Jack’s Story

 
 
Found a turtle e

 

John and his dog,Venus were hiking through a local farm field when they came upon a damaged turtle. John noticed the turtles damaged shell and realized the turtle was in trouble. He set about trying to find someone who could help get the turtle the care that he needed.

“It was a Sunday” John recalls, “and everyplace I called was closed or did not deal with wildlife. I found the Sanctuary through a search on my phone, and they were happy to help this little guy out, and agreed to meet me nearby. They took what little knowledge I knew about where I found him, and said that if his injuries were not life threatening, they hoped to be able to return him to the wild, once he was healed and they had a chance to check out the habitat where he came from.”
“I am so glad that I decided to take that hike with Venus that day, she is the one that pointed him out to me. I also learned a lot about turtles and their struggle for habitat.”

 

https://boxturtlesanctuaryofcentralva.networkforgood.com/
So This is Jack. Like Many Turtles, One Eye Jack was a victim of a motorized vehicle. Being on soft earth likely saved his life. Jack lost an eye, a leg and was left with a badly broken shell. Unable to move, Jack was fortunate that John and his dog came along and got him the help he needed. Jack has healed now, but is unable to contribute to wild populations, and with only one eye, catching live food is difficult.

Box Turtles are aptly named. In the face of danger, they close up tightly, like a box, to wait out the danger. Unfortunately, when motorized vehicles are involved, turtles don’t have a chance. Jack was a lucky one.

Do we release Jack back into the wild, into a habitat that is already compromised, and with diminished mobility and sight? 

When Box turtles are found injured, and taken to a licensed wildlife veterinarian, and then supported by a rehabber, they are required to be returned  to the exact place where they were found. Normally this is a good practice, as box turtles learn their habitat as they grow and will try to return to it if they are removed from it. Unfortunately often times this habitat is already compromised, which likely contributed to the injury.

Wildlife rehabilitators work with Veterinarians to  provides medical care to injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife. Their goal  is to  treat the animal by providing suitable diet and nutrition, and  safe and sanitary shelter, while it recovers, with the goal to return it to its native habitat:

” The goal is not to make pets out of wildlife, to display them around humans, or to release any wildlife with handicaps in which they may not be able to protect themselves, not healthy enough to thrive unable to fit in with other wildlife, or become vulnerable to predators. 

Being a wildlife rehabber is a full time, unpaid, volunteer position, and most  are not in a situation to be able to keep any of the animals that they tend to. Having to euthanize any animal is difficult, and it is often a thin line that must be drawn.  You will find rehabbers releasing turtles that have handicaps (3 legs) or broken and missing pieces of their shells, making them vulnerable to predators. According to Virginia State Laws the only other option is euthanasia.

As the Box Turtle is not a game species in Virginia,  it is silently disappearing through-out the state.  Small and  insignificant, there are few studies done within the commonwealth. Land held by the state is often used for other purposes, including logging, which leaves only private property as a last retreat for these ancient reptiles.

The Box Turtle Sanctuary is making a difference in the lives of turtles like Jack by providing a safe and natural habitat for Jack to live his life.

Jacks new habitat, will provide generations of children a place to explore the wonders of a turtles world. To see and discover how our native Box turtles live, what they eat, how they evolved, and what we can do to help them survive.

But we need your support. Sign up to learn how you can be an advocate for box turtles, volunteer for fence building day, or Donate. Every little bit that goes toward our Shell ID App or our New Fence, helps us move forward to our ultimate goal to provide a turtle educational center for children of all ages.

  • A place to explore the fascinating world of the Eastern Box Turtle
  • To promote and encourage the protection of native habitat
  • To provide safe sanctuary to misplaced and lost box turtles.

Please sign up for BTS of CVA’s Newsletter, and Don’t forget to share this with your turtle loving friends..!

Shelley

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. SeussThe Lorax

 

Box Turtles and Rehabilitation

Box Turtles and Rehabilitation

This Shell, that has provided the Box Turtle protection for millions of years, is no match for vehicles .

