Can Box Turtles Swim?

two box turtles swimming

If you have ever come across a box turtle, you might have asked yourself, “Can these tiny creatures even swim?” Well, we would say that this is a valid question, and we have the answer in this article! After all, you may know that turtles are known as the “swimming creatures,” and box turtles have a unique appearance that can make you think otherwise.

Yes, Box turtles can swim! Box Turtles are originally known to come from Native America and are widely recognized as Terrestrial animals. However, they occasionally do require water to survive. You can easily differentiate between a box turtle and a regular pond turtle based on their domed shells.  

However, unlike other turtle species, box turtles have the ability to entirely retract into their own shells. But the question again arises, can box turtles swim? Continue reading to find out!

Can Box Turtles Swim?  

To give you a short and quick answer: Yes! Box turtles can actually swim. They are generally seen swimming in the wild. 

However, the Coahuilan box turtle, a specific box turtle species, is the only aquatic box turtle known, and they generally only swim to cool down or only if they really have to. Adding to this, the ability of box turtles entirely depends on their subspecies. 

Hence, box turtles do not spend a lot of time in the water, and they definitely do not sleep in the water as well. They can just swim if they really want to. 

However, box turtles are known to be clumsy swimmers since they have short feet with tiny individual toes. This, in turn, helps them to swim across from one end to another. 

However, there are certain limitations when it comes to box turtles swimming. You will read more about it further in this article.  

Are Box Turtles Underwater Swimmers?  

As we have already established, box turtles are not very strong swimmers. If a box turtle has to cross a river or pond from one end to the other, and the water is quite deep, it is highly likely for the box turtle to sink! 

Box turtles are known to swim a short distances. You will always find box turtles swimming only in shallow water. After spending time in the water, box turtles tend to require rest, so they return to land. 

Therefore, unlike other species of turtles, there is a high chance that you might never find a box turtle swimming underwater. Hence, if box turtles do want to swim, you will only find them swimming in water that is shallow. 

Is It Safe For Box Turtles To Swim? 

Even though box turtles can swim up to some point, you must keep in mind that they are not professional swimmers like other aquatic animals. The shells of box turtles are comparatively not sturdy enough, which can be dangerous for them if left unattended.

Therefore, if you want to introduce your box turtle to water, it is extremely important to provide a controlled and safe environment.

To ensure that it is safe for box turtles to swim, do not leave your turtle in deep water. A tiny tank with little water should be more than enough for your box turtle to enjoy their time in the water without being supervised. 

At this point, you must also keep in mind to provide them with a shore they can go to once they get tired of swimming or being in the water.

Some people find that box turtles might keep swimming against the glass of the tank, there are various reasons, you can read about them here.

Can a Box Turtle Swim For a Long Period Of Time?

No, box turtles can find it very difficult to swim for a long time. Just like their other species, box turtles are not aquatic animals and hence cannot spend a lot of time in the water. 

You will often find a box turtle swimming on top of water surfaces such as rivers, ponds, and lakes. This helps them reach their destination to the shore quicker and faster, without having to swim much. 

A box turtle will only swim if they have somewhere to be. So it is highly unlikely for you to see a box turtle swimming in the middle of a large lake, river, or pond. 

However, there are chances where you can find these box turtles swimming in shallow water. Since they tend to spend a long time in shallow water, you will only see them go as deep as they can for them to swim out in a short period of time.  

However, there is one exception when it comes to a box turtle swimming for a long period of time. The Coahuilan box turtle is known to swim in water for a long period of time. They are known to spend about 90% of their lifetime just being in the water!  

Does a Box Turtle Require Water?

Just like all turtles, a box turtle does require water in order to survive. Although a box turtle looks similar to a tortoise, these creatures require much more water to survive. They also comparatively need to be in a much more humid client.  

However, it is important to keep in mind that the amount of water is entirely dependent on the type of box turtle you have. 

Moreover, having your box turtle in a shallow water environment is highly recommended as they can receive the adequate amount of water they require. You need to make sure that the water is not too deep so the box turtles do not end up drowning. 

How Much Water Do Box Turtles Require?

There are three things to follow when it comes to understanding how much water box turtles might require. 

  1. Water Storage

Box turtles, in any case, need to be in areas where there is less water. Therefore, if you have a box turtle at home, you need to make sure that you fill the tank just enough for the turtle to fit in. 

  1. Depth

The depth of the water should not be too deep. Instead, a box turtle best survives in shallow water. If the water gets too deep, there is a high possibility for the box turtle to drown instantly. 

  1. Chemicals

As you read further, you will understand that there are certain chemicals in the water that you must avoid at all costs. It is very important to ensure that the water does not contain any chlorine whatsoever.

Even though box turtles are mainly land animals, they do require some amount of water to survive. They also enjoy themselves in water. 

Apart from this, they use water as a source of food. This is why you need to make sure that the water area for box turtles is not too deep and just enough for them to survive and have fun at the same time. 

Can a Box Turtle Be Hydrated Using Tap Water?

Although box turtles are not aquatic creatures, they require water to survive. As you may have read above, they also require a high humid temperature. They need to be soaked in water regularly, while their shells need to remain moist at all times. However, here the question arises if ‘using tap water is safe or not.’ 

To answer this question: No, it is not recommended to hydrate a box turtle using tap water. The chloramines and chlorine that are found in tap water can be very toxic for a box turtle. These chemicals generally tend to irritate the eyes of a box turtle. They can also leave certain white spots on the box turtle. 

Therefore, the best option to hydrate a box turtle would be to use either distilled water or mineral water. You can provide them with a few liters of water per week, and your box turtle should be good to go! 

However, once again, the only exception, in this case, would be a Coahuilan box turtle. 

If you have a Coahulian box turtle at home, then you will need an aquarium. You can fill this aquarium using regular tap water, but make sure you use a water conditioner. 


Although Box Turtles may not be in the same league as sea turtles, they do have the ability to swim. They are clumsy swimmers, but they do know how to make their way to survive. They can paddle and swim, but they are not known to be long-term swimmers like other aquatic creatures. 

However, if the water is too deep, it might end up harming the box turtle leading to an unfortunate event. 

Therefore, it is important to provide a controlled and safe environment for all box turtles. Don’t forget that box turtles are mainly terrestrial animals, and spending too much time with water can, in turn, harm them. 

Box turtles, with their adorable tiny legs and looks, are highly adaptive in nature, and they will continue to amaze us with this. So next time you come across a box turtle, or if you decide to adopt a box turtle, make sure you take the time to admire their various abilities to adapt on both water as well as land.

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