New World Pond Turtles: Emydidae
Eastern Box Turtle (terrapene Carolina): Species Accounts
Physical characteristics: The eastern box turtle is a small- to medium-sized turtle with a rounded upper shell. The adult's lower shell has two hinges. When the turtle is frightened, it can pull its head, legs, and tail into the shell and use the hinges to close up the lower shell. The carapace is black with a pattern of short yellow stripes. Males have red eyes, a longer and thicker tail than that of the females, and a lower shell that is indented rather than flat. Females are larger than males and have carapaces that can reach 9 inches (23 centimeters) in length.
Geographic range: Theses turtles live in the United States and Mexico.
Habitat: This species lives in much of the eastern half of the United States and parts of Mexico near the Gulf of Mexico. It is a land turtle that roams forests and fields.
Diet: Eastern box turtles eat a variety of plants and animals, including grasses, flowers, and berries as well as insects and earthworms.
Behavior and reproduction: These turtles live on land, so they cannot swim away from danger, and they are not fast runners. To protect themselves against predators (PREH-duh-ters), or animals that might want to eat them, the adults tuck their legs, tails, and heads inside their shells and use the hinges in the upper shells to close up tight. Predators cannot get through the sealed shell. Young turtles, however, do not have hinges. Instead, they release a strong odor that persuades predators to leave them alone. Like other members of this family, eastern box turtles sunbathe to warm up. When the day gets too hot, they hide just barely underground. In the winter months these turtles bury themselves beneath a pile of leaves or just under the soil and wait until spring. Sometimes, if the winter becomes particularly cold for a few days, a turtle will freeze, and its heart will stop beating, but they do not die.
Males and females mate in the spring. The male attracts the female by biting at her shell and sometimes her head and bumping into her. Females lay their eggs from spring to midsummer, sometimes making five nests a year, though most of them make just one or two. The female lays one to eleven eggs in each nest, and the eggs hatch in about two and a half months. The nest temperature controls the number of males and females in each nest. A warmer nest produces all females, and a cooler nest produces all males.
Eastern box turtles and people: This turtle is popular in the pet trade because of its size and friendly behavior. People rarely see them live in the wild, except when the turtles attempt to cross a road—an activity that too often results in death from a passing car.
Conservation status: According to the IUCN the eastern box turtle is Near Threatened, meaning that it is at risk of becoming threatened with extinction in the future. Habitat loss has caused some of the drop in turtle numbers. ∎
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Knopf, 1979.
Burnie, David, and Don E. Wilson, eds. Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2001.
Conant, Roger, and Joseph T. Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. North American Box Turtles: A Natural History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.
Gibbons, J. Whitfield. Life History and Ecology of the Slider Turtle. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.
Harding, J. H. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
Harding, J. H., and J. A. Holman. Michigan Turtles and Lizards. East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1990.
Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
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