Baby Eastern Box Turtle; The Smallest Dinosaur

The Smallest Dinosaur

A 2 year old baby eastern box turtle.

Finding a baby turtle is indeed a rare and exciting event.

Hatching out of an egg that was buried 6 inches below, months before and digging its way to the surface, only to  to spend the first few years of life hiding below leaf litter and mulch, eating worms and bugs that happen by, and counting on moisture from rain, does indeed sound like a struggle from another, perhaps prehistoric time.

In fact, Turtles are nothing more then dinosaurs. Their fossil history indicates that they did once roam the earth along side dinosaurs more then 200 million years ago.

How is it then that turtles survived catastrophes that wiped out most of the inhabitants of our earth?

Super Powers

Turtles, it seems, have an abundance of super powers. Whether they live in a body of water, in an arid desert, or in our wooded hillsides, Turtles have developed some amazing abilities to overcome  adversity and adapt to their micro-habitat.

Mother box turtles can lay 2 or even 3 nests of 2-6 eggs a summer, often digging a “false nest or two” to throw off egg thieves. An Adult Eastern Box Turtle is relatively safe from most natural predators in its native habitat. Its defense mechanism, of tightly closing up its shell, to form a tight “box”, not only gave the Box Turtle its name, but has served it well for millions of years.

Baby Eastern Box Turtles do not hatch with the natural defense of an adult, and rely on their ability to stay hidden and to blend into their environment  and, although it is believed that only one in a thousand  baby turtles ever reach reproductive age, they are well equipped to survive with a minimum of  sustenance for their first year of life in the wild.  Often, if a clutch is laid late in the summer, and the above ground temperature  is changing toward the cooler days of autumn,   Baby box turtles will stay in their nest through out their first winter, and make an early appearance with the spring rains.

The Mother turtle prepares a nest by digging a hole with her back legs as deep as she can, clearing out a cavity in firm earth, located above flood level, this allows the nest temperatures to remain stable and the cavity gives the babies room to dig out.  The Mother turtle will carefully bury her eggs and with unbelievable skill, will place a final layer of leaves or mulch on top, which will make the nest almost indiscernible to the average eye, once completed, the mother turtle abandons the nest. The eggs, and hatchlings are left on  their own.

The temperature of the nest, will determine the length of incubation, usually 60-70 days, and will determine the sex of the hatchlings. With a process called Temperature- Dependent sex determination, gender is determined.  With an ideal temperature of between 72°F – 93°F, embryos in the lower temperatures will be males and in the higher temperatures will be females. Those in the middle could be males or females.  Like a bird, baby turtles are equipped with an egg tooth, a hard sharp protuberance at the tip of their beak, that they use to break through their egg shell. Hatching can take a few hours or a few days.  Often, after hatching, the remnants of their yolk sac is still visible, and can support them for several weeks.

These tiny dinosaurs are at the most vulnerable  stage of their life.  Hatched in  an earthy brown color, to help keep them hidden, they will spend the majority of their time hiding and waiting for bugs and worms to cross their path. At hatching, their little shells are pliable and their hinge will not be fully functional until  they are  4-5 years old.  If lucky, they will continue to grow for about 15-20 years, and develop  patterns and colors on their shells that are uniquely theirs.

 How Can You Help Baby Box Turtles?

The loss of natural and native habitat is causing turtles to appear in some unlikely places. Mother turtles of all kinds may walk far from their home to find the perfect site to dig their nest, often crossing roads and lawns on their journey.  Many times, due to man-made altercations to the landscape, baby turtles appear  where one least expects them, and unfortunately, there is not always a suitable habitat nearby that could sustain a viable population.

Box Turtles are known to inhabit a “Home Territory”, this is usually built around their hatching place, and as the turtle grows and explores his habitat, favorite places for food, water, and hides are stored in memory. Like a compass, the turtle can find the exact location of this home, and if he is removed from it, or if it is destroyed, he may wander endlessly looking for it, surviving solely on luck.

It is believed that this homing ability  develops over the life of the turtle, the older the turtle, the more likely he is to search for home. Where as baby box turtles are able to be relocated and released in suitable habitat.

Baby turtles are truly amazing. They are great to share with your kids and to take some photos with, but it is important that we let these turtles remain in the wild, or they will soon be extinct in native habitat that they called home for millions of years.   As reptiles, Turtles are connected to our earth in a way that as mammals, we can only imagine. Their connection is weather related and the cycles of our Earth, our Sun and our  Moon have created a pattern over the eons that turtles have become programmed with. To keep a turtle in captivity means we must duplicate a natural environment to the best of our ability, and to keep a baby turtle as a pet is indeed an daunting task, as he may well live more than 100 years.

Baby Box Turtles needs are simple, but specific. Although Omnivores as adults, Baby box turtles need protein and calcium for their shells to grow strong, and start out their life journey as strict carnivores. Living among the leaf litter on the forest floor, they wait for food to come their way, eating pill bugs, worms and beetles.

If you have found a baby box turtle and are looking for the best option for release Please consider the following:

  • As an adult your baby will need 2-10 acres of undisturbed habitat
  • with native plants and natural clean water.
  • A natural forest floor with leaves and rotting logs.
  • it is always best to place a moved turtle near a water source and a natural hide (downed tree etc)
  • If in doubt, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator , or a wildlife veterinarian that can give you names of qualified people that can help.

 

Turtles are Unique and Amazing!

We are fortunate to be living among them, in their world.

Sadly, if we do not become more considerate of our actions when we destroy habitat and pollute our earth, it is likely that they will disappear in the wild within a generation or two.

The Eastern Box Turtle is one of the most unique and beautiful turtles in the world. Each one different, with patterns and colors, and as unique as you and me. Thank you for learning more about our shelled friends and please help us protect them for future generations!  Educate, Donate and Volunteer.

Please share!

I would love to hear your feedback.

 

 

 

 

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