You’ve Adopted a Box Turtle, Now What?

 

Congratulations!

Box turtles are one of the oldest animals on our planet, and certainly one of the most unique and personable critters one can know.

I like to think of Box Turtles as having Super Powers. They evolved with our planet since the days of the Dinosaurs! Turtles have been here, on earth, for more then 200 million years. Think about that. That is a lot longer then humans have been around.  Turtles were able to survive mass extinctions that wiped out most of the inhabitants on this planet, more than once!

How Did they do That?

super-turtle

Super powers have served them well for thousands of years.. Will they survive humans?

Turtles are so connected to our earth and its temperature changes, perhaps this is one of the super powers that allowed reptiles to survive extinctions, the ability to dig in and wait out the in-hospitable climate of thousands of years ago.

Being reptiles, Box turtles are unique in that they are ectothermic. That means along with fish and amphibians, they are cold blooded, and cannot regulate their own body temperature. Reptiles body temperature fluctuates according to its surroundings.

Mother Nature has been taking care of our shelled friends for a very long time, and, well, turtles know how to be turtles. It is very difficult to replicate the exact conditions that mother nature has provided them all these years. Keeping your turtle inside, whether it be year round or just for the winter can be done, but it does take some research, some practice and quite a bit of supplies to do it right.

How hard is it to keep a box turtle as a pet?

Although Box turtles seem slow and unassuming, it is important to remember that they evolved to be perfectly suited to live in their specific habitat, and although it may seem that they would be an easy pet, That is indeed a false assumption.

listening for food

Leaves help retain moisture, decompose by feeding worms and bugs, allow for natural foraging and create a natural floor for the eastern box turtle

Even if you keep your Box turtle in an enclosed pen outside, it is not the same as being wild. In the wild they have a territory that can span the space of 10 football fields, and being an opportunist, will eat almost anything organic, including dead things, rotten things and even poop. Certainly these are things you would not and should not feed your captive Box turtle. In the wild, box turtles are able to find a wide variety of berries, mushrooms, insects and all sort of things that we can hardly duplicate in captivity. So it is of utmost importance that your box turtle get a variety of foods including a good bit of protein. It is believed that up to 75% of a Box turtles diet in the wild consists of insects and protein sources, which allow calcium for growth of the all important shell. Captive Turtles kept outside or inside should be fed and monitored daily during the summer months. Many Box turtles enjoy soaking in their water bowls  and often like to relieve themselves during their soak, making  daily water cleaning a necessity and important for the health of your turtle. Summer feeding is also an important time for Box Turtles to store fat for winter hibernation.

enjoying a soak

Box turtles enjoy a occasional soak, and often relieve themselves in the water.

Your outside turtle habitat will also need protection from unwanted guests and predators. In the wild, just about any predator  will eat a small box turtle. Besides the normal predation of raccoons, skunks and the like, Crows can be especially dangerous if your habitat does not have enough plants to provide shelter. Even ants and mice can do damage to sleeping turtles. Many turtle keepers keep their outdoor turtle habitats covered with some sort of wire, and year-round maintenance and  surveillance is required

If you plan to keep your new Box turtle indoors, You will want to supply him with as large of a habitat as you can. He will need clean water, and a special full spectrum sun light bulb. Your Box turtle will need humidity, a natural substrate that includes earth, leaves, bark, and plants native to his natural habitat (preferably ones he can eat). He will also need a place with deep shade (a hide) and he will need an extra heat source,so he can be kept at a suitable temperature. If possible this habitat should also have some worms and grubs for natural foraging.

If your Box turtle came from a place where winter is cold, then your box turtle most likely has hibernated or Brumated, as reptile people call it. Triggered by lack of heat and the decrease in the hours of daylight, Brumation is a state of dormancy in reptiles that is similar to hibernation in mammals, but differs in the metabolic processes involved, almost a chemical process.. Reptiles can go months in this state of torpor, but occasionally wake to drink water and then return to “sleep”.

Does my turtle need to Hibernate / Brumate?

Now that you know what your turtle would do in its natural environment, it is up to you whether or not you let your shelled friend have a long winter nap. If you decide to keep a turtle as a pet it is your responsibility to provide the best possible care, whether you keep him inside or outside.

Some Turtle keepers believe that if your turtle would have hibernated / brumated in its natural

Hollow logs, cut in half make great hides year round.

Hollow logs, cut in half make great hides year round.

habitat, they should be allowed to hibernate. Perhaps, due to the amazing ability to slow its metabolism during times of hibernation, the box turtle is able to live a good 100 years given the proper care. Still, many box turtle keepers will keep their turtles awake and inside all year, by maintaining heat, humidity, and daylight hours.

Many turtles will want to eat more before brumation time, but once the temperature drops on a regular basis, they will eat less and eventually refuse food, allowing their system to empty before their long winter nap.

There are a lot of ways to hibernate your turtle and a lot of how you go about it depends on your situation and available space. Turtle keepers are usually more than happy to give advise,  and opinions, and are more then willing to help out our shelled friends.

