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Wildlife Wonders

Today is Eastern Box Turtle Day!

Turtles are reptiles.  Reptiles are _ _ _ _ blooded. Their skin is covered with _ _ _ _ _ _.

They have _ _ _ _ _ on their toes.  Their _ _ _ _ have flexible, leathery shells.

They have a _ _ _ _ to breathe.  Turtles are _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _, their backbone is attached to their shell.

Answers – cold, scales, claws, eggs, lung, vertebrates

Eastern box turtles have a high domed top shell called a “carapace”.  The carapace has orange or yellow blotches on a brown background.  This coloration provides good “camouflage” as it moves about on the forest floor. The shell underneath is called the “plastron”.  The male plastron is concave, it curves inward, and the female plastron is flat. 

Males have red eyes, are generally larger, have shorter, thicker tails, bright heads and front legs. Females have yellow or brown eyes. 

Box turtles have a horny beak and slightly webbed feet.  The name “box” turtle comes from its ability to completely withdraw into its shell.  The adults have a hinged “plastron”, but that is not developed until they are 4-5 years old so young turtles cannot completely retreat into their shells and they are more at risk from “predators” such as skunks, raccoons, and foxes.

Box turtles are “terrestrial” they are found on land in various “habitats” – forests, field edges, marshes, bogs and stream banks.  Their “home range”, where they live most of the time, is less than 2 acres (a little less than the size of two football fields = 2.64 acres).

From October through April they “hibernate” by burrowing into loose soil, decaying leaves, or mud.  Box turtles may return to the same place each year to hibernate.  In April, when they come out of hibernation, they begin to eat and look for a mate.  They are “omnivores” feeding on plants, mushrooms, fruits, insects, fish, small “amphibians”, eggs and even dead animals.  Because young turtles are growing fast they prefer to eat meat for the needed energy and they spend more time in water where it is easier to hunt.

Females don’t lay eggs until they are about 10 years old.  They lay 3-8 eggs on average, but can lay up to a dozen.  Lots of things like to eat the eggs.  The eggs hatch about two months after being laid and they are on their own.  The adults don’t provide them with any care.  Whether they are a male or female depends on the temperature – 70 – 80o F and they are males, above 82 degrees  – female. 

Box turtles are active during the day, “diurnal”, they can hear well, can see colors and have a good sense of smell.  They have a “homing instinct”.  If they are removed from their “habitat” they will try to return home.  If you find them on the road you should place them on the other side of the road in the same direction they are going!

Eastern box turtles, generally live 25 – 35 years, but they have been known to live over 100 years.   In Connecticut, there are eight different species of turtles.  The Eastern box turtle is considered a “species of special concern” since it has limited “habitat” and there are fewer box turtles now.

As adults they are relatively free from “predators” except for cars.  The main threat to them is “habitat” loss and the breaking up or “fragmentation” of their habitat from roads and buildings.

How to help turtles:

 Leave turtles in the wild. They should never be kept as pets.

Never release a turtle that has been in captivity for awhile.  They probably would not survive and they might have a disease that could harm the other turtles.

Do not disturb nesting turtles.

Watch out for them as you drive, although their shells are strong, they would not survive the being run over by a car.

Learn about turtles and the efforts to save their habitat. 

Resources:

https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/eastern-box-turtle

https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/DEEP/wildlife/pdf_files/outreach/fact_sheets/boxturtlepdf.pdf?la=en

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