The unique defense mechanism of the Eastern Box Turtle has allowed for this small unambiguous reptile to survive on this planet for millions of years. It is the only animal that responds to danger by quickly and quietly closing up its shell, to form a tight box. Here in his home, this ancient reptile is well suited to wait until the danger has passed.

Our powered and developed landscape is no place for such a small dinosaur as he now finds himself closing his shell in the middle of busy streets,  on mowed lawns, in crop fields, logging roads, shopping centers and golf courses. There is so little land in Central Virginia that is not logged, farmed or developed, that generations of genetic diversity have been silently wiped out.  To make matters even more interesting, the Box turtles ability to survive extensive damage and to heal itself is close to miraculous.

Wildlife rehabilitators work with Veterinarians to  provides medical care to injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife. Their goal  is to  treat the animal by providing suitable diet and nutrition, and  safe and sanitary shelter, while it recovers, with the goal to return it to its native habitat:

” The goal is not to make pets out of wildlife, to display them around humans, or to release any wildlife with handicaps in which they may not be able to protect themselves, not healthy enough to thrive unable to fit in with other wildlife, or become vulnerable to predators. 

Wild animals that sustain injuries or illnesses preventing them from living successfully in the wild usually are euthanized (have their suffering ended in a humane fashion). Occasionally, individual animals that have recovered from their injuries but are not able to survive in the wild are placed in educational facilities.”  (from National Wildlife Rehabilators website)

 

A three legged turtle often cannot contribute to future generations. Missing limbs make mating difficult and nest digging nearly impossible.

When Box turtles are found injured, and taken to a licensed wildlife veterinarian, and then supported by a rehabber, they are required to be returned  to the exact place where they were found. Normally this is a good practice, as box turtles learn their habitat as they grow and will try to return to it if they are removed from it. Unfortunately often times this habitat is already compromised, which likely contributed to the injury.

Being a wildlife rehabber is a full time, unpaid, volunteer position, and most  are not in a situation to be able to keep any of the animals that they tend to. Having to euthanize any animal is difficult, and it is often a thin line that must be drawn.  You will find rehabbers releasing turtles that have handicaps (3 legs) or broken and missing pieces of their, shells making them vulnerable to predators. According to Virginia State Laws the only other option is euthanasia.

As the Box Turtle is not a game species in Virginia,  it is silently disappearing through-out the state.  Small and  insignificant, there are few studies done within the commonwealth. Land held by the state is often used for other purposes, including logging, which leaves only private property as a last retreat for these ancient reptiles.

How Many Become Road Kill?

When finding a damaged turtle, it is important to put it in a dark, quiet place until help can be arranged.

Although it would be difficult to count the total number of turtles that become road kill every year in the United States, James Gibbs, a conservation biologist at the State University of New York in Syracuse decided to make an educated estimate. He took into consideration three factors: traffic density, the speed with which turtles cross the road and the number of roads in the US.

Gibbs estimate shows that turtle populations in the Northeast, Southeast and the Great lakes region suffer from a 10 to 20 percent mortality rate due to traffic encounters, high enough to deplete turtle populations. The Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento, California, places road kill mortality between one half and one million animals daily.

In Central Virginia alone 99% of injured turtles that make it to a wildlife veterinarian are suffering from a collision with a motorized vehicle. The remaining 1% is damage done by domestic canines.

Sanctuary or Death?

Turtles and encounters with motorized vehicles, is not a turtle problem, but a human consequence.

Here at the Box Turtle Sanctuary, our current focus is on education. We are not a rehabb facility, as the time commitment, both to become licensed and of the maintenance of in house rehabbs would not allow me to pursue the goal of the sanctuary which is to provide permanent  safe shelter through natural, native habitat for misplaced eastern box turtles, due to habitat loss or that have been pets and are unable to be released into the wild. This includes animals that were damaged due to human encroachment, treated at wildlife vets, rehabbed and unable to be returned to the wild due to handicaps.

This being said, I am more then happy to educate turtle owners on how to achieve better environments and habitats for their pet turtles and I will continue to advocate for any turtle in need to make sure it gets the help that is necessary for its health.

Humans are responsible for this extreme loss of habitat, and as stewards of this earth and this land, it is our responsibility to provide habitat for all creatures that were residents before us.

So where do we go from here?

