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Save a Turtle

I am an unabashed rescuer of Eastern Box Turtles. Rarely if ever have I missed the chance to potentially save one of these fascinating tortoises from being pancaked by a Chevy pick ‘em up or whatever. You see, turtles are not exactly the Mario Andrettis of the animal world, and a bit of help in times of need are possibly appreciated by the turtle gods, not to mention the turtle itself.

Eastern Box Turtle on a forest road in Shawnee State Forest last Sunday. I moved five of them off the road that day. It was warm and rainy, and the turtles had the spring friskies and were roaming about the landscape as they do in spring. They are especially fond of moving about during wet spells, and this day fit the bill. I risked grievous bodily harm by boldly diving into the road, snaring the turtle and deftly rolling away, just milliseconds before that speeding car would have shattered the turtle into mere fragments of its former self. It was just like a scene from a Jackie Chan movie. Yeah, I know, whatever. There goes our blogger being a goof again.

Note to future turtle rescuers: always place the turtle on the side of the road to which he/she was headed. We can use the above situation as a case study. The turtle is headed to the right. That means he came from the left. Which means that you, the rescuer, must place him on the right side of the road. And safely off the pavement. There. Easy.

For if you don’t, the turtle will undoubtedly just have to cross the entire roadway again, and your good intentions will more likely have bad consequences. These armored beasts seem to have a strong directional inclination and specific goals in mind, although I have no idea what those might be. Experts claim that individuals may only wander an area the size of a football field during the course of their entire life, though.

And I do believe Good Karma may come your way with each turtle that you de-road. Box Turtles don’t do anything fast, and that includes dying, unless they get mowed down by a speeding auto. There are documented cases of box turtles living for over a century! Running one over should be a crime, and if it was intentional “Old Sparky” would be a suitable punishment. Doing your part to help a possibly ancient reptile become ancienter can only be good.

Box turtles have highly inscripted carapaces, or upper shells. Many patterns can be discerned in the hieroglyphics that adorn this individual. For instance, in this shell I see: whippet dog, fish hook, seahorse, the letter C, a rushing river, a broken arm, a scary ghost, amoeba, a drumstick, a nimbo-cumulus cloud, mushroom, and the image of Jesus. And that’s just with a cursory glance. You, yourself, may possibly see other things.

Turtles in this group are sometimes referred to as “hinged turtles”. It’s easy to see why in the shot above. The lower shell, or plastron, is hinged and when the turtle decides it doesn’t like the present company, it quickly tucks its appendages in and shuts up tight as a drum. No amount of coaxing will bring the animal out of its shell; you’ll just have to patiently wait it out. Some turtles are quite the extroverts and scarcely bother to hide, eyeing their captor with haughty fury. Others clam up at the drop of a hat and stay that way for some time.

This one is a male, as is revealed by the large dimple or indentation in the plastron. This is an adaptation to, uh, well, better “hug” the mommy turtle to make little baby turtles.

Male box turtles can also be recognized by their piercing red eyes; in females the peepers are usually brown.
Eastern Box Turtles are our mostly terrestrial turtle species, and spend their lives roaming the woodlands. They often traipse through interesting habitats. I don't know if the fellow in the above photo is a botanoturtle or not, but he probably is, as they eat lots of plants. In fact, box turtles may be a major spreader of May-apple, Podophyllum peltatum, as they have a penchant for reaching up and plucking the ripe fruit. Anyway, this individual is face to face with a neat sedge: Blue-green Sedge, Carex glaucodea, and those ovate leaves at the bottom right are Pussy-toes, Antennaria plantaginifolia. The turtle probably already knew that, but perhaps you didn't.

With a five-turtle rescue day under my belt, hopefully my turtle karma has spiked for the better.


Scott said…
A few years back was driving around a ridge top in the same area and found a large snapping turtle on a ridge top no water nearby so I put it in the back of the truck and drove down it down to the creek.
Anonymous said…
Over 100 years, If it can dodge road traffic! I often move them off the road also. Always love this turtle's pattern and it's cousin Florida Box turtle, which we saw often when wintering in Florida. Great facts and story!
Gary Wayne
Tom said…
Nice Jim. The turtle activity is really starting to ramp up, females on the move to build nests, etc. Saw a huge snapping turtle moving about the dikes at Ottawa today- And I got my first blandings that wasn't a research subject.

Anonymous said…
Oi. Parabéns por seu excelente blog. Gostaria de lhe convidar para visitar meu blog e conhecer um pouco de nossa luta contra o comunismo no Brasil. Abração
KatDoc said…
Hooray for all turtle rescuers! I myself have moved 5 so far this year, two just this morning. The first little lady was shy and nervous, all closed up in her shell. The second one I found was a male who was "running" across the road, and just missed getting up close and personal with a one-ton pick-up truck. Instead of closing up in his shell when I scooped him up, he turned his head and HISSED at me. Now, that's gratitude for you!

~Kathi, who loves all box turtles, even the rude ones

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