Friday, July 12, 2024

Special Turtles With a Long Life

Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina)

Box turtle in grass
Photo by Jennifer Correa-Kruegel.

While most turtles can get deep within their shells, box turtles have a high dome-like carapace (top shell) and a hinge on their plastron (bottom of their shell) that allows the turtle to enclose itself completely to evade predators. Hence the name: box turtle.

Male box turtles tend to have red eyes and their plastron is concave. Females have more yellowish eyes and have a flat plastron. The pattern can vary greatly throughout populations but it is meant to make them camouflaged.

Many of the predators of box turtles are those that would consume them before they have even hatched. Raccoons, fox, skunks and crows will dig up the nests while other animals like snakes, hawks, otters, herons and fish will eat the recently hatched turtles.

Unfortunately, these turtles have more trouble with predators of the human kind. Due to habitat fragmentation, many of these turtles meet their demise along roads where their once care-free path to mating and nesting grounds is now impeded by cars speeding by.

stacked box turtles held gently in two hands
Photo by Jennifer Correa-Kruegel.

If they do make it across, they have another problem to deal with, people finding them and taking them in as pets. Every box turtle that is taken from its habitat is one less animal that will reproduce. Additionally, it can take several years before a box turtle has reached reproductive age.

If box turtles survive, they can live to be over 75 years old. So to take one of these animals in is a huge commitment. Some individual box turtles must be released exactly where they were originally found because they tend to have such a small home range. Otherwise, they will spend more of their time searching for their original habitat than eating or mating.

That is why this species of turtle is listed as a species of special concern. If you see a turtle crossing the road, please simply guide it across in the direction it was traveling and off the road.

Jennifer Correa-Kruegel, Warren County Naturalist
Jennifer Correa-Kruegel, Warren County Naturalist

Jennifer has a Masters in Parks and Resource Management from Slippery Rock University. She worked as a Park Naturalist for Hunterdon County Park System from 2003-2006 and then at the NJSOC full-time from 2006 - 2020, starting as the Program Coordinator and evolving to an Environmental Educator. Jen is a New Jersey native and has lived in Warren County with her family since 2004. She is excited to be offering programs to this community she has grown to love.