I am amazed at how Central Virginia continues to promote urban sprawl. Our residents and their children are becoming more and more removed from our natural world. We are at a critical time in our evolution, where humans are poised to create the next great extinction event.

Education is only the tip of the spear. Providing a safe sanctuary for these misplaced turtles, also provides an educational opportunity for study, exploration and a connection to the earth that we once shared .

Turtles are ancient, they are survivors, and they are part of our Earth.

PLEASE leave your comments

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Rehabbing

 Wildlife Rehabilitation in Virginia

A rehabber, is someone who takes care of those that are recovering from a specific condition, to fix it up and make it better. Often times when someone mentions rehab, we think of drug or alcohol abuse and the process it takes to “get off the wagon”.

But a Rehabber , in wildlife terminology is the greatest asset we currently have to benefit our wildlife, and to help get them back into the wild where they belong. But it is not an easy road, nor is rehabbing wildlife the road to riches.

When Wildlife is injured or sick, and are presented to a wildlife veterinarian, they will prepare a plan to get that animal well as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our two major Wildlife centers in Virginia, the Richmond Wildlife Center and the Wildlife Center of Virginia, are both working at capacity   and are busy with wildlife needing help. Fortunately, once their patients are stable and on the road to recovery, they are able to go to a rehabber that can give them the support and the care that they need until they are releasable.

You can find a list of licenced rehabilitators for Virginia here

WHAT IS A WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR?

A wildlife rehabilitator, also known as a “rehabber,” is a professionally trained person, that works with Veterinarians to  provides medical care to injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife. The goal of the rehabber is to medically treat the animal by providing suitable diet and nutrition, and to provide safe and sanitary shelter, so that it may return back to its natural habitat and family. The goal is not to make pets out of wildlife, to display them around humans, or to release any wildlife with handicaps in which they may not be able to protect themselves, not healthy enough to thrive, unable to fit in with other wildlife, or become vulnerable to predators.  Wild animals that sustain injuries or illnesses preventing them from living successfully in the wild usually are euthanized (have their suffering ended in a humane fashion). Occasionally, individual animals that have recovered from their injuries but are not able to survive in the wild are placed in educational facilities.

Rehabbing Wildlife is  an elaborate and time consuming undertaking, and there is no pay involved. Rehabbers work each and every day, all year long taking care of the animals in their care, but there is nothing more rewarding then watching that animal rejoin its family when it is returned to the wild.

HOW TO BECOME A WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR:

To become a wildlife rehabber, you will need to locate a licensed rehabber near you that has knowledge and experience rehabbing the species of animal that you are interested in working with.

To become a rehabber, you will first need to decide what species you would like to work with. In Virginia, there is no path that will allow you to focus on a specific animal,  you will find you will need to learn how to rehab other animals as well.
Locate a rehabber in your area who has extensive experience rehabbing those animals. To find a list of rehabbers in your area, call your local Animal Shelter, Humane Society, or visit this web site: www.nwrawildlife.org
Put in lots of volunteer time with a permitted rehabber before you make your final decision. Find out all you can about the nature of the animal, medical treatments, time, commitment, and finances (rehabbers pay for the cost of everything).

Rehabbers need to obtain specific knowledge including:

  • behavior,
  • diseases,
  • diagnosis,
  • wounds and injuries,
  • anatomy of the species,
  • first aid training,
  • triage treatment,
  • drugs and drug administration

 

Once you are sure you want to be a wildlife rehabber, you are ready to  apply for your state permit. In Virginia this will require a 2-year apprenticeship program before you may legally obtain a permit to rehab. During this 2-year period, a legally permitted rehabber will supervise you. To obtain the rehab application, call Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries:(804) 367-1000.

Wildlife rehabbers are required to attend wildlife training annually to keep their Federal or State permit legal and updated, and these classes are available at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, for a nominal fee.

Birds are protected by federal law and a Special Purpose Federal permit is required to handle and rehab birds. Click to  learn more about acquiring a Federal permit.

Wildlife Centers and Hospitals receive thousands of calls from communities all over the country every year from compassionate citizens who see injured wildlife and want to help.  Most injuries to wildlife are created by man, and as we destroy more and more of our natural world, we can expect more injuries to wildlife as they struggle just to survive.

