ideal water level for the box turtle habitat?

It is essential to know since you will have to prepare their pond and habitat accordingly to get drawn into the water.

Aquatic turtles live mostly on creatures such as plankton and aerobic insects. These are found on the surface water, so marine turtles don’t go deep into the water. As an inherent of the greater American pond turtle species, the box turtles are no exception.

So, box turtles will also live and feed on the food they find easily in the surface water. So, what is the right water level for them?

As a general rule, the box turtle pond’s water level should not cross more than half its shell height. It will help them move and eat food at ease in the pond and come out of it whenever necessary.

 Also, box turtles will swim and feed in clean water. Therefore, you must keep the tank and enclosure neat and clean.

It is recommended that you clean the box turtle tank once every 3 weeks at least. Also, note that tap water contains chlorine, which might cause white spots on the turtle shell. So, either dechlorinate the tap water or use distilled water for the box turtle pond and tank.


We hope you now have a clear idea of the question, ‘Can box turtle swim?” Since these species aren’t great swimmer and gets exhausted soon while swimming, keep their surrounding dry mostly. And for their ponds, keep the water level at half of their shell height.

This way, you can keep them happy and healthy. 

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