We’ve raised box turtles from birth, guided them through their first steps, and watched them grow up into the best of friends. I must say that they’re one of the most docile turtle species, making them a great pet around kids.
But do box turtles bite people? Although these turtles are generally considered harmless to humans, they can bite people. But even then, they’ll rarely bite unless under certain circumstances, including self-defense.
Still, you might want to know more about the bite of a turtle box. I’ll take a closer look at how it feels, what to do when bitten, and situations where a box turtle might bite you.
Do Common Box Turtles Bite?
Yes, box turtles bite, though it rarely happens unless they’re in grave danger or mistake part of your body for food. Indeed, they don’t have teeth. Nevertheless, they have a sharp beak they can use to bite you.
Most often, box turtles would bite your fingers or toes. But the question is, will it hurt, and how much damage can it cause? Well, it depends.
Adults, for instance, may not find the bite very painful. However, the tender fingers of small kids might sustain injuries.
Also, the damage the bite causes depend on the turtle’s size. It’s a relatively minor concern if you have small turtles. But the bite from an adult box turtle can bruise you.
They often won’t bite that hard and will let go as soon as they realize their mistake. You’ll barely feel it in such a situation— it will be more of a nip than a bite.
But in some cases, they wouldn’t want to let go, and you might end up with a little more than a bruise.
The bruised area hurting might not be the real problem. You need to worry more about the fungal infection afterward. Box turtles, or Terrapene Carolina, carry Salmonella bacteria that might cause infections in people. (fda.gov)
Salmonella symptoms may include headache, stomach pains, vomiting, and nausea. But in severe cases, you might develop diarrhea or fever.
The symptoms don’t kick in immediately. It can be 6-72 hours after contact with the Salmonella bacteria. And once it does, it can last anywhere from 2-7 days. While most recover without treatment, it’s often best to seek medical attention.
Though they bite (rarely), box turtles are easy to tame and make great pets if you know how to treat them well. Plus, they’ll often hiss as a sign of defense, which gives you a warning sign to steer clear.
Reasons Why Box Turtles Might Bite You
Box turtles aren’t aggressive turtles, not like snapping turtles. So, they won’t bite you over small matters.
However, knowing what will provoke your pet turtle to bite you in the first place will help you enjoy each other’s company much more! Here are five reasons box turtles might bite you and what to do about it.
Box turtles are not aggressive but will try to defend themselves if necessary. They’re well-known for their defense mechanism of biting when threatened or cornered.
If you accidentally step on its shell, it may react with irritation (this is normal!). Also, if you frighten the turtle by startling it with loud noises or sudden movements, the turtle may react aggressively and try to bite back.
Box turtles love cuddling, they love to be held, and they love to be petted! However, they may bite if you handle them roughly or try to pick them up too quickly. They’ll also bite if you mishandle them during feeding time or when trying to move them from one habitat to another.
So, be gentle when handling them. If you must pick up your turtle, do so carefully and gently.
Protection of eggs, food, or hatchling
A box turtle will fiercely protect her eggs, hatchlings, and even food from potential predators, including you. So, it may lash out and bite you if you get too close to its eggs or hatchlings.
A hungry turtle might bite you in search of food. It might mistake your toes or fingers for food. Also, an empty stomach can make the turtle snappy and irritated.
Mating season, hunger, change of environment, and territorial aggression can trigger stress. But you’ll often know it when your turtle is stressed. Tell-tale signs include hissing, panting, and retracting.
But this doesn’t mean you should avoid your turtle altogether! If a box turtle bites you, just make sure you don’t try to fight back or hurt the animal. Instead, stay calm and let the turtle know everything is okay by slowly backing away from it.
Can A Box Turtle Bite Off Your Finger or Toe?
No, it can’t. Box turtles have a bite force of 25 newtons. That’s ten times less than that of a snapping turtle with a bite force of 226 newtons.
So, a box turtle doesn’t have a strong bite to snap or hold onto your fingers or toes with force. They can only give you some bruises at best.
However, turtle species, such as the alligator turtles, have powerful bites that can snap off your finger.
What Happens When A Box Turtle Bites?
In the worst-case scenario, the bite might inflict wounds, leaving you with a few bruises. Other than that, you won’t feel too much pain or discomfort. Also, the pain tends to go away in a few hours. Often, a bite to the forearm is more painful than one on the toes or fingers, and your skin may turn pink for a while.
While generally less painful, a bite from a box turtle can lead to bacterial infections. So, you might have to consult a doctor if you see any signs of blood.
What To Do If A Box Turtle Bites You?
Once it bites you, a box turtle will most likely cling on a bit longer. If that’s the case, don’t hit or try to pull the turtle, as this will make it clench even tighter. Instead, give it time to let go.
Once you’re free, wash the area with mild soap and warm water. Also, you can put it in running water to relieve painful bites.
In case of any wounds, apply antibiotics and cover with a bandage. Also, you may want to see a doctor if the wound stings, turns yellowish, or oozes with discharge.
Tips To Avoid Getting Bitten By A Box Turtle
- Make sure to handle them gently. Don’t try to pick them up from behind- they can’t see you and might get scared. Also, try introducing handling slowly over time so that they learn how nice humans can be.
- Be mindful not to invade their territory too much. They might see this as an invasion and bite you out of self-defense!
- Avoid putting your fingers near their mouths- they might mistake them for food. Also, avoid wearing footwear that might expose your toes.
- Be careful when moving them to new habitats – they might feel threatened and lash out.
- Feed your turtles regularly and provide clean water.
Can A Box Turtle Bite Its Tankmates?
Box turtles can bite each other. But again, it rarely happens. Reasons that might push them to bite each other include territorial aggression in congested spaces, limited resources, and mating frustrations.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, they don’t have teeth. Instead, they have a cutting edge on their mouth. It’s more like a flat beak that they use for self-defense and feeding.
In most cases, the bite isn’t dangerous, though a little painful. However, it can lead to salmonellosis if there’s a wound.
Yes, a box turtle makes a good pet! Box turtles are relatively small, don’t require a huge space or much food, and make great companions.
But I wouldn’t recommend a box turtle to a beginner as it’s a little difficult to take care of.
Despite what seems like a docile nature for these animals, box turtles do bite people. But they rarely do so unless cornered, threatened, or for survival tactics. Also, their bite isn’t much of a concern unless it inflicts a wound that might cause Salmonella infections.
I recommend spending time with your box turtle so that it can become familiar with you and associate you with something good. This behavior will subside.