Wildlife rehabbers are needed now more then ever, So if you have a love of wildlife, they could use your help now more then ever. Please do your part to help Wildlife in your area!

 

 

Turtle or Pine-cone ?

Like a gruesome clip of a horror movie, the video and audio play over, and over, in my head.

Most people, I guess, can drive past a turtle and never even see it. Now, with the added distraction for drivers of cell phones, Turtles in “High Kill Zones” don’t stand a chance, and this particular day, the sun was shinning, casting long complicated shadows through the trees that were left along the side of the road where the new golf course was built.

Early September, still warm, and an early morning rain had left the road wet and scattered with leaves and pine-cones, anything could be a turtle. It takes attentive eyes, as all driving should, to spot things in the road that should not be run over.

He was in the other lane, heading my way. I saw him as I passed and I was able to stop perhaps 25 yards beyond him. I also noticed the red mustang coming his way, in his lane. I had little time.

Window open, I am half way out, waving frantically. I do believe the driver was looking at his phone, he did not hit  his brakes until he was past me and on top of the turtle. I heard the crunch. I saw the splat.  It was a direct hit.

The shock on my face must of been evident as he rolled down his window…

“Why?! Why did you run over that turtle!?” I screamed ! holding back the tears I knew would shortly follow.

“What?” I didn’t run over any turtle” He replied..

“You Idiot! I just saw you do it!.” was my only retort, as another vehicle approached behind me, I knew there was nothing left here for me. Fortunately, I was close to home, and able to drive through the sobs..

I know that my work here is difficult.

Aren’t we are all fighting battles of our own?

I often wonder  why is it that I am the one that has to bear witness to this sadness.  How can this one turtle turn me into such a pathetic  mess.? Is it to remind me how necessary it is to provide sanctuary for our defenseless shelled residents? To keep me on task when there is so much suffering all around the world?

I try to consul myself with reassuring thoughts that at least he was mourned, unlike so many that are hit and forgotten. Do  people that hit them by accident feel bad? do they even know?

And I think about his habitat. He came from the golf-course, the fertilized, groomed golf-course, which used to be woods with native blueberries, creeks, rotten trees, bugs, birds and wildlife that thrived along the river, and he was heading across the road to the new housing development.

This is no interstate, not a high speed road, but a quiet rural road that is slowly destroying wildlife habitat with human encroachment.

We call it  the Kill Zone

I am surrounded by it.

Turtle road rescues in my rural neighborhood are on the down slide. Not because these roads are getting safer for turtles, no, it is because the increase in vehicular traffic, which comes with the building of suburbia,  has already killed many of the turtles that cross these roads.

I become a little “gun-shy” after an experience like that, and quite honestly, the last thing that I want to see is a turtle in the road. I have had my fair share of injured turtles brought to me this summer. Even with the amazing healing powers that turtles possess, a little experience has taught me when they should go the the Virginia Wildlife Center for repair, to a wildlife rehabber for some TLC, or if the injuries are terminal. Its been a rough summer.

Two days after the smashing, I am again driving home, my Husband is in the passenger seat.  Traversing a road with more traffic, higher speed, very few areas with habitat.

“Please don’t let that be a turtle” I say as I approach,  hitting my breaks as I straddle him and come to a stop. My heart sinks. I can’t breath. I cannot move. My Husband, bless his heart, says “I’ll go check”.

I wait, Praying that he is alive and uninjured. My husband returns with the turtle. He is closed up tight, but undamaged and alive.  I make a quick note as to where exactly he was found, and where he was headed, and I take him home.

 

Turtles need to stay in the wild.

Box turtles have roamed this land for more than 200 million years. Fossils have shown us that they actually moved with the tectonic plates that make up our land masses, and are found on all continents except  Antarctica.

Turtles all over the world are struggling for survival as humans destroy habitat.  There are a handful of very active turtle rescue groups that are helping restore native populations of turtles from parts of the world that I will never visit. Ocean going Sea Turtles also have a large following and these amazing beauties are monitored as well as they can be. So it amazes me that our little native turtles The Eastern Box Turtle, one of the most beautiful turtles in the world,  are all but forgotten.

