In Love with Box Turtles

I’m in love with box turtles.  Are you in love, too?  Well, probably so for there is something endearing about the box turtle.  When I was young, we were surrounded by woods and meadows, the primary habitat for turtles  It was fun to identify a yellow-belly from a speckle back or a box turtle; and, yes, a snapping turtle, too.  As a gardener, I actually designed our garden, WillowDale, with box turtles in mind along with other reptiles that either, walk, hop, or slither through our extension of their habitat.

Box turtles are very common in South Carolina and are even the state ‘reptile’ for North Carolina.  But did you know that they are one of the longest-lived animals?  Terrapene Carolina, box turtle…not only does it live a long time but it is also slow to reproduce.  Box turtles reach sexual maturity between 7 and 10 years old.  In the spring a female will lay between three to six eggs in a shallow nest.  The eggs are left unguarded and will hatch in late summer or early fall.  You have to look very closely when mowing your lawn for there are many little turtles hurrying to get out of the way.  Unfortunately, as adults, they don’t seem to move as quickly on our roads; and, automobiles are one of the biggest threats to their survival.  So, not only do I swerve to miss them, I will stop to help it along to the other side, traffic permitting.

Photo by Master Gardner Bill Gallaway who is also a box turtle lover!

They commonly reach 25 to 30 years of age, and there are well-documented cases of them living 40 to 50 years.  It has also been reported that some have even lived longer than most of us, 80 to 100 years of age.  While box turtles are still fairly common, their future is uncertain.  Having only few young, and delayed sexual maturity is a bad combination for procreation.  However, the primary problem is habitat loss through destruction of land.  Confined to smaller areas, turtles have an increasingly difficult time finding food and mates.  I hate to think that we are contributing to the demise of this turtle that brings back so many vivid childhood memories.

Our garden is a wildlife habitat that I actually designed with box turtles in mind…OK, other critters, too. Maybe that’s why we have so many.  Beautification is a ‘good thing’ but leave some wooded areas natural. When nature looks natural, the turtle’s food and habitat are better preserved.  You can also contribute to their food supply.  They are prolific fruiters loving tomatoes, strawberries and watermelon.  Also, if you feed the birds dry meal worms, place a small pile on the ground and they disappear fast…it’s a favorite!

I love birds, but there is really something endearing about box turtles.  Maybe it’s because they live so long or it seems like the same ones ‘hang out’ on your property year after year.  Or maybe, it’s the idea that they just may mate for life.  Whatever it is…I’m in love! ♦

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