Can (And Do) Box Turtles Swim? (Detailed Guide)

  • By: Reptilia Planet
  • Time to read: 7 min.

Box turtles are one of the most fascinating creatures on Earth. These little guys have been around for millions of years, and there’s no telling how much longer they will be around. But one thing that puzzles many reptile owners is whether or not box turtles can swim?

Yes! Box turtles can swim, but not very well. The reason they’re not very good at it is that their shell can’t provide them with the buoyancy needed to swim for an extended period of time and because of their little legs, they can’t move fast enough through the water.

They will often only use their limbs to paddle across the surface of the water. If given a chance, box turtles will rest on top of logs much like the yellow belly sliders “but” unlike the sliders that spend most of their life in the water, box turtles do not!

In fact, box turtles generally avoid the water if they can! and will only enter it if they are thirsty, or if the water is shallow enough to be able to reach land. Box turtles are also slow movers, so it would take them too much energy and time to try swimming in a fast-moving river or lake.

Can Box Turtles Swim In Salt Water?

Saltwater is not the natural habitat for turtles that do not naturally live in the sea. Box turtles are actually freshwater turtles and can not swim in saltwater. If your box turtle was to swim in salt water then this can cause some serious problems.

Firstly, not only would the saltwater make them ill but it can also dry out their skin and make them very uncomfortable. Secondly, if they were to eat anything in the water then it could be fatal because of the different types of bacteria found in seawater.

Can Box Turtles Swim Underwater?

It’s not uncommon for box turtles to be seen at the edge of a pond or lake dipping one foot in and out of water. But is it possible for them to actually swim underwater? Yes! Box turtles can swim underwater but it is not their preferred method of movement.

They use this as a last resort! Unlike the yellow belly sliders that can stay underwater for at least 30 mins without coming up for air.

The only time box turtle will submerge themselves in water is either when they’re trying to hunt for food, or if the water level drops low enough that there’s no other way for them to get out.

Can Box Turtles Breath UnderWater?

No, box turtles do not breathe underwater instead they will hold their breath until they resurface much like the turtle sliders. Sliders are known to hold their breath for 30 mins before coming up for air.

However, this is not the case for box turtles, they can not hold their breath for very long, and because of this, they will avoid the water if possible. So if you see you’re reptile underwater struggling and are unable to reach the surface then there is a chance that you might need to rescue them.

Are Box Turtles Good Swimmers?

No, they’re not good swimmers but they can swim if needed. As mentioned at the start of this article these turtles aren’t very skilled at swimming and that their shell cannot provide them with the buoyancy to keep them afloat for extended periods of time.

Because of their stubby little legs, they move too slowly through water which means they can’t get traction when in the water. Instead box turtles will rest on top of logs and sunbathe similar to sliders.

Do Box Turtles Like To Swim?

Box turtles are land turtles which means they are not custom to being in the water for very long and they don’t like it very much. They will only be in the water if necessary or for a quick drink of water and that’s not to say that when they are, they’re actually swimming.

Box turtles prefer to walk on land rather than swim through water which is why they generally avoid this habitat because It doesn’t suit their natural needs or lifestyle.

But there are exceptions! For example, some box turtle owners have noticed that sometimes – especially during mating season – males might enjoy playing with one another by jumping into each others’ shells and then trying to shove each other out.

Is It Safe For Box Turtles To Swim?

Swimming can be dangerous for box turtles because they have a hard time staying afloat and can’t get out of the water fast enough if needed because their small little legs make them move too slowly through the water.

With that said, there are ways to make the water safe so your box turtle can take a dip or drink from the water:

  • Make Sure Their Are Exit Points
  • Dont Force Your Turtle Into The Water
  • Make Sure The Water Is Shallow & Clean
  • Watch Out For Any Preadtors In The Water
  • Dont Allow Your Turtle To Swim Fast Moving Water

Which Type Of Box Turtles Can Swim?

Now as before box turtle don’t really swim and spend most of their time on land. However that’s not to say they wont go in the water in fact there are a number of different types of box turtle that will attempt to swim.

The different types of box turtles that can swim include the following:

Asian Box Turtle

  • The asian box turtles are known to take a dip in water and in the wild they find water sources during dry seasons. But they still prefer not being submerged for extended periods of time. Their remmonded dephe of water would be around 12 inches deep.

Florida Box Turtle

  • The Florida box turtle is one of the few types that actually enjoy being in water and these turtles are known to take a dip for extended periods. They enjoy damp environments and in the wild they can be found near water sources where there are vegetation.

Eastern Box Turtle

  • The Eastern Box turtle is another type of box turtle that enjoy water, they will often take a dip in shallow water and enjoy areas that have plenty of vegetation and other food sources that offers plenty of nutrients.

Northern Box Turtle

  • The Northern box turtle, like the Eastern box turtles enjoy drinking from shallow sources but they do not often take a dip as much. They will more likely be found near deeper water where there is plants to help them climb out if needed

Coahuilan box Turtle

  • The Coahuilan box turtles are another type of turtle that enjoy water and they will spend a lot of time around ponds or small strems. They like to swim around, forage and drink in this specific habitat.

Mexican Box Turtle

  • The Mexican box turtles also prefer wet habitats but unlike other types, these turtles do not take a dip as much or even go into the water at all unless it is absolutely necessary “ussally for drinking only”

Three-Toed Box Turtle

  • The three-toed box turtle is again another type of turtle that enjoys water but they do not go into it much. They are known to be found near marshes and ponds where there will often be vegetation.

Best Water Type For Box Turtles

After reading this, it is clear that box turtles should not be in the water at all. So if you have a turtle then the best type of habitat for them would be one with land and some water on the side to give them access to drink without being submerged.

But as we know there are some turtles that will go for a dip and for those that do what is the best type of water? The answer is Fresh water! and you should make sure that is is shallow enough so they can still stick their head out of the water.

Box Turtle Water Tips

The most important thing for any type of turtle habitat is keeping the water quality high and clean so as not to make their life difficult because they are very sensitive reptiles who need specialized care and attention just like every other pet out there!

That being said, here are some tips on how to do this best:

  • You should change your pets’ water once a week unless there have been significant changes in the water quality.
  • Keep the temperature of the water around 72 degrees Fahrenheit to make it comfortable for your pet and safe for their habitat.
  • You should make sure you add a variety of things, like rocks or logs that they can get on top of. This will also provide some shade which is important for their natural environment.
  • Making sure you have enough plants on hand – preferably aquatic ones if possible – so they can feel at home as much as possible!
  • Using a good quality water pump will help keep your water clean and having clean water is a must for your box turtle.

There is one particular type called an “Knifel Submersible Water Pump” which has been getting really great reviews from customers so if you’re interested in taking care of your turtle’s environment then using this pump would be a good idea.

It’s very important that these turtles are able to live comfortably in their habitat because this not only makes them happy but healthy too.


So if you want your turtle to be able to enjoy being in the water, make sure you put him in shallow water with plenty of room for him/her to walk around! Box turtles are also slow movers so it would take too much energy and stamina to try swimming in a fast-moving river or lake.

As long you put in shallow water they wont drown or get into trouble! Of course in the wild no matter what species of turtle it is they now there limits.

Pet turtles on the other hand don’t have this instant as they are raised in captivety and are not as savvy of their surroundings.