Statewide, Central Virginia has the second smallest percentage of preserved land at just 11.7 percent and we loose about 0.5 percent annually.  As you can see on the map there is very little protected land in Central Virginia where suitable habitat can be found.  

Virginia, as a commonwealth is negligent in preserving and protecting wild spaces for non game species, and a noticeable void of “green spaces” can be observed on the Virginia State and Federal land map. There are virtually no parks or green spaces in all of Central Virginia along the 95 corridor, from the James River in Richmond, north, parks and wildlife areas are only found along the Bay  and in the mountains of Virginia. Here in the center of our state, the Piedmont Area, which consist of the Fall line is full of amazing rivers that  are enjoyed by many. The white waters that are created at this fall line bring, outdoor revelers and wildlife alike, but there are no parks to visit and no wildlife areas.

The Wild is disappearing quickly.

The Wanderers

I have a neighbor who owns the 80 acre parcel behind me.(That is a whole separate story) His property is bordered by a good size creek that flows into the South Anna River. This neighbor does watch out for turtles as he traverses the area, stopping for them when they are in the road. Unfortunately, despite my efforts to educate him on leaving the turtles in their native home (Box turtles generally stay in a territory all their lives and learn where the best food, water and shelter are), He brings them to his 80 acre property  behind me and deposits them along the creek.  So, I know that there are wanderers  out there.

My neighbor and I seldom visit, and I have no idea where he finds these turtles, or what their habitat is like. I do know that each time I find a turtle in a questionable location, a location where there is no suitable habitat, like in the middle of a heavily traveled intersection or crossing Interstate 95 (yes, those have both happened), I have to do a lot of exploring around the area for a logical reason, I do a lot of soul searching and then I have a bout of guilt. Not because I am about to take that turtle home, but because of what we have done to the earth that was put in our care.

It is unfortunate that there is no easy answer to “what to do with a turtle that is in the road and has no habitat  or no longer has any “wild” to be moved into?”

In a perfect world we can move the turtles “in the direction that they are going” . When this ends up being a parking lot, a shopping center, or a newly created suburbia, hesitation  should ensue, and some common sense should prevail. This is my world, and it is complicated.

My Habitat assessment that I took the day following the road rescue was disappointing to say the least. The small patch of trees that I assumed he exited from was shallow and backed by a large soy bean field, still waiting for harvest. The area directly  across the road, “the direction he was going”, had recently been bulldozed and cleared for a high end development, and heavy equipment was still pushing around earth.

It is quite possible my little road turtle was a “wanderer”, and was not moving about his home territory to the best hibernation place, but was actually on a journey, navigating by the sun, trying to return to his home. Judging by the amount of protein this little guy has eaten, I would presume that he has had  difficulty obtaining food on his own. If this area was his home base, and he had somehow managed to cross this busy road previously, the habitat that he had once memorized was no longer in existence, and leaving him there is no different then leaving him in a strange place. Survival would be difficult and unlikely.

Advocate

So what do we do with all these Box Turtles that once called our lovely countryside home?  If we don’t start preserving land, and I mean land where we do not log, farm, or develop, and if we don’t start soon, I am afraid that our little box turtle will slowly fade away into extinction in Central Virginia, and the day will come when our grandchildren find a turtle shell, and we will have to tell them about the amazing and personable creature that used to live in it and how  we destroyed its habitat and why they no longer exist.

What Can You Do?

Stop for turtles in the road and help them remain in the wild when ever you can, and if you find one that has no wild to be moved into … do the right thing.. find a rehabber, or wildlife rescuer, someone who cares about our wildlife. Reach out !  Be heard and never give up!

We Are the Only Advocates that our native box turtles have!  We may not make a difference for all the turtles, but for each one that we help, it is a matter of life or death. 

Please support land preservation organizations and educate others on the plight of the Eastern Box Turtle.

We Are Their Only Hope.

Have a question? concern? or just want to talk turtle? I would love to hear it..! Leave a comment!

 

 

HELP ! I Found A Baby Turtle!