I strongly recommend being connected with other box turtle enthusiasts on-line as soon as you decide to get a turtle. There are  many turtle groups on Facebook and in turtle forums.

Be a Responsible Turtle Owner!

In the wild, Box Turtles are not in small boxes or glass containers and have a lot of room to find adequate food, shelter and sunshine. In our care we are responsible for every aspect of their needs and can’t let anything go with “In the wild” because it is NOT the same. Just because you keep your turtles in a small enclosed area outside does not mean they are wild or should be expected to survive as wild turtles do. If we decide to keep them as pets, whether indoors or out, we need to provide the best possible care that we can.

Please do your research before you venture into the responsibility of taking care of Turtles of any kind. Turtles do need our help!  They are amazing and fascinating animals, and there is a lot of things we have yet to learn about them and their ability to survive. It is important that we share our love for these docile creatures with future generations, so they may survive the human race and our endless destruction of their earth.

Every turtle owner and potential owner needs to watch this short video  at least once. Please watch it so you can see how important proper husbandry is for your new turtle.

The Monster You Made Me

The below articles were written by Sandy Barnett  senior author of “Indoor Care of North American Box Turtles”. Sandy produced an educational CD on the natural history and conservation of the eastern box turtle (“Eastern Box Turtles, Disappearing Gems of the Forest”) for MATTS (Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society). It has been distributed to secondary schools, nature centers, and wildlife agencies with youth programs, and translated into German for distribution in German-speaking countries. Sandy also serves on the North American Box Turtle Conservation Committee. You can read more about Sandy Barnett here.

A young Eastern Box Turtle

 

Creating outdoor habitats

Creating indoor habitats

Box Turtle Diet

Diet recipe ingredients and instructions

Do you have a unique or different idea that makes taking care of your box turtles more efficient?  I would love to hear about your turtle adventures! Please drop me a line, or ask me a question, lets see what we can figure out!

Shelley

Got Leaves? 3 Ways to Avoid Raking Leaves

The Cycle of life begins with leaves

The Cycle of life begins with leaves

We love trees, trees provide us with shade, some trees even provide us with food, and come autumn, as trees begin to ready themselves for winter, they often put on a spectacular show of lovely warm colors.

 

If that sentence got you anticipating what comes next, you are not alone!  Raking leaves is homeowners second least favorite yard chore, right behind cutting grass.

It is estimated by the National Wildlife Federation that more then 33 million tons of yard waste are added to US landfills each year, accounting for 13 percent of the solid waste. But the bad news doesn’t stop there.. These leaves, buried without oxygen, are responsible for creating methane (greenhouse  gas) at an alarming rate in our nation’s landfills.

With more than 40 million acres of lawns in the continental US, turf grasses add up to be the single largest irrigated crop in the nation. That is at least three times as much space as irrigated corn.

Before we became obsessed with tidy yards and homeowners’ association rules, we lived in a much healthier habitat, and although a heavy layer of leaves may cause damage to your lawn grasses, there are ways you can help the environment, wildlife and your lawn with out hauling away those leaves.

Three beneficial ways to use leaves

 

1.)  Did you know that leaves can actually impede weed growth? Research done at Michigan State University showed that when leaves are left until dry and crunchy, and then mulched with a mower into little pieces, they reduced dandilions the following spring by up to 80 percent. The added nutritional boost also produces a significant spring greening effect on the turf.

mulching your leaves into your lawn helps control weeds and adds nutrients

mulching your leaves into your lawn helps control weeds and adds nutrients

Leaves are our earth’s food. They are an incredible free resource that begins the food chain in our back yard.

While still on the tree, leaves provide homes for animals  like squirrels and birds and when they fall to the ground,  organisms that live on and in the soil slowly consume them creating the rich soil we find in our native forests. Mulching these leaves back into your lawn helps maintain the natural balance, and reduces the amount of  fertilizers and chemicals needed to keep it healthy.

 

 

2) Leaves feed more then just our soil. Leaves create their own mini ecosystem.
A pile of leaves left at the forest edge can benefit a lot of forest dwellers. Even during our dryest months,  the moisture that is retained under a pile of leaves encourages a food supply of worms and insects, that feeds lizards, toads, chipmunks and even baby turtles. Many moth and butterfly species overwinter as pupae in leaf litter.  If you leave some stickes, branches and stems in with your leaf pile, it will allow for some air circulation, and keep the leaves from packing too quickly,  benefiting all sorts of native wildlife.
photo 1

Box turtles rely on leaves for food and shelter

Leaving a pile of leaves at the edge of your property may bring you some welcome forest visitors, like our Eastern Box Turtle who may even choose to hibernate in your pile of leaves. A visiting Box Turtle will help control pests that may attack yard plants like slugs and grubs, and once your yard is discovered as a source for food and shelter, the chances are high that the Box Turtle will visit you again.

