Can Box Turtles Swim? | Facts and Truth Revealed

TheCritterCove is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. See more here.

Can box turtles swim in the water like other sea creatures? Or is this just another mystery that needs to be debunked?

The answer lies in whether or not you consider their shell an integral part of their body. If you do then turtles cannot swim because they don’t have any appendages that can propel them through the water.

But if you consider it to be more like a backpack than an integral part of their body, then it’s possible for them to float on top of the water.

They will still need some sort of assistance in order to move forward and avoid sinking down into it.

Either way, there are plenty of ways for these wonderful reptiles to stay afloat.

If you want to learn more about them please continue to read further.

Box turtles have all sorts of interesting facts about them that people do not know yet and in this article we will explore more if they can or cannot swim.

RELATED READ: How To Care For A Tortoise

Do Box Turtles Live in Water?

Not at all, they’re designed to be on land and they spend most of their life walking around. That being said there are some species of a box turtle that live in a variety of different habitats due to the fact that they have evolved over time.

Some of them travel from location to location, looking for food and shelter while others make their own homes by digging small burrows under leaves or other vegetation.

Box turtles are not aquatic turtles, but there are some species out there that can spend a decent amount of time in the water.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up an Indoor Box Turtle Enclosure

Do Box Turtles Swim?

It depends on what you mean by the word “swim”.

If you mean can they propel themselves through the water, then no. If you mean do they stay afloat and does their shell help to keep them afloat, then yes.

If you observe them closely, turtles of all kinds including box turtles do not seem to sink down into the water.

Land turtle pets, as we’ve mentioned before, do not have the ability to move their limbs in such a way that will allow them to lift themselves out of the water and carry on as if they were doing so on dry land.

Can box turtles swim? Yes! Can box turtles swim underwater? No! Can box turtles swim through the water as fish do? No again! Can turtles swim with their heads above the surface of the water? We’ll leave this to your imagination.

For How Long can Box Turtles Swim?

They can swim for long periods of time if needed but try not to make it a habit, it’s not good for them.

One of the last things that you want to do is to force them into a situation where they’re going to have no other choice but to swim for an indefinite amount of time.

It’s not going to be good for their health and could potentially cause irreversible damage if it’s done too often, or in shallow water.

They don’t have gills like fish do, which means that they cannot stay underwater for as long as they would like.

Do Box Turtles Like to Swim?

It depends on the individual turtle of course, but many of them actually do enjoy taking a dip in deeper water every now and then.

They’re curious creatures which is why they’re constantly exploring their surroundings with their tongue out, sniffing different surfaces and smell that they may encounter along the way.

It’s just a matter of finding out if they’re going to love swimming or not, but most likely if you have them in a large enough tank that allows for deeper water then you can tell that they’re enjoying themselves!

How do Box Turtles Breathe Underwater?

In order to breathe underwater, their lungs have to be very powerful because it is a known fact that they can actually hold their breath for up to four hours!

The only turtle that can actually stay underwater for a longer period of time is the leatherback sea turtle which can do so without having to come up for air at all.

That’s quite an amazing feat if you think about it, four hours is like half of an entire day. How box turtles breathe underwater has more to do with their overall anatomy, besides the lungs not being able to process oxygen in a way that would allow them to stay down there forever.

It’s also going to depend on their overall ability to breathe through their skin which is called cutaneous respiration.

For How Long Can a Box Turtle Stay Underwater?

This is mostly going to depend on the overall size of the turtle, but just like with humans they will not be able to stay submerged for an indefinite amount of time.

If their shell stays submerged then it’s very likely that they may actually suffocate if they cannot get out of the water in time.

There are no specific measurements available at this time, but it’s going to vary from turtle to turtle.

If you see them trying to come up for air even though they do not have gills like fish do then you can be sure that they need to come out of the water as soon as possible because their lungs are not designed for this kind of thing.

Can a Box Turtle Drown?

This is a possibility if they’re kept captive in small aquariums, but not out there in the wild.

They may be able to swim up to some degree which means that it’s possible for one of them to simply drown when you have them in smaller tanks with no other choice than to swim around the surface area because the bottom of the tank does not have enough room for them to stand.

This is not something which they would do on their own, but they’re very curious creatures by nature so they may explore the tank more thoroughly than they should and find themselves in a situation that they cannot escape no matter how hard they try.

Can I Add Water to my Box Turtle’s Tank?

No, not at all. They’re designed to live on land and they spend most of their lives walking around.

That being said there are some species out there that will take to water more readily than others which is why it’s important for you to do your research before you purchase any pet turtle because if they don’t know how to swim properly they could drown.

Box turtles are not aquatic turtles and they should never be kept in a tank with water, they need to have land to walk around on and most of the time this means having a medium sized turtle pen or turtle house with a secure lid.

Adding a bowl of water in the tortoise enclosure to stay hydrated is necessary though.

amazon product

Top Pick

Zoo Med Repti Ramp Bowl (XLarge)

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

RELATED READ: How To Take Care Of A Baby Box Turtle

Why do Box Turtles Not Swim Well?

There are many reasons why box turtles do not swim well, they’re simply not designed for it. Their shell is very heavy and large which means that if it gets submerged then their mobility will be greatly hindered.

In order to successfully swim there needs to be enough mobility in the limbs as well as a sleek design that allows them to move quickly without too much effort.

This is something that box turtles are simply not able to do, they’re built to be on land.

If you’ve ever seen them swimming in deeper water then you could probably tell that they were trying their very best to keep up with the current or even against it by paddling their legs as fast as they can.

It’s just not efficient, but they are trying their best!

How Much Water Do Box Turtles Need?

Box turtles need a large enough tank that allows for deeper water so that they can swim around a bit if they wish to.

Since they’re not designed to be fully submerged in water it’s important that you provide them with the proper environment and allow them to spend enough time inside of the water before taking them out again.

Some turtles actually like swimming around in the water, they may even try to go underneath which is extremely dangerous for them because they can suffocate very easily.

Three Things To Consider When Taking Your Box Turtle Out for Swimming

1. It will need to take place in a safe environment where there are no chemicals that could be dangerous for them or other pets roaming around the area.

2. Make sure that you have a dry area where it can rest before going back into the tank so that it doesn’t get too tiring and if it tries to go under then there is another place for them to go instead of staying submerged in water for extended periods of time.

3. You should always keep an eye on your turtle and never leave it alone because you don’t want them to crawl off and get stuck somewhere you cannot find them.


This article has provided you with some helpful tips to ensure that your turtle is safe and comfortable when swimming.

Box turtles are not aquatic turtles and they should never be kept in water, they have evolved to live on land which is why it’s so very important for you to do your research before you purchase any pet turtle.

If they’re kept in an aquarium with water then they can drown if they try to walk down towards the bottom of the tank, but that’s only because there is not enough room for them to stand; it doesn’t mean that they want to swim around instead.

Some box turtles are very curious, but that doesn’t mean that they want to spend time in the water, you need to provide them with a proper environment where they can roam around.

If you’ve taken your box turtle out for swimming make sure that you bring them out of the water after a good while and allow them to rest in an environment where they feel safe.