Baby Turtles ARE Amazing

a-hatchling-group-of-box-turtles

Baby Box Turtles

Finding such a small creature is indeed a stroke of chance and luck, but is it right to think that it needs help and that you should take it home?

Before you decide that this little dinosaur will be better off with you lets consider some facts and the circumstances.

EVERYTHING and I mean everything a turtle does is due to its connection with the earth and the weather in its habitat. Turtles have been surviving this way for more than 200 million years, yes, since the days of dinosaurs, and have evolved to have some amazing “super powers” to get them through the tough times. All turtles come from eggs, and like the Dinosaurs before them, incubation lasts for at least 60 days. In climates where turtles Brumate(Hibernate), it is not uncommon for hatchlings to stay in their underground nest for their first winter and wait for spring rains to awaken them for their first venture to the surface

digging-hole

Eastern Box Turtle digging a nest on the side of the road

of the earth.

All mother turtles will  prepare a nest by digging a hole with her back legs as deep as she can. Depending on the weather and food supply, some turtles will lay a clutch of eggs two or even three times a summer, and
although mother turtles abandon their nest after it is completed, each type of turtle will carefully find the best location to dig their nest and, to give their hatchlings the best chance of survival.  Most turtles, including water turtles will seek out land that is above flood level to place their nest, allowing temperatures in the nest to stay stable.

Why did you find a Baby Turtle?

image009

Baby Water Turtle

Fluctuating temperatures are the most common reason that one finds baby turtles during times of the year when you would not expect to find them. Late warm rains in October, or early warm rains in March sometimes trigger the “its spring” response in nestlings causing them to dig to the surface, only to find an inhospitable climate.

Baby Turtles are also often disturbed with construction. Finding baby turtles in newly dug piles of dirt from previously undisturbed wooded areas is becoming more and more common as we push the limits of preserved land, and encroach upon native habitat.

What Kind of Turtle Did You Find?

To the common eye, baby turtles all look alike, but can be easily differentiated by carefully looking at their feet.

Box turtles are land turtles and have small dinosaur like feet. It is very important to note that Box Turtles are NOT water turtles, and although they can swim, they will also drown if unable to get themselves out of the water.

Baby Water turtles like sliders, paints and cooters, have little webbed feet, and surprisingly the nests are often a good distance to the fresh water where their parents live.

snapping_turtle_baby_

Baby Snapping Turtle

Baby Snappers are also often found away from water and are distinguishable by their prehistoric
looking shell and extremely long tail.

Ocean turtles have flippers, are found on the beach and should NEVER be taken home. They are endangered and protected and It is nearly impossible to raise them in captivity. If you find one, you can help it get to the ocean, if it is injured, contact the local authorities for more directions.

Here are the things that all baby turtles have in common:

yoke-sack

Baby Turtle With Yolk

  • Baby Turtles rely on their dull coloration for camouflage.
  • Baby Turtles have no protection other than hiding.
  • All predators find baby turtles to be a nice snack. It is believed only one in 1,000 will survive to reproductive age.
  • Baby Turtles are prone to dehydration.
  • Baby Turtles hatch with a “Yolk” and will / can survive 7-10 days once hatched with out food.
  • Studies have shown that baby turtles are not born with the homing instinct that their parents have, but acquire it over time. (exception: ocean turtles)

 

What To Do With Your New Find?

heron

A heron enjoys a baby turtle snack.

This is where it gets tricky.
Due to habitat loss and destruction, it is not uncommon for mother turtles to locate their nests in places that are less then ideal. One recently more common place is along road ways where the earth is well packed, and with a “stream” (ditch) along side. Not an ideal place for baby turtles of any kind, and with the lack of habitat in areas that are well established by humans, baby turtles show up in the most unlikely places.

Baby Turtles are great to visit with, take some photos and show your kids, but unless we can let these turtles remain in the wild, they will soon be extinct in areas that they called home for millions of years.

That being said, to release a baby turtle in suburbia and expect it to survive to adult hood is far-fetched indeed.

Baby Turtles need shelter. They need food and water.  If the seasons are appropriate your little turtle should be taken to an area that will supply him with what he needs to survive and grow and be released. If it is late fall through early spring, you should contact a local wildlife rehabber or a wildlife veterinarian that can give you names of qualified people that can help direct you.

