Box Turtle Update

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

In 1995, a male box turtle was found at Ashland Nature Center and marked by Jim White.   It was caught again at Ashland on July 16, 2010 and released with a transmitter attached to its shell.  This was done so that any time of year, we can track him with radio-telemtry equipment to study his movements.  He spends his time in a thicket near the bat box along the succession trail.  His home range is only about 1-acre in size.  See “Shell Slueths and a Box Turtle” for the story from last year. 

Since July 16, 2010, we have relocated this turtle 4 times.  The last time it was found was September 1, 2010 and he weighed 480 grams (including the transmitter).  Our education interns tried several times over the fall and spring to find him but were unsuccessful.  Usually the turtle stays in very thick poison ivy and blackberry thickets, making him very difficult to locate.  Today I searched for him so that our Shell Slueths and Creepy Crawly Scientists summer camps could measure and weigh him, and see where he lives.  I got lucky and found him in his favorite place…poison ivy and impenetrable blackberry thickets.  Fortunately, he was on the edge and I didn’t have to get scraped up by blackberry bushes or spend the weekend bathing in calamine lotion.

A camper uses the radio telemetry equipment to hear the beeps coming from the turtle transmitter.

The box turtle weighed 495 grams, so he gained a little weight since last September.  We counted the rings on one of the scutes (scales) on the shell, and found that the turtle is at least 21 years old (he can legally drink). 

This is the transmitter that the box turtle has on his shell. It can be taken off at any time and it does not hurt the turtle. The battery lasts five years, so we will be tracking him for a few more seasons.
Campers help with the "weigh in". We found that this turtle is at a healthy weight for a male box turtle at this time of year.

According to Jim and Amy White, authors of Amphibians and Reptiles of Delmarva, populations of this species are in decline due to several factors including habitat loss and fragmentation, and death from motor vehicles and lawnmowers, plus overcollection for the pet trade.  If you find a box turtle, leave it in its habitat.  Do not take it home as a pet or move it to a new location.  These long-lived animals are important components of the local ecosystem, so do your part and leave them in their habitat.  As we know from this turtle, their home range might only be an acre or two in size.

1 thought on “Box Turtle Update”

  1. Very interesting information……bet kids had fun! Thanks for reminding people to leave critters where they are for the sake of our fragile ecosystems…………

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