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.

 

 

 

 

Blueberry Newsletter

 

Inviting turtles to Lunch
Blueberries: Plant an Extra Bush!

As Omnivores, Box Turtles need more than just some worms and slugs, and have
survived for millions of years eating whatever they came across. As
climates settled and became consistent, plants evolved in different
habitats creating reliable food sources which helped our Eastern Box
turtle become the recognizable turtle that we know today.
One plant that evolved with our Eastern Box Turtles in the wooded
under-story, and was once as wild and native as the turtles themselves
is the Blueberry.

There are a few native varieties of Blueberries that can still be found in
scattered patches of old growth woods, around central Virginia, but the
good news is that all varieties of cultivated Blueberries have been
created from these wild bushes and do well in our slightly acidic soil.
Blueberries are considered to be a super food. They provide Fiber, and
are a good source of vitamin K1, vitamin C and manganese, along with
vitamins E, B6 and copper. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and
may help lower blood pressure , and delay age related brain decline.
Blueberries also may lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity,
and, adverse effects or allergies are very rare.

With all this going for them it is a wonder that we all don’t have
Blueberries growing in our backyards.Perhaps the long term
relationship with blueberries that our native box turtles have, has helped them develop the long lives and the extreme ability to eat just about anything.

Anyway you look at it, Blueberries are good for us and they are good
for wildlife. Box Turtles are not the only critters that enjoy this sunny
summer fruit. Blueberries are a favorite among song birds, small
rodents, foxes, and deer to name a few.
And Blueberries are easy to grow. Blueberry Growers in the northeast
say “if you can grow pines and cedars, You can grow blueberries”

Evidently, the acidic soil that is enjoyed by these native trees is also
enjoyed by blueberries.Coffee grounds can be occasionally placed
around the base of Blueberry plants and acts as an inexpensive
fertilizer, giving the plants a boost.
If you are into companion planting, Strawberries grow well at the base
of Blueberry bushes, benefiting from the scattered shade of the bush
while protecting its roots and holding in moisture, and, strawberries
are also loved by our native box turtles.
Technically, Blueberry bushes are self pollinating and produce both
male and female flowers, but it is recommended to plant more than
one variety for larger fruit, and don’t forget to add an extra bush or two
for the turtles and the wildlife.
Where can you get Blueberry bushes for your yard and garden?
You can find Blueberry bushes at most plant nurseries, but you can
also come by and visit the Box Turtle Sanctuary at The Ashland
Strawberry Festival on June the 16th on the campus of Randolph
Macon College in Ashland VA.We are looking forward to having an
educational booth with turtles, art and Blueberries! Please come by
and Visit and get a Blueberry bush or two for your wildlife!

 

 

Come visit the Box Turtle Sanctuary at theThe Ashland Strawberry Faire
on June 16, 2018.
We will have an educational display with live turtles, with a special guest..!
Look for us at RMC Welcome Center
We will also have eARTh Art activities for children of all ages,
and don’t forget to stop by to pick up some blueberry bushes

 

Help Support The Box Turtle Sanctuary every time you shop at Kroger!

Did you know you can support The Box Turtle Sanctuary just by shopping at Kroger?

It’s easy when you enroll in Kroger Community Rewards®! Just sign up with your Plus Card,

and select the Box Turtle Sanctuary of Virginia. Once you’re enrolled, you’ll earn rewards every time you shop

and use your Plus Card, and earn fuel points for yourself.
Enroll now for the Kroger Community Rewards Program. And remember…

all participants must re-enroll each year to continue earning rewards for their chosen organization.

kindergartners learn about the Eastern Box Turtle

Educational Programs  are still available for 2018 –

Book Yours Today!
Turtle Parties are great Educational Ohh and Ahhh Moment for Kids of All Ages!
As an Advocate for Turtles, Educational programs are created around their schedule..

Programs are limited!Book Yours Today!

NEW for 2018

Turtles from around the World!
Learn about turtles and their Habitats!

How their shell can help you tell where they live and what they eat!

All Boxed In
Explore a year in the life of An Eastern Box Turtle.
Discover how they survived the days of the dinosaurs and became one of Virginia oldest residents.

Learn how you can help box turtles in your own back yard, or neighborhood, and keep them coming back.

 

 

We are growing and need your help!

With the recent help from University of Richmond  School of Law,

We are ready to expand our board and are looking for community involvement.

If you or someone you know has a love for turtles, our natural world and sharing this knowledge and are interested in making a difference in your
neighborhood, We would love to talk!
Please drop me an e-mail at art4turtles@gmail.com

 

Box Turtle Sanctuary of Central Virginia
PO Box 1292
Ashland, VA 23005
art4turtles@gmail.com
804-347-0870
https://boxturtlesanctuaryofcentralva.com

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

 

 

 

 

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!

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.