Bruce’s Picks: 3 Toed Box Turtle Food, Treats, Toys, Supplies and More

Bruce joined our little flock as an adult rescued 3-toed box turtle.

When I say “rescued,” what I mean is that Malti went missing for six days and I posted signs with her picture on them all over (and I do mean ALL over) our neighborhood.

Then people kept finding Bruce and calling me and announcing, “I’ve found your missing turtle!”

This happened twice in the space of six days – once on the first day Malti went missing and once on day six, just a few hours before I finally found Malti. That particular day, after a sweet young couple scooped Bruce up right before he stepped off the curb out onto one of the busiest streets in our community, I said I would foster him until a suitable permanent home could be arranged.

(Spoiler alert) A suitable permanent home was quickly arranged….here at our undeniably crowded yet homey little casa.

Bruce en route to the dreaded v.e.t. for his initial fostering checkup….he wouldn’t stay in his makeshift towel-lined car carrier so he rode the whole way there on his smitten (soon-to-be) mommy’s lap. SWOON.

The products you are about to discover are Bruce’s current reigning favs. As these products change, his large shell-less assistant will be sure to update them for you here!

Bruce's Picks: Box turtle food.

Bruce only likes fresh food. He particularly prefers his Grandma’s fresh organic steamed wild-caught salmon (boneless, skin-off).

He also loves hunting live prey….particularly escargot and the plump and delicious earthworms his mommy brings him back from the fishing shop at a nearby state park.

We’ve tried all manner of canned, boxed and bagged box turtle food – but while “box turtle food” may be what the label claims it is, it is a clear no-go with Bruce. Perhaps since he has spent much of his life (at least so far as we know) foraging on his own for fresh wild victuals, he simply doesn’t recognize pellets or mush or Mazuri as “food.” This makes perfect sense to his rescue mama and so we just don’t offer these anymore.

Bruce also likes mango, blueberries, figs, and (at least from what I can tell from the state of the formerly lovely aloe vera plant inside his habitat) the occasional aloe leaf.

Bruce's Picks: Vitamins & minerals.

We use TNT (Total Nutrition for Tortoises) from Carolina Pet Supply. Every so often (like every week or so) I sprinkle a bit of it on Bruce’s food when he isn’t looking and then cross my fingers. So far, so good.

If Bruce lived inside and his main source of ultraviolet spectrum light came from an artificial bulb and his veterinarian recommended it, I might also sprinkle some calcium supplement on his food like I do for Malti.

But since he lives outdoors 100 percent of the time and gets his UV from the sun, everything I’ve read thus far about captive box turtle care tells me calcium supplementation isn’t necessary, and our veterinary team corroborates.

Bruce's Picks: Box turtle treats.

Bruce gets treats at every meal, since his absolute favorite food on the planet is his Grandma’s steamed organic wild-caught salmon. Sometimes it is the only food I can get him to eat, period, so he always gets at least a little tidbit on his plate….that is, unless live wriggling earthworms or escargot are on the menu.

If I am desperate to get him to try some greens or fruits, I lightly sprinkle salmon juices on the rest of his meal. Sometimes this works, although honestly I have yet to see him eat a green or veggie unless it is clearly by accident.

I also attempt to feed him gut-loaded live mealworms (medium or large size) every now and again. He used to love them but lately he mostly ignores them….probably because he is full of salmon or earthworms.

Bruce's Picks: Pet water bowl.

Bruce, like pretty much all turtles, drinks and swims and bathrooms all in the same place – his water bowl, aka the box turtle pond. It is a very large bowl! I got it at Home Depot and it holds more than a gallon of water at a time.

I change it at least daily….sometimes more frequently when it is hot out and I can see he’s already had a swim or two.

For the week or so Bruce initially lived indoors, he got spring water. Now he gets water from the garden hose. It may not be pure, but it is pretty authentic as far as what he was likely drinking before he was rescued to us and I have yet to see any ill-effects from using it, thank goodness.

Bruce's Picks: Box turtle substrate.

