Critter Feature: Box Turtle

Box Turtle

Mr. Box Turtle

One particular joy I get out of gardening is seeing numerous wild animals enjoy my yard as much as I do.  A certain box turtle has determined that our address is a safe place, especially now that the old black dog has lost a few steps and his nose is not as keen as it once was.  Mr. Turtle now leisurely attends breakfast at the garden fence on a whim…though squash vine cleanup time may have been an invitation he couldn’t refuse.

Box turtles are interesting creatures.  They can live 50 years or more. They are omnivorous, eating more worms, slugs and bugs in and around the water when they are younger and more vegetation on dry land when they are older. As with other reptiles, box turtles hibernate during cold weather, burrowing up to two feet underground in protected locations like stream banks, stump holes and under logs.

Box Turtle

Box turtles are native to eastern North America, naturally living as far west as Kansas, Texas and Mexico.  They live solitary lives in home ranges equal to about five football fields in size.  Their preferred habitat is open woods, or meadow areas with a consistent water source.

The reproductive process is very interesting.  Mating season lasts spring through fall.  After copulation, the female may lay fertilized eggs up to four years! Four or five eggs are laid in a nest dug in soft soil, then covered up. The eggs hatch after about 3 months, depending on climatic conditions. Temperature during incubation determines hatchlings’ gender: cooler temps result in males, a little warmer and females result.

Box Turtle

By the way, I said Mr. Turtle earlier because he is a male.  It can be difficult to tell since their “parts” are covered, but there are some good clues to assess. Males have a lower/longer looking carapace (top shell), darker orange/red eyes, and a concave plastron (bottom shell) over their abdomenal area.  Females have a higher domed carapace, lighter colored eyes, and flat abs.

Box Turtle

It’s not a good idea to keep box turtles as pets due to their very specific diet, daylight, and temperature needs. Also, removing them from the wild takes a needed breeder away from the opportunity to do so. If you want to make your yard more inviting for the wild ones here are some things you can do:

  • minimize (eliminate) use of insecticides and herbicides
  • allow some of your yard to get long and weedy
  • trim along fences and backyard outbuildings less frequently
  • keep a compost pile with plenty of vegetable and weed scraps
  • if there is no stream or pond close to you, consider building a small water feature (with plenty of trickle-splash sounds)

Box Turtle

Happy summer!

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