Box Turtle

All posts tagged Box Turtle

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.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator


Rays of sunlight filter through the tree trunks in the forest at Middle Run Natural Area in Newark, Delaware. Image by Derek Stoner, June 23, 2011.

While walking through the forest at Middle Run Natural Area last night, our group from the Delaware Nature Society’s Evening Walk Series experienced several magical moments that are the good-fortune reward for spending time outdoors.

The rainstorms of late afternoon had wiped away the heat and staleness of the atmosphere, leaving a refreshingly cool and fresh air to breathe in as we hiked.  The long-hidden sun broke through the clouds and sent rays of light into the forest that looked white in the misty haze of the moisture-laden air.  Only after a rainstorm do you witness this effect, and many a movie has featured this phenomenon that adds a magic (and mystical) touch.

A Barred Owl perches in a beech tree, as the rays of late evening light filter through the woodland. Image by Derek Stoner, June 23, 2011.

As we headed down the trail I caught sight of an odd shape perched on a vine at eye-level.  Staring right at us was a Barred Owl, that blue-eyed wonder owl of the wet woodlands.  The owl allowed us to approach within twenty feet, as we made our way along the trail.  A short flight later, and the owl was now even closer to the path, almost directly overhead.  The owl looked at us calmly for a few minutes, then launched off the branch in a shower of rianwater, flying over our heads only to land again a short distance away.  The owl seemed intent on hunting, and likely had young owlets still depending upon it to supply them with food. 

A female Box Turtle laying eggs in the middle of the grassy path of the Middle Run Birding Trail. Photo by Derek Stoner, June 23, 2011.

Not expecting to find more wonder and amazement ahead, we then stumbled across anothing exciting animal: a female Box Turtle in the midst of excavating a nest!  She carefully( and slowly of course!) dug with her hind legs into the soft soil.  Soon she would deposit 3 to 6 tiny soft-shelled eggs, about the size of a nickel. We did not stay to witness this process, but wished her well as we walked out of sight…