N.H. Fish and Game’s “Wildlines” spring newsletter mentioned finding an Eastern box turtle one previous summer in Hudson. Now three others have been found, including the town of Lee for a total of seven.
The non-game program has done a lot with Blanding’s turtles and the spotted turtle, but this was a first for the biologists who care about turtle species in this state. What’s more, upon using a radiograph on this solitary find, it was determined that turtle was a female, and carrying several eggs within her body.
Perhaps, she also has a mate not found yet in her shrubby locale? They attached a radio transmitter on her shell and released her where she had been observed in a powerline corridor.
It might last a year with its battery, which will let the non-game program keep weekly track of her movements. The battery is on a timer, so it can shut off at night to save energy.
Box turtles were common in my Maryland woodlands, and we often carried them home, putting our captures in a board pen. Then we had to find earthworms for these new pets from the wild.
Once, my younger brother, Jonnie, leaned over the planked side, and one reached up and bit him on his juicy lower lip — thinking that a suitable meal. Probably looked a lot like an earthworm to this turtle. He jumped back screaming, and the turtle fell off on its own weight.
Just before I started grammar school, we took care of some admiral’s golden retriever for a while. Her name was “Feathers” and rightfully so. She constantly brought box turtles out of the woods and would gnaw on their shells before we rescued them. If gone too far, we saw the white carapace of the colorful shell’s undergirding, and we moved to prevent that.
A vet told my mom, the dog was craving bones, and to buy some soon at the A&P when she was shopping there. Eventually, I had quite a few box turtles to take care of in the board pen due to Feather’s gathering habit.
Other perils to box turtles’ existence were being chopped up by lawn mowers converting dense vegetation, and of course, road kills. Always colorful, they varied a lot with their pigmented shells, and scaly feet and head in their décor. The Peterson field guide says there is a subspecies entitled the “Ornate Box Turtle” as well as the Eastern box turtle, and I can believe that.
Its carapace is flattened or depressed on top, with radiating light lines of yellow. The underneath plastron has bold light lines, while the Eastern box turtle is more solid colored, with varying patterns. I never saw any two that were similar during my boyhood.
The high domelike shell has an extremely varied patterns. Both upper and lower shells may be yellow, orange, or olive on black or brown and either dark or light colors may predominate.
Box turtles are “dry land turtles” that can close their shells tightly when danger threatens. We children would wait to see them emerge and peek out after a while. If the coast wasn’t clear, they would remain shut up tight.
Their hallmark is a broad hinge across the plastron and providing movable lobes both fore and aft. These fit so neatly that not even a knife blade could fit in between them. This fascinated us kids, and we just had to wait until the turtle decided to come out again.
Head and legs eventually appeared, and the turtle wandered off. This close-fitting armor makes the box turtle well fitted for terrestrial life, except for us humans and our pet dogs. They can live 20 to 30 years, and the record is around the century mark.
While it is now illegal to possess this species, working against our budding naturalist tendencies as kids, they obviously don’t require too much care (I don’t think we ever starved one).
Being omnivorous, they will eat fruits, berries and raw hamburger — or canned dog food. I often found them in a strawberry patch, with juices drooling down from their upper jaw’s hooked beak and mouth. They require some dirt for digging in captivity, and a shallow pan of water for an occasional soaking.
In the wild, they like to burrow under leaf litter or rotting vegetation on hot days, and they enjoy mud and water a lot, as rain showers would bring them out in numbers.
Box turtles are strictly North American and range widely over the eastern and central United States, and into the Southwest. To learn more about Eastern box turtles, visit Fish and Game’s “Turtles of New Hampshire” webpage at wildlifesightings.org.
Dave Eastman also broadcasts “Country Ecology” four times weekly over WMWV 93.5 FM. As vice president of the Lakes Region Chapter/ASNH, he welcomes you to monthly programs at the Loon Center in Moultonborough. He is available at: firstname.lastname@example.org (or) countryecology.com for consultation.