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Box Turtle Notecard



The small, colorful Box Turtle is an amazingly adaptable creature. It lives in habitats ranging from damp, swampy woodlands to dry grasslands and it eats everything from insects and slugs to fruit, berries and mushrooms; even mushrooms that are poisonous to other animals. It is the most commonly found terrestrial turtle in the United States, with a Western (Terrapene ornate) and an Eastern (Terrapene Carolina) species. Their range extends up and down the entire East coast and stretches as far west as Texas and New Mexico.

Thanks to a hinged plastron (the turtle’s lower shell), it is the only species with the ability to retreat completely inside its shell to escape predators. Box Turtles are very slow to mature, and have one of the longest recorded life spans among animals. Although there have been reports of hundred-year old Box Turtles, ages of twenty-five to fifty years are more commonly documented. To determine the difference between male and female Box Turtles, look at their eyes. The males’ eyes are bright orange or red, while the females have brown or pale orange eyes. Males have concave plastrons; females have plastrons that are almost completely flat.

The female lays between three and six eggs each year that hatch in the late summer or early fall. Although she will lay hundreds of eggs over the course of her lifetime, only two or three of these will survive to adulthood. Eggs are eaten by possums and raccoons; baby turtles are snatched up by raccoons, dogs, skunks and snakes. The most pressing difficulty facing Box Turtles, however, is habitat destruction and fragmentation. Buildings and roads remove food sources and breeding opportunities, and countless numbers of turtles are killed each year by vehicles as they try to cross roads while moving about their territory.

artwork and text by Emma Skurnik © 2008