The Eastern Box Turtle

The way a turtle’s body is put together seems more logical than ours.  I mean look at it: we have soft body parts protecting a hard inner skeleton.  Turtles have a hard outer skeleton protecting inner soft body parts. The most common turtle you’ll run into around here (and one you probably aggravated when you were a kid) is the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina).


 The eastern box turtle is sometimes called a “tarpin”, “terrapin”, or “wood turtle”.  They have a high dome-like upper shell that comes in a variety of colors.  Both the upper and lower shell can be yellow, orange or olive, with blotches of black or brown.  The lower shell of the box turtle is unique compared with other turtles in that it is hinged in the front and rear so that when the turtle draws itself in, the lower shell folds tightly against the upper shell all the way around, completely “boxing” the turtle safely inside.

The lifestyle of the box turtle is slow and easy.  The only animal that really does any harm is the human, especially one in an automobile.  Since they lack teeth, turtles must feed on soft foods such as worms, insects, mushrooms, and berries.  They are able to survive for long periods without food, but feed heavily when it is plentiful.

Although they are primarily land dwellers, box turtles like to soak themselves for hours in mud or water.  During extended dry weather they will often burrow beneath logs and rotten vegetation and wait it out, then reappear in large numbers after a hard rain.  They spend their winters this way as well.

The way to tell male box turtles from females is to look at the lower shell.  If it has a small depression towards the rear, it is male. The purpose of the indentation is to allow mating to take place, which can be tricky while wearing a suit of armor. Some claim that males have red eyes while females are brown, but I’m not sure this is dependable. After mating the female eventually digs a hole with her hind legs and lays white eggs in soft soil.

Box turtles are fairly long-lived creatures compared to other animals, averaging 30 to 40 years.  Though not scientifically proven, there are reports of some exceeding 100 years, including one claimed to be have lived for 138 years, based on a date scratched on its shell.

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