can a box turtle swim

Can a Box Turtle Swim?

Box turtles, unlike other American pond turtles, have a completely different story when it comes to swimming. While box turtle often swims in tap water, it’s rare to see them swimming in deep water. However, if they swim in the water, they’ll tend to float along its surface to avoid drowning. 

Box turtles, unlike other American pond turtles, have a completely different story when it comes to swimming. While box turtle often swims in tap water, it’s rare to see them swimming in deep water. However, if they swim in the water, they’ll tend to float along its surface to avoid drowning. 

That’s because box turtles are incapable of swimming in deep water. Spending excessive time in deep water can make them drown. However, it doesn’t imply that they cannot swim. They can but for a limited time. So, this brings up a lot of questions in the mind of box turtle owners. 

How long can they swim? Do they need water? Why do they drown in deep water? This article answers all these questions and clarifies the relationship of box turtles with water. 

Can a Box Turtle Swim?

Yes, a box turtle can indeed swim in water for a limited period. However, these turtles only like to swim in shallow water because of their adaptation to marshes and wetlands. Although box turtles aren’t excellent swimmers, they tend to share a liking for swimming in shallow water. Typically, their swimming styles include doggie paddling and floating. 

By now, you must know that box turtles aren’t the best swimmers. They can only swim in shallow water and for shorter distances. Coming ashore becomes crucial for them to rest after they swim for a short period. 

Unlike turtle species like snapping turtles, map turtles, and cooters, box turtles never swim underwater. If submerged, they can emerge back from underwater. However, there is a risk of them drowning when submerged deep underwater. This is why they only prefer to swim or float on the water’s surface. 

However, there is a box turtle capable of swimming underwater frequently. This is none other than the Coahuilan box turtle. Although you can find Coahuilon box turtles underwater, they also prefer swimming in shallow water. 

Do Box Turtles Require Water? 

Do Box Turtles Require Water? 

When it comes to swallowing and digestion of food, every turtle requires water. That’s why feeding the box turtle in the water is crucial. 

Aquatic turtles spend almost their entire day in the water. Typically, their whole life goes staying in the water. Swimming and gliding in water becomes easy due to their elongated shells, webbed feet, and slick features. They tend to float while feeding pellets or pieces of insects and greens. 

On the other hand, box turtles don’t have webbed feet like aquatic turtles do. Also, their shells are more circular than oval. They prefer sitting (floating) in shallow water while feeding. However, they can get totally submerged if the water is too shallow. Thus, feeding them off in a few inches of shallow water is enough. 

However, this isn’t the sole reason why your box turtle tank should contain shallow water instead of deep water. Let’s understand more about this in the below section.

How Much Water Does a Box Turtle Require?

Unlike other turtles, box turtles tend to spend less time in the water. They also feel tired from swimming too easily. Besides that, these turtle species spend more time floating on top of the water surface to find small aerobic insects.

Thus, when it comes to the ideal water level for your box turtle tank, keep it below the shell. The water level must go halfway and should not entirely cover its shell. Not only does this water level eases movement, but it also makes feeding more convenient. As we already established, box turtles are types of freshwater turtles. 

So, keeping them in a freshwater and clean environment is crucial. You must change the water in your box turtle’s tank once every three weeks. Before changing the water, ensure cleaning the tank properly. This will keep your pet box turtle away from diseases and help them stay healthy. 

Can Box Turtles Drown? 

Can Box Turtles Drown? 

So, the other reason to put shallow water in the box turtle’s tank is to protect them from drowning. According to the American Animal Hospital Associate (AAHA), deep tanks and deep pools are risky for box turtles. They can drown in them. 

To be precise, most turtles can only hold their breath for a maximum of 30 minutes. Box turtles are at high risk of drowning as they get clumsy and exhausted from swimming sooner and easier. That’s because they aren’t comfortable doing it and lack the energy required to swim longer in water. 

How Long Can a Box Turtle Swim?

Box turtles are no aquatic creatures. They are accustomed to wetlands and marshes. That’s why they cannot swim for too long. Box turtles living in the wild tend to swim to reach some other place. 

For instance, they swim to cross one or two creeks. It’s also among the reasons why they swim on the water’s surface. However, the exact time for which box turtles can swim differs from one turtle to another and their living adjustments. 

How Long Can a Box Turtle Stay Underwater?

How Long Can a Box Turtle Stay Underwater?

Box turtles are terrestrial species of turtle. They are well-known for holding their breath underwater for up to 30 minutes. Unlike other turtle species, box turtles cannot stay underwater for months. Given that, box turtle owners shouldn’t take such chances. It’s best to keep close eyes on your box turtle if you take them out swimming. 

How Fast Can a Box Turtle Swim? 

Box turtles are lazy and slow swimmers. Their heavy shells and short legs may be the possible reasons behind it. Their tendency to spend most of their time on land can also contribute to why they swim slowly. They need to rest right after swimming a short distance. 

According to a study, box turtles can move long distances at a speed of 0.17mph and short distances at 0.25mph. It means they can cover almost 100 yards of distance by walking the entire day. 

Compared to other species like cooters (walking speed of 1.07mph), box turtles move at a slower pace. Thus, the same can be applicable to their speed while swimming. Even more, their swimming speed is slower than their walking speed. 

Things To Consider When Taking Your Box Turtle For Swimming Outside

Things To Consider When Taking Your Box Turtle For Swimming Outside

By now, you should know that box turtles aren’t great swimmers. Thus, it is your responsibility to ensure they exit the water safely and easily after swimming. Running or deep water is a risk to their lives. Also, letting your pet box turtle swim unsupervised can ultimately be detrimental. 

Let’s go through these aspects in depth. 

Your Pet Box Turtle Must Leave The Water Safely And Easily

Box turtles get fatigued easily while swimming because they aren’t too habituated or skilled in it. Thus, it becomes crucial for them to leave the water body easily. Their chances of drowning increase when they cannot reach the land because of the far-off shore. So, take your box turtle to swim in a water body that isn’t too big. 

Do Not Take Them To Swim In Running or Deep Water Body

As established earlier, avoid taking your pet box turtle on a water body that is running or too deep. And most importantly, your pet turtle will only prefer to float on the water and paddle around for some time. Deep or running water will challenge their lack of swimming skills and make them drown. 

Don’t Take Your Eyes Off The Box Turtle When They Swim 

Don’t Take Your Eyes Off The Box Turtle When They Swim 

As box turtles are susceptible to drowning, it’s best not to take your eyes off them while they swim. Always monitor and check:

  • if your turtle is swimming below the surface, 
  • if it’s trying to breathe air, or 
  • if it’s attempting to come to the shore. 


Box turtles aren’t excellent swimmers, and they often get tired while doing it. The absence of webbed feet makes it difficult for them to swim longer. Swimming in the running or deep water increases their risk of drowning. Thus, it’s crucial to closely observe them while they swim. 

As a turtle owner, you must get used to the idea that some turtles like to swim while others do not. By truly acknowledging your box turtle’s anatomy and needs, you can help them live a healthy and happy life.

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