Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Terrapene carolina - (native)
Photo: National Fish and Wildlife Services

I was moving fast. I was going to be late for an important appointment if I didn't leave right now! As I scooted across the yard I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I stopped dead in my tracks. There in a patch of low weeds sat a large gorgeous Eastern Box turtle. To see a photo of one does not do it justice. Seeing it in the flesh is an illuminating moment.

I wanted to run in and get my camera but -- no time. I did the second best thing. I knelt
down by the harmless turtle and observed it's colors, eyes, posture, surroundings -- and then begrudgingly went off quickly to my appointment. I thought as I was getting into my car, maybe he will be there when I get back? I say he because of his red eyes, a male identifier while the females have brown. Of course, by the time I got back from my appointment he was gone much to my chagrin. So, I have used a photo from the Fish and Wildlife Services, above, to give you an idea of the beauty of an Eastern Box turtle.

Photo: By Barbara, folkways notebook

I didn't get to capture the Eastern Box turtle with a camera but he did leave traces that he had been there. I did get a photo of what is called a form. In turtle studies this means a clawed out soil depression where the turtle can rest in a cool soil bed. This is the calling card the turtle left for me.

Turtles wander a lot on their home range of about a 250 yards diameter or less. They tend to use the form method for taking breaks in their wanderings. Not all turtles have established home ranges. The young are searching out home ranges when they get hit on the road by cars or trucks. Also males after amour get hit often on roadways. Good to stop and remove them to the side of the road.

Turtles have low metabolism and therefore digest food slowly and move slowly. They have been around for 200 million years plus so their way of living with the environment has paid off -- until the stresses of humans interfered. Now we have land fragmentation that exposes them to more roadways to cross, lawn mowers that injure or kill them, exposure to toxic pollution, and releasing pet turtles into the wild that can result in the spreading of diseases to the wild base.

Eastern Box turtles in the wild eat lots of insects as well as worms, snails, and slugs. They are an important part of our bio-diversity, they help to control invasive insects -- slugs and other onslaughts of pest invasions. They are land turtles and can live in dry prairies as well as woods. Their favorite habitat is moist woods. Captured box turtles have a low survival rate.

Photo: Davidson College, J. D. Wilson, Mike Dorcas

It is difficult to tell the age of the Eastern Box. Some labs use the "count the rings" method on the capapace which is the top hard shell and some count rings on the scuta, the bottom hard shell plate. However, these rings become worn smooth over the years.

An Eastern Box hibernates up to two feet in the soil that it digs. The turtle can survive temperatures down to one degree centigrade making their winter survival rates good. He goes down at the first hard frost and reappears sometime in April.

This turtle has the bodily make-up to survive with nature. But hatchlings of the turtle have a very low survival rate. Unfortunately it is us humans that are being attributed to the recent decline of these beautiful turtles. Also, other types of turtles in the U. S. as well as around the world.

The largest threat to turtle numbers right now is the harvesting of wild turtles for the Chinese trade. China uses turtles for medicinals and food. The Chinese have pretty much wiped out all the turtles in their homeland and now look to the United States to provide for their insatiable appetite.

Some states such as Flordia and Indiana have instituted regulations against wild harvesting of turtles. No federal law is in place to stop this insane harvesting of the turtles. It would be good if folks would speak up about this tragic situation. Click here for more info

Warning for your possible anger. Here is a U-Tube video of a man harvesting snapping turtles in Kentucky. Click here.

The Chinese also like snakes and lizards so will they be next on the U. S. harvest list for the Chinese people?

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