Pet Turtle Owner - New Texas Law Clarification

Here is the clarification of the new laws that will soon be in effect in Texas. This concerns keeping turtles as pets in the state of Texas:

As long as a person is NOT involved in selling turtles, they may legally possess 6 of 1 species PER PERSON IN THE HOUSEHOLD. So, if there are TWO people living in your household, you can have 12 of 1 species of turtle in your possession.

To help you see what is meant by "species" it helps to understand a bit about classification. Here is the classification of North American Box Turtles in Texas:

  • Genus
    • species
      • sub-species
  • Terrapene
    • carolina
      • carolina, Eastern Box Turtle
      • major, Gulf Coast Box Turtle
      • (native to Texas although not all sources say so)

      • triunguis, Three Toed Box Turtle
      • (native to Texas)

    • ornata
      • ornata, Ornate Box Turtle
      • (native to Texas)

      • luteola, Desert Box Turtle
      • (native to Texas)

For example, you and your son could have 12 Three-toed box turtles and 12 Ornate box turtles because they are different species of box turtles. But you could NOT have 12 Three-toed box turtles and 12 Gulf Coast box turtles because they are the same species, even though they are different sub-species. They are sub-species of the species Terrapene carolina.

OK, now let's say you live in Texas and possess 6 Three-toed box turtles and you want to purchase some other turtle species that are NOT native to Texas. You can possess the non-native species in any numbers. Since the Eastern box turtle** (Terrapene carolina carolina) is not native to Texas, you could possess it in unrestricted numbers. The same goes for non-native tortoise species such as Sulcatas and Russians. Since these are exotic species sold in pet stores, the new Texas laws do not pertain to them.

Note that there are a few native turtle/tortoise species that are endangered or threatened so you could not possess them at all. The Texas Tortoise and Alligator Snapping Turtle are examples.

If you have other turtles and don't know their species, you can refer to our classification page for help by Clicking Here. If you have any questions please email us at and we will try to help you.

This information was obtained through a personal telephone conversation with Jennifer Brennan in the non-game department of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on August 23, 2007. Her email address is:

**Beware the common name "Eastern Box Turtle" means different things to different sources. When all of Terrapene carolina are lumped together and called Eastern Box turtles it can get confusing. You can see in Turtles of the World by Ernst, et al that they call Terrapene carolina in general the "Common Box Turtle" and only Terrapene carolina carolina is called the Eastern Box Turtle. Terrapene carolina major is the Gulf Coast Box turtle and they give its range which includes eastern Texas along with the Three-toed Box turtle which is Terrapene carolina triunguis.