 

 

3) Leaves are an affordable easy garden bed mulch.  For finer texture mulch you can mulch them first. (Don’t have a mulcher? Place some leaves in a trash can and use a weed eater to mulch them). You can place leaves around your trees,  shrubs, and perennials, and you can place them over exposed roots.  Leaves are a advantageous winter garden cover,  will help reduce the number of weeds, and can be mixed in with the soil come planting time.13230283_10206168396512883_9168596874038663816_n

You can create compost by combining fallen leaves, grass clippings and other green material. Keeping your compost moist and well mixed will provide you with a nutrient dense mix for your spring garden.  You can also share the leaves with your neighbor or a community center

Need more ideas for your leaves? Check out National Wildlife Federations site at www.nwf.org/gard.

Do you have a good use for leaves? I use a lot of leaves for my Box turtles.. keeps them cool in the summer and well insulated in the winter.. What is your favorite use?

The Trouble with Turtles; Dinosaurs in a Mechanized World

I just spent a good part of the last two weeks with dinosuars.

old turtle new turtle

260 million yr old “Pre-Turtle” next to a modern day relative.

No I’m not talking about the scary ones with lots of teeth. I’m talking about our little native dinosaurs that live right here in Central Virginia.

I am talking about “The Amazing Turtles of Virginia”

This year, my educational program, that I share with the local county Parks and Rec summer camp program, included a photo of the newly found fossil that helps explain how digging in, helped turned the turtles ribs into his shell.

IMG_1554

Summer Parks and Rec Program “The Amazing Turtles of Virginia”

You see, 260 million years ago, the only animals that could survive were able to get out of the hot sun by digging into the earth, flying away or finding some other place to hide.

Our Turtles of today, well they evolved from those animals that learned to dig in.. and with the amazing super power of being ectothermic, they were forced to wait out the in-hospitable climate for possibly very long periods of time.

Weather was un-predictable. Finding food and mates nearly impossible. Survival depended upon adaptations. Other super powers began to emerged, and the turtles’ shell became more then a shield offering protection during digging, and became a tool to protect turtles from preditors.

Turtles evolved with the planet they live on and brumation, a period of winter dormancy in reptiles that occurs when temperatures fall below a level at which they can sustain normal metabolic

female box turtle

A female Box turtle needs lots of calcium for egg production and shell growth.

function, became a super power of survival. It is amazing to think just how much turtles depend on the climate of their specific geographical area,  facing each day as the weather permits.

Female turtles began storing sperm for future use, and turtles of today can store it for up to 5 years, producing viable eggs years after being with a male, a super power that almost guaranteed survival. By the time 10 million years passed, turtles became the recognizeable scavengers we know today.

Scavengers?

Well, yes. Although some turtles, mostly isolated populations, evolved to eat purely vegetarian diets, most turtles are Omnivors and will consider eating any organic material they happen upon, including dead things.

ghost crab

A ghost crab will eat baby sea turtles as they head to the ocean after leaving their nest.

Our beautiful Eastern Box Turtle, once very common up and down the eastern seaboard, was considered the crab of the woods. No, they don’t walk sideways, but like crabs who scavage on the beach, Box turtles patrol their home territories always on the look out for a slug, mushroom or an easy meal, bones and all.

Box Turtles, like their name implies, are able to close themselves up totally inside their shells. No, they’e not making calls with their shell-phone or taking shell-fies, They close up their shells in the presence of danger. Not many native preditors can get a tightly closed box turtle shell open, and this techinique has served the Box turtle well for millions of years.

 

Things have changed for turtles world wide.

Some cultures have eaten some species to the brink of extinction, others we have wiped out with invasive species. Most turtles however, are suffering from habitat loss due to human encroachment, pollution, and illegal poaching for both the pet trade and human consumption.

And so it seems even with super powers in place,

dead turtles

In November 2014, authorities in Vietnam confiscated 10 tons of dead sea turtles, the single largest seizure of marine turtles ever.

turtles have met their match in the Human race. The Box turtle that closes inside his shell for on-coming traffic, has a slim chance for long term survival.

I Loved my short two week stint sharing  “The AmazingTurtles of Virginia”  with summer camp participants. I love introducing these children to some turtles that they have never seen, answering  questions, telling them about life cycles and super powers, and helping a couple turtles gain better habitats along the way. It gives me hope that turtles have a future living among us

Turtles have inhabitated this space for millions of years. A committment from the human race is needed to preserve habitat, not only for the turtles but for future generations, who may never have the experience of finding a turtle in their own back yard.

Turtles are truly amazing. There is still so much unknown about them and their life and so much more to learn from them.

turtles all the way downTurtles,  are so deeply intune with the ebb and flow of the earth, that they have become one of the first indicators of the health of our planet. As we pollute the oceans and destroy woodland habitats, we kill turtles daily, while tens of thousands are killed on our roadways yearly. It is time to take action for the health of our planet,  our future, and the future of all the earths inhabitants.

Please do your part… after all… it is:

Turtles all the way down.