As a budding young naturalist, I was always out in the backyard, up in the woods, and out in the garden, looking for critters. I can remember vividly discovering my first box turtle, on the edge of a wet area in the swamp behind my house. I remember being astonished at the shell coloration, the bright orange spots on the front and back feet, the bold orange eye, etc., but the thing that really stood out to me was the high, domed top shell and the hinged shell on the bottom. When I picked up the turtle (as all inquisitive boys and girls will do), he pulled completely into the shell. My only experience with turtles was the ol’ standard pond turtle (yellow-bellied sliders), and they close up, too, but not as tight and complete as the box turtle. Because of that first discovery, I have never forgotten why they are called box turtles!
The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina) is a small to medium-sized terrestrial turtle found in South Carolina. They are mainly terrestrial, but will enter shallow water from time to time. They feed on a variety of things, from vegetation, fruits, berries, and other plant stuff, but they will also feed on insects and are especially fond of slugs and worms. I have seen then in the wild, snuggled into a patch of ground cherries, gingerly plucking the ripe fruit off the plant and enjoying it immensley!
Box turtles are slow-growing and reach 25 years commonly, with documentation of some reaching 50 years of age! They take 8-10 years to reach sexual maturity and only up to 6 eggs in the spring. These factors make the box turtle extremely susceptible to adverse human activities such as habitat destruction and fragmentation. Box turtles have their habitats fragmented and must cross roads, railroads, highways, lawns, etc. to find food and mates and every year, many are hit by cars, trains, lawn mowers, tractors and other equipment.
You can be kind to box turtles by observing them in the wild, but not adopting them as pets and removing them from the wild. They are best left alone and allowed to roam around in search of food and other turtles. If you have seen one in your backyard, count yourself lucky, and hopefully, he/she will have a safe sanctuary with you and will be around for a long time!
Nature Notes by Marvin Bouknight
Nature Nook Photography