Sunday, May 27, 2012

Why did the turtle cross the road?

Who knows? A better question might be will he make it. The Eastern Box turtle is not on the endangered list yet but every survey shows rapid decline in their populations. Being killed crossing the road is one of the main reasons. Harvesting as pets is another.

I spotted this one on a country road on Friday and stopped to move him as I usually do with turtles when possible. Carrying him across as he was heading put him on the edge of a vast newly plowed field, pretty inhospitable to turtles, so I carried him back into the woods from where he came. This may not have been the thing to do, I learned later, as they tend to stick with whatever directional input they are receiving. It could be a half hour later he was crossing the road again.

I hadn't seen a box turtle in years. What a beautiful creature. I think this one is a male  about 22 years old. Males have reddish eyes and their underside, called the plastron, is slightly concave to fit better over the female shell when mating (ain't nature grand?). Age can be roughly determined by counting the "scutes" which form rings on the shell, one each year. Box turtles can live 100 years and their home range is just a little over an acre. Both these facts surprised me.

With all our maps, local and global, and now, GPS devices it is hard to imagine navigating your path given just the visual input of the next three feet. How does a turtle stay within his "home zone"? How does he have any sense of his acre?

I think they have an endearing thoughtful look so it's no wonder that every kid who finds one wants to take it home. This is not a good idea. Most wild turtles brought into captivity die well before their time even if released later.

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