There was a little turtle.
He lived in a box.
He swam in a puddle.
He climbed on the rocks.
This little poem by early 20th century American poet Vachel Lindsay is describing the most common turtle that we usually see around here, the Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina. The reason we see this turtle more than most others is because it lives on land, like us, rather than in the water.
Everyone likes box turtles. They are small, cute, brightly colored, and docile. Pretty much the exact opposite of the large, aggressive, hissing, mud and algae covered, female snapping turtles that we also see on land about this time of year when they travel long distances to lay eggs. The box turtle is named because its hinged plastron (bottom shell) can close up tight to protect the tender parts of the turtle from predators. It is the only turtle that can close up completely.
About two weeks ago I was hiking in the woods on one of our local trails and found two different box turtles about a half mile apart. Both were males. How could I tell? There are several things to look for to distinguish male box turtles from females. Males usually have bright, fire engine red, eyes. Females usually have light orange or brown eyes. The plastron of the males is usually concave while that of females is usually flat. There are a few other things to look for but those are the easiest to distinguish. Next time you find a box turtle, see if you can determine its sex. You can also get a rough approximation of a box turtle’s age by counting the rings on one of the scutes (plates) on the turtle’s carapace (top shell). The turtle in the photo appears to be approximately 35 years old.
An adult box turtle’s greatest danger is cars. You will most often see them crossing a road, especially after a rain when they are most active. Closing up in a shell is no protection from cars. A few years ago I saw a box turtle crossing Catoosa Blvd., but I had to wait for some cars to pass before I could go out on the road to move the turtle to the other side. The first two cars straddled the turtle nicely, but the third car didn’t see the turtle and smashed it flat, ten feet in front of me. You should always help box turtles across a road by placing them on the side they were heading for, because they have an excellent sense of where they are going and, if you place them on the wrong side, they will try to cross the road again after you leave.
One smashed turtle might not seem like a big loss, but for the species, it can be a big deal. Although box turtles may live 50 years or longer, they don’t reach sexual maturity until 7-10 years old. Then, they only lay three to six eggs per year. In a lifetime, a female box turtle may lay 200 eggs or more, but less than about 2-3 percent of the eggs will become adult turtles. That is because raccoons, skunks, snakes, foxes and even fire ants, eat the eggs and the young when they find them. Before cars, 2-3 percent sustained box turtle populations just about right. But every smashed adult box turtle changes the species survival equation dramatically.
Baby box turtles are rarely seen because they live under the leaf litter eating mostly worms, slugs and insects. Mature turtles seem to like more fruits and vegetables, such as blackberries, wild strawberries and mushrooms, even poisonous ones. The poisonous mushrooms don’t affect the turtles, but humans have become seriously ill from eating box turtles who have recently dined on dangerous mushrooms. Make sure your turtle soup is snapping turtle, not box turtle.
Turtles, like all reptiles, are ectotherms (cold blooded). They hibernate in the winter in loose soil or under old tree stumps.
By the way, turtles cannot come out of their shells. The shell is actually bone covered in keratin and a turtle’s ribs and backbone are part of the top shell.
Eastern box turtles have a small home range of only about two acres. If you see a box turtle in your yard, it isn’t a transient passing through; it is probably your lifelong neighbor. One person called me last year that found box turtle eggs buried in a small dirt-covered depression in their yard. If you are lucky enough to find a nest in your yard, help your turtle neighbor out by not disturbing the eggs. You might even place a fence around the nest to protect the eggs until they hatch, and hopefully you can help save some of our most beautiful little turtles that live in a box.
• • •
Comments, questions or suggestions for future nature articles are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There was a little turtle.
- Glade Sun
- Rotary supports KOTR
SMHS Rotary Interact helps End Polio Now campaign
Emily Swafford (right) representing Rotary Interact students presents a $500 check to
help fund the Rotary's End Polio Now campaign.
Rotary Club and Rotary Interact students team up to provide disaster relief
Local high school Rotary Interact students worked hard both last year and this year to raise $1,000 for the purchase of a shelter box. On hand to receive the donation was Kim Kim, the incoming Rotary District Governor from the Nashville area. Kim has been very active in providing and delivering shelter boxes to disaster areas around the world.
Sign up now for Men's 9-Hole League 2014 season
The Fairfield Glade Men's 9-Hole League is now accepting applications for the 2014 Season. We need both regular members and people who would like only to substitute. Applications for all members will be accepted now, but those requesting regular status will have to await final approval at the start of the 2014 season.
Read the latest edition of "The Bulletin"
The Crossville Chronicle-Glade Sun also publishes a newsletter called "The Bulletin" in which you'll find a schedule of Glade activities and events, a restaurant and dining guide, golf information, and even tour schedules. Click here for the latest PDF edition of "The Bulletin."
Understanding the Cumberland County Commission
Understanding the workings of our county's government is important for all of us here in Cumberland County. We must remember and use this information so all of our voices can be heard! Remember, "Knowledge is power!"
Fairfield sets the scene for mystery
Linda Browning’s short story, “No Wake,” is the featured story for Buddhapuss Ink’s “Mystery Times Ten 2013” short story compilation now available on amazon.com.
Enjoying Nature: How the Mountain Lion saved the Butterfly
You may have heard of the parlor game called "six degrees of Kevin Bacon." The premise is that any actor, in any movie, can be linked through movie roles to Kevin Bacon in six steps or less. For example, Kevin Bacon was in a movie with Julia Roberts, and Julia Roberts was in a movie with Denzel Washington, so Kevin Bacon is linked to Denzel Washington, and so on. You have to be a real movie buff to excel at this game.
A Time 4 Paws opens thrift store to support mission
A Time 4 Paws animal welfare organization celebrated the opening of its new retail thrift store at 1201 West Ave. recently, marking a huge milestone for this dedicated group of volunteers.
Ring in the new year with the Moonlighters
The Moonlighters Dance Club will be hosting a New Year’s Eve Dance Party at the Fairfield Glade Community and Conference Center.
- More Glade Sun Headlines