Turtles as pets are a Hugh responsibility. Turtles can live 50-100 years and require a habitat that simulates as close as possible  the habitat that they would have in the wild, including natural sunshine, and a varied diet.

The two baby box turtles that were brought to me this winter with severe dehydration, perished shortly after their arrival. Both of them were initially kept by well meaning  people that wanted to share them with their children. I was contacted once the adults realized the turtles were fading.  If these two little ones had been released / relocated when found, it is possible they would be alive today. IMG_1555

The best way to help turtles is to educate!

I offer educational programs for groups of any age and am currently  accepting dates for Summer 2017. My programs include hands on Adult box turtles, along with water turtles and babies.

I am happy to help our shelled friends in any way I can. If  you have questions, Please leave me a message.

Turtles all the way down!

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.

Rappahanock Electric Co-op Destroys Native Habitat

 

Habitat Destroyed?

 

Habitat destroyed for everything..

There are no benefits to clear-cutting except to the land owners pocket.

For me, there is no worse sound in the world then the “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP’ of heavy equipment. It means that something is getting destroyed, and it is usually habitat. Today, as I headed out to do my morning chores on the farm, I noticed a Rappahanock Electric Co-op truck and a good sized tractor, complete with protective cage, and bush-hog, heading down the dirt road that skirts our property and leads to the power line right of way that follows the back property line of our 20 acres. It wasn’t long before I saw the Pick up leave and heard the tell tale; Beep, Beep, Beep… of the tractor
and knew I needed to investigate.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love being part of the Co-op that Rappahannock represents. They are quick to respond to issues and generally much more consistent then their counterparts. REC also publishes an adorable monthly magazine that keeps members in the know, shares members photos, and has a lovely calendar of events from far reaches of the state of Virginia. Earlier that morning as I enjoyed my first cup of coffee I mulled over the monthly issue that had arrived just a day before with a very nice article about the monarch butterfly and how we can help them by planting milkweed. So I jumped on the RTV and followed the path that the tractor had taken down the dirt road.

A Very Wet Spring!

Monarch on an Aster

Monarchs rely on milkweed to feed the next generation of caterpillars.

This spring has been and interesting one with more rainy days then sunny ones and we are currently at more then double the normal amount of rain. The back of our property, where the power line runs, also is bordered by a small creek that flows year round and judging by the deep crevasse it has made, has done so for many, many years. Unless you are a deer, one cannot walk the length of the property due to the steepness of the banks, and the briers, ideal habitat for small critters, including snakes and turtles. Besides providing berries, seeds, flowers and foliage for the wildlife to enjoy, many of the plants also provide year round shelter and protection, and help discourage trespassing hunters from using it as a cut-through. The trees that border the REC right of way have been pruned on a regular basis and the saplings that grow here and there are best cut by hand in such a treacherous area. It just so happens to be raining… Again..! The plants that hold the earth together in the back of my little piece of paradise have been cut to the base and the surviving mud is trench thick. I am amazed that the tractor is still upright, and as the gentlemen that watches me approach waves down the driver of the tractor, my heart sinks when I see the condition of my blackberry patch that was in full bloom.

 

Blackberries, brambles, sticker-bushes, call them what you will, but they are a mid summer staple for the box turtles that call the sanctuary home. Once they are ripe, the birds, deer, turtles and myself all vie for a good location to reach as many as we can. The Milkweed and the poke-berries, weeds to some, to me important natural food for the native animals that have lived here before our people knew this country. They are all gone now..

Box turtle awakes from a long winter nap

Box turtles rely on native blackberries for mid summer food

My conversation with the “powers that be” following the destruction of the native forage along the right of way has left me amazed, confused, disappointed and totally frightened for the future of our earth. There will be a day when we will all be accountable for the damage that we have done to our planet. Rappahanock Electric Cooperative evidently does not practice what they preach. REC has a excellent opportunity to improve the areas that they must traverse,  to be proactive by communicating with land owners, educating them about wildlife habitats, planting native perennials, and encouraging the community to participate in efforts to give wildlife a place to live. The apology that was offered was shallow and meaningless. Unless this is acknowledged with-in the higher authority, through planning and education, I am afraid we are doomed.