Box turtles love to dig and burrow. In fact, Bruce is an amazing natural athlete. He can easily climb anything he can get a claw grip into and if he falls on his back he just reaches out a leg and turns himself over (a feat his much bulkier tortoise sister, Malti, will likely never master).

But Bruce can live without climbing and still be reasonably content. What he can’t live happily without is digging and there are research studies to support this. So I give him plenty of substrate (the stuff that covers his outdoor enclosure) to dig and burrow into.

He gets a nice thick layer of organic pure topsoil (no fertilizer or additives). Over that I spread cypress mulch and sometimes some Zoo Med ReptiBark.

In the spring I seed his dirt with rye grass or lawn grass or anything that grows quickly enough that he won’t just sit on it and kill it.

In the winter, he also gets a thick layer of hay. The first year he was with me, I used natural horse hay I got from an actual stable. The second year I used food-grade hay from the pet store (like this kind). The third year winter came all of a sudden so I rushed to the pet store and got food-grade hay again. He doesn’t seem to care which kind I use, but if you can get natural hay that is fine since he doesn’t eat it. It’s just for warmth while he hibernates.

Bruce's Picks: Winter box turtle warmer.

Speaking of hibernation, Bruce is a “hibernating” species. Even though three-toed box turtles are native to Texas where we live, his natural range extends all the way up into colder areas in the south/central region of the United States, so he can and does eagerly hibernate the moment temperatures begin to drop.

Ideally, Bruce’s habitat would be a permanent enclosure on the ground so he could burrow down into the natural earth as far as seemed reasonable for him to stay as warm as he wanted to stay while dialing his metabolism way back to hibernate.

But since his mommy rents rather than owns, his enclosure stands up on a table and he only has a limited layer of dirt to burrow into. So his vet helped us work out something special. I add more cypress mulch on top of his dirt, then put up plastic (those flexible plastic cutting boards work well here) around the sides of one end of his enclosure. In front of those I place natural wood logs for extra insulation.

Then I drop big whopping handfuls of hay in between the logs all the way up to the roof of his enclosure. After that I put more insulating material (a mesh layer that also doubles as a cooling top screen in summer) around the outside of that end of his enclosure. And then I wrap that whole end in a tarp and secure it for insulation while he hibernates. So I think he’s pretty warm and cozy!

Bruce's Picks: Summer box turtle cooler.

I use mesh fabric suggested by our vet that I place over the top of his outdoor enclosure to help block the heat when our Texas summer really ramps up.

I got mine at Lowe’s. It comes on self-serve rolls and I just cut six feet off and then laid it over the top of Bruce’s enclosure when I noticed he was estivating (a form of hibernation reptiles do when it gets too hot outside).

Bruce's Picks: Box turtle UV light.

Bruce lives outdoors 24/7 so I actually don’t have to use any artificial UV light supplementation for him. This makes this aspect of his care so much easier and less stressful!

Bruce's Picks: Box turtle toys.

Bruce has no concept of “toys.” But he does love to dig and climb and swim and explore. So his toys are his plants and swimming pool and the natural wood logs I arrange for him to climb and sit on and all the dirt and mulch he burrows in.

Surprisingly, he also gravitates towards my iPhone camera, probably because he can see a faint reflection of what probably looks like a very cute lady box turtle in the back of it! I also made him a little pom-pom weepul toy I call “Mrs. Mini-Bruce” and you can see films of him playing with it on the Films page here and on our flockwide YouTube channel.

He and Malti share a fully enclosed L-shaped outdoor play area that extends around two sides of my garage apartment. It is fully enclosed because we have hawks and cats and sometimes coyotes in the area. I have planted hibiscus and there is grass and clover and dirt on one half and a bricked area on the other half to give them plenty of variety to climb and hunt and explore around. They both like this area a lot!

Bruce’s favorite weather is my least favorite weather – hot, humid, just before or after a big storm. That is when the hunting is best in the outdoor play area and so he always gets first dibs under these conditions. 🙂


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