Box Turtle

I don’t see many box turtles at the museum. The habitat’s right but I can remember seeing only one or two of these terrestrial turtles in the twelve plus years I’ve walked the outdoor loop at the museum. Perhaps their scarcity is due to the fact that our 84 acre campus is surrounded by suburbia and ever increasing traffic on the roads around and through the area. These turtles have a bad track record in face-to-face encounters with cars.

Box turtles are the only completely terrestrial turtle in North Carolina. They have no objection to cooling off in streams, shady pools of water, or mud puddles on hot summer days but they prefer life on the land.

Terrapene carolina consists of a handful of subspecies in the eastern half of the states, eastern box turtle, Florida box turtle, three-toed box turtle, and Gulf Coast box turtle (the largest of the bunch). Ours is the eastern box turtle.

Eastern box turtles are variable in color and pattern, from olive drab to bright orange and yellow.

Eastern box turtle.

Box turtles typically live 30 – 40 years though all of the sources I’ve checked indicate that they can reach the 100 year mark. They eat a variety of food including meat, fruits, berries and other vegetable matter, worms, amphibians…they’re omnivorous. I once saw one taking chunks out of a low hanging tomato in my garden.

Since 1979, eastern box turtle has been the state reptile of North Carolina.

“The turtle watches undisturbed as countless generations of faster ‘hares’ run by to quick oblivion, and is thus a model of patience for mankind, and a symbol of our State’s unrelenting pursuit of great and lofty goals.” – North Carolina Secretary of State.

This is the time of year box turtles are up and moving about looking for mating opportunities and nesting locations, so keep an eye opened for them and enjoy.

If you happen to see one of these turtles crossing the road and you can’t help but to stop and move it along (I don’t recommend doing this), be very careful, I personally have nearly been run over doing so. If you absolutely can not resist stopping to help, make sure you move the turtle over to the side of the road it was heading for, and don’t take it home with you unless you plan to keep it. Turning a box turtle loose far away from its home turf is a bad thing. It may try to get back to where you picked it up which could be a very hazardous journey.

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