I am a member of this cooperative, and I will let my thought on this matter be heard.. People, we need to start somewhere.. Please start in your own yards. Please be proactive in the protection that you can provide for any of our native animals, and plants. Stand up for our planet! For goodness sake.. STOP for turtles crossing the roads! ALL LIVES MATTER! If we cannot preserve what was here before we came.. then we cannot preserve ourselves. We are all part of the circle of life on this planet, and if you see someone else disrespect our earth.. Do Something About It!

Shelley

 
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The Eastern Box Turtle’s Spring Arrival

 

Eastern Box Turtles are waiting for the sun.

photo 1

soaking up rays!

Some times I wonder if I am the only one that sees them. They march silently from the woods along the road.. recently awakened from a long winter sleep by the warm spring rains… slow in coming this year, but the sun is calling, daylight has increased making the sun warm enough to raise body temperatures enough for the digging to start. Hatchlings, often after staying in their nest all winter are beginning to see sunshine for the first time in their life. The Eastern Box turtle begins a new year in its unique and ancient way of life.

Last spring, as I traveled along a busy road in Western Hanover County, Virginia, I straddled a newly hatched turtle scurrying as fast as he could across the road. By the time I got turned around and back to where the turtle was, the wet spot on the roadway was indistinguishable.There was a lot of traffic that day.. Did anyone else even see the little guy? Did the person who flattened him even know what they had done? Did they care?

 Watching the Roads…

One eyed Sam

One Eyed Sam survived a lawn mower accident.

Often I will see them on the back roads, drive 100 yards, while my inner dialogue tells me it wasn’t a turtle at all.. not being one to get it out of my head, ..I eventually turn back to see the leaf, pine cone or scrap of wood that I was sure was a turtle.. They will be out soon .. the temperature of the days and the rising humidity will bring them out, so be prepared.

I see less and less of them every year. as the community gets developed around me, and the traffic continues to rise, the ones that I had helped crossed the road every year have been lucky to survive. Very few of these survivors are seen now, hopefully they have found more interesting things elsewhere in their habitat of 2-10 football field size areas that are etched in our resident turtles brain. They know every water hole, every berry patch,where the best place to find worms is and where the best place to hibernate is. Like a bird flying south, the uncanny homing instincts in box turtles often puts them in great peril when they are taken away from their territory or their territory is destroyed, and they try to find it. The Eastern Box turtle needs our help now. Land in central Virginia is at a premium, and due to the extensive sprawl and ease of travel, most of the land from DC to Raleigh, NC  is easily accessible  and prime for development. This rare and unique land, which follows the fall line of the Eastern United States, offers a lot to its residents, both four legged and two, and

IMG_5838

What will you do to help?

should be carefully evaluated and preserved for future generations. Humans it seems, have forgotten that these ancient reptiles are dinosaurs and their ancestors lived here 250 million years ago, and  If there is one thing that turtles know how to do, it is being a turtle and surviving. But, if we continue to destroy habitat at the alarming rate that we currently  do, these small relatives of the dinosaurs, will disappear totally from our planet.

The extinction of the Dinosaurs

 

Reptiles and Amphibians are amazing indicators of our planets health, and they are currently suffering from diseases that are thought to be caused by pollutants in their environments. Recent findings are showing that viable populations are being wiped out in the wild from viruses that are not fully understood or treatable.

Recently, I read a post from a friend that listed all the stress factors in her life. The list began with her work, followed by family, pets, and lastly her turtles, whom she commented, actually were responsible for reducing her stress, and the time she spent with them was the happiest and most peaceful of her day. I know we can’t all be turtle caretakers, but I do believe that we all should take time to appreciate the world around us, get out into the woods, notice the harmony of the trees, the rivers, the wind and the earth, and do what we can to protect and preserve this amazing planet for our grandchildren before it is too late, and PLEASE, try to notice the turtles walking along the road, trying to cross, and maybe stop and give them a hand… for these little dinosaurs have seen and survived a lot, I am sure if we take the time, there is so much to be learned from them.