The Eastern Box Turtle: An Open and Shut Case!
What Happened here?!!
To the Rescue!
On a hike up the hill today, in the wooded area of Middle Tennessee, I came across an interesting situation. Apparently a battle had just occurred and the loser was upside down near a mating pair of Eastern Box Turtles. The smaller male as well as the larger one had come looking for the female following the pheromones she released into the air signaling that it was time for mating. The unfortunate loser was trapped on his back and couldn’t right himself. With legs kicking in the air, he quickly withdrew into his shell and snapped the door shut when I came near. After taking several photos and watching the process for awhile, I righted him and left him in the forest to fend for himself. Hopefully the next time he seeks a mate he will be a little bigger and wiser.
Here you see the mating couple.
Nearby was the loser of the battle trapped upside down in his shell.
Here is the loser in my hand showing the bottom side of his shell. As you can see, God gave these turtles an excellent way to protect themselves by not only having a shell, but a trap door to shut to keep their enemies out. This is an amazing example of God’s “bio-engineering”. We can learn a lot from creation about how to design our own projects. This is quite a suit of armor for these little turtles!
How Big Do They Get?
As you can see, he is just a little guy. Interestingly, these turtles are usually between 4.5 and 6 inches long. Sometime, since they grow to extreme ages, some over a hundred years, they have a long time to develop, some have grown to over 7 inches.
Here is the same turtle from the top side. As you can see, he fits comfortably in my hand.
So how do you tell the males from the females?
Generally the males have red irises (eyes) and the females have brown irises. The males also have a concave plastron (bottom of shell), this allows the males to stay on top of the females during the mating process.
So What Were They Doing on the Mountain Top?
You might think it funny that I found these three turtles on top of a hill far from the water. They are actually terrestrial turtles. They live on land. These turtles have been found at altitudes as great as 6,000 ft. They prefer forests made up of both evergreens like conifers and cedars, and deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves annually) where the soil is moist and full of insects, worms, snails, slugs, and vegetation.
Omnivores: We Eat Our meat and Veggies!
Box turtles have a varied diet and will consume both plant and animal material. They will even eat mushrooms. One of their favorite foods seem to include a lot of beetles and their larvae. They like berries, flowers, grasses, and many other types of vegetation as well that grows in this habitat.
Do They Make Good Pets?
Though many people keep box turtles as pets its important to check with the local laws to see if this is allowed in your state. Some states even require documentation of where you bought your pet turtle, if purchased in a pet store. In Tennessee it is unlawful to have any turtle in captivity, so leave them where you find them. (This law was passed due to the danger of illness caused by the bacteria that is often found on turtles that can be passed to handlers causing food poisoning and other illnesses. It also prevents people from getting them as pets and then releasing them into the wild that destroys the natural food chains and balance there. If you can keep them as pets in your state, remember that having a pet requires you to maintain their habitat and provide food. You need to make sure that your pet gets lots of sunlight, or artificial UVA and UVB light. A full spectrum of light is required to keep them healthy. They acquire their vitamin D3 from exposure to these light rays. You also need to regulate the temperature in their dwelling place at between 85-87 degrees F. Remember also, that they will probably outlive you, if cared for properly, so you have to plan ahead for their upkeep when you are gone from this earth. And yes, even though they are terrestrial, they need water!
If you keep these turtles you will also have to provide lots of insects, like beetles, and their larvae (like mealworms), jumping insects, like crickets and grasshoppers, as well as worms. The ratio of their diet should be about 10% dark leafy greens, 40% vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and 50%, the high animal protein foods listed above. Most people also augment their diet by sprinkling calcium powder on the food so the turtles can ingest it and have stronger bones, claws, and shells.
One common problem of those that keep box turtles is when the turtles get a respiratory disease. If your pet starts wheezing, has labored breath or clogged nostrils, you may have to take him to the vet to get a treatment to make him healthy again. If your turtle gets these symptoms you will also have to change the substrate in the bottom of the cage with new and realize that the turtle environment must remain moist. To keep it moist and not soggy, use a mister spray frequently.
If you find them in the wild, as I did, it’s probably best to leave them there then go and visit them to study and enjoy these amazing creatures for years to come. In some regions their populations have declined due to over-harvesting and road kill as they frequently cross the road to get to the other side.
Below are some pictures of a recent yard visitor. He came down the hill to feed in my backyard. May 10, 2018.