Young Eastern Box Turtle

I almost stepped on this little turtle

Buffy and I took a break and went to Ingram Hill so I could photograph oaks in the cemetery. It was a cloudy day with winds 18 mph, gusting to 28. The afternoon temperature reached 77 degrees. I almost stepped on this little eastern box turtle. The clover and cut grass was taller than it was. It’s shell was 2 1/2 inches long at the most. I couldn’t see the eye color to tell if it was male or female until I got a side view. It was female: they have brown eyes and males have red.

Brown eyes — female

Eastern box turtles live in forests, dry grassy fields and wooded swamps throughout eastern U.S. Adults grow to 4.5 to 6 inches long and can live 25 – 30 years. There are documented ones that lived 40-50 years.

Twice I’ve seen a female digging a hole to lay her eggs in. It’s  L O N G process. I returned to camp the first time to find a female slowly, meticulously digging a hole with her hind legs. I watched and watch. Finally it got to dark so see and I went in the camper. The next morning it took quite a bit of searching to find where she had been digging. The second time was in my backyard, and it had the same results. I never saw young from either nest.

Females lay 3-8 eggs in the summer, and they hatch about 3 months later. Eggs incubated at 72-81 degrees are males, and ones incubated at and above 82 degrees will be females.

Counting ridges doesn’t tell age of turtle

The carapace is the upper shell, the plastron the lower shell and scutes are the plates covering the shells. Scutes are made of keratin like nails, hair and hooves.

For years I counted the ridges on plates of turtles shell because it showed the age of the turtle. Now I find out that isn’t accurate. Scutes are shed in some turtle species, but not in box turtles. The shell grows as the turtle grows. The scutes enlarge in diameter as new keratin is laid down, resulting in the ridges.

More box turtle facts: they spend the night in scooped-out shallow indention; they hibernate in a chamber up to 2 feet deep; their range is an acre square, and ranges can overlap. They are omnivores. They eat mushrooms, berries and other fruits, plus worms, slugs, insects and even carrion.

I just hope this little gal is in the woods when the cemetery’s mowed. I’d like to see her on future walks.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Therese on May 6, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I just loved reading this article. It was so interesting. Many, many things I didn’t know, as usual. Thanks for posting.


  2. Great angle macro photos of such a tiny turtle. I appreciate you shots! Thank you for sharing along with the information, much of which I didn’t know. I hope you see her on future walks too!


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