Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Eastern Box Turtle

Among my very favorite wildlife to encounter in the forests here in Pennsylvania, is the elusive and often overlooked Eastern Box Turtle.

Eastern Box Turtle

I came across this healthy, and brightly colored individual along the edge of Tuskoviche's field yesterday after a long steady rain. He was undoubtedly searching for snails, and vegitation to devour. I watched him pace slowly along, bright red eyes scanning for the bounty of food the rain brought to him.

One trait that the Eastern Box Turtle and myself share is a passion for mushrooms. Whereas the Western Ornate Box Turtle (Rhonda Elizabeth has a lovely picture of this species) eats a lot of carrion (dead animals) and insect life, 70 - 80% of the Eastern Box Turtle's diet is vegitative. A considerable piece of that percentage is mushrooms and fungi, which at the end of the day, acts as a form of protection for the Eastern Box Turtle. For those planning on taking this, the most common of Pennsylvania reptiles, and making turtle soup, be warned: the chances of you getting deathly sick are high!


Poisonous turtle? No, the Eastern Box turtle is not naturally poisonous, it's just that this myco-munching reptile feasts heavily on POISONOUS mushrooms which it is obviously unaffected by. In the end, it is a form of protection.

Speaking of protection, the entire family of Box Turtles are one of the few turtles that can close their shell ENTIRELY, thanks to a fleshy "hinge" located near the front half of the bottom part of the shell. This allows the front of the flat belly shell to life upward at an angle, completely locking the turtle out of harms way! This factoid alone cuts out a lot of possible natural predators, leaving mainly hog-nose snakes, foxes, and a couple others as predators. It seems likely that some animals ignore, avoid, or overlook this turtle as it's probably not worth the work to get into that tightly sealed dome-like shell.

After taking a picture of this individual, I set it free again. This individual was probably around my age, possibly older. Some records report Eastern Box turtles as living up to 138 years. With that in mind, I request anyone who ever has plans of kidnapping one of these splendid creatures from the wild think twice, if not three times about doing so.

Long live the magnificent Box Turtle.