Box Turtle Myths No One Talks About

Real or Mythical

Myths have followed turtles since the beginning of time. It is really no wonder as they have been living on our planet before the continental shift, and their fossils appear on every major land mass. Turtles also appear to have super powers, and have survived mass extinctions that wiped out most of the life on Earth.  Real or mythical, Turtles are amazing survivors, but without our help in protecting their habitat, it is unlikely they will survive this time of  “Man”.  So lets get a couple things straight.

 

Myth #1: Turtles seek out roadways to absorb heat

Although asphalt does retain heat from the sun, there is no scientific evidence that turtles will seek out roadways for the ambient heat.

Unfortunately, many of our roads overlap with turtle habitat.

Turtles cross roads for many reasons. It is more likely, However, that the roadways cross the turtles habitat, and the turtles are doing nothing more than trying to survive. This is what I have found in my observations of Eastern Box Turtles, when they approach new territory and surfaces.

1) Turtles are observant. When faced with a “new” clearing, opening, meadow or roadway, a Box Turtle will almost always stop not far from where they entered and they will take it all in.

2) Turtles are not in a hurry. They have no idea that a roadway, farmed  field or  mowed yard is a dangerous place to be, and remember, he carries his defense on his back.

3) Box Turtles live in territories that are developed as they age and explore.  They can locate where their favorite blueberry bush is, the water hole, or their favorite place to dig in. Similar to how birds fly south, Turtles are equipped with the ability to navigate, perhaps reading the location of the sun, or using the earths magnetic fields. Choosing to sit in a roadway for heat would be a learned behavior, that would most certainly not end well for the turtle.

4) For millions of years, Turtles and their cycle of life has evolved around the sun. As cold blooded reptiles, their functionality is controlled by the length of the day and the power of the sun. Where as Snakes may absorb heat from hard surfaces like rocks and roadways, A turtles shell provides shelter and camouflage and absorbs heat from the suns rays and the ambient temperature around him.

I probably have close to a hundred videos of Box Turtles doing nothing. They sit and observe. If they are not hungry or looking for other turtles they seem to enjoy just soaking up the sun.

Myth #2: Turtles shed their shells to grow larger.

Once damaged, Keratin will not grow back, but the bone will compensate and become denser on the top.

Never.  Turtles are Reptiles not crustaceans. A turtles shell is part of its body. His Back bone and his ribs  fused millions of years ago to create the shell that has allowed him to become the amazing  and unique animal that he is today. Some Scientist believe the shell was formed as the animals took refuge in the earth, where the shell allowed an anti-crush tool against the pressure of the dirt. Others believe the shell formed as a shield against predators. However this shell was formed, it is indeed an incredible adaptation that has allowed turtles a “super power” against extinction.

The top layer of a turtle shell is made from Keratin. This is the same stuff your hair and fingernails are made of. Some water turtles, like Paints and sliders, shed this top layer of keratin yearly as they grow. Under the shed scute is a new layer of keratin. Our Eastern Box Turtles never shed their keratin. On the occasion that they are chewed on by dogs, the keratin is destroyed first and is the only protection for the bone of the shell.

Myth #3: Turtles make good pets.

When my family was young, my son had a friend whose family had taken two baby eastern painted turtles from the wild. Among the family of three young boys, the turtles were handled a lot, and participated in a number of “races”.  They lived in a 10 gallon tank with less then six inches of water to prevent the inevitable escapee. The tank was rarely  cleaned, light and warmth came from the aquarium light designed for fish, and there was a sole corner “perch” for them to dry out on. As the boys grew, they tired of the turtles. A family excursion, and my offer to care for the turtles while they were away, finally allowed these two little eastern painted turtles an opportunity to be turtles. They are now 25 years old, and in the Summer, they become part of my education program, and are currently, happily,  facing another Virginia winter in their fenced pond, being turtles.

Easily purchased as hatchlings, warm weather African Sulcatas quickly outgrow most indoor accommodations.

For us to attempt to duplicate the habitat of any turtle is quite a feat. Turtles live in micro-habitats.  They are attached to the cycles of the earth. Brumation (hibernation for reptiles) is a physical change caused by the seasons, the sun, the length of the days.  We can indeed take the turtle out of its environment and keep it in an artificial one, Sometimes we have to do this for the turtles own health. But should we do this to make them pets?

Building an artificial habitat  for turtles is a costly  process to do correctly and requires as much space as possible. Proper lighting must duplicate the sun, humidity and temperature needs to simulate the native environment,  a variety of food and clean water is a constant.

Turtles are a long term, often difficult pet that can live upward of 50 years.  Many of our native varieties are now protected and state laws make it illegal to remove them from the wild. Some states require permits and proof of custody for native species.

It is more than important that we instill an interest in these amazing reptiles in our youth, and turtles are indeed amazing, fascinating and fun creatures to  visit and interact with. When kept in captivity, they should be given every opportunity to live in an outside native habitat and as close to what mother nature intended. If a pet turtle is in your future, Please Adopt. There are turtle rescues across the country for both native and exotic species. Make sure you do your homework first and learn about what the needs are for your potential new pet.

Myth #4: Eating Turtles can cure what ails you.

Illegal poaching of turtle colonies world wide is decimating populations.

For  generations, the Chinese culture has exploited turtles and their parts as a cure for many maladies, from acne and use  as an aphrodisiac, to treating  night sweats and irritability .  Turtles are sold as charms and used in elixirs, potions, and collected as pets. There is no evidence to support turtles medicinal qualities and no scientific data has been collected to support any claims. Interestingly  enough, according to a new preliminary study, eating sea turtle eggs increases the health risk of heavy metal exposure in local communities in Panama. Although Studies have not been preformed on the health benefits of eating wild caught turtles, many colonies of turtles are struggling with toxic chemicals found in their own habitat and water, causing them health issues of their own.

According to Paul Gibbons, chief operating officer of the Behler Chelonian Center, a turtle conservancy in California, “The Chinese have already driven their own species to near extinction, and now they are raiding ours” With the supply of Chinese turtles diminishing, American varieties have become a hot commodity with  the box turtle, mud turtles and painted turtles becoming among the most valued abroad.

All  turtles and tortoises are threatened,  and  it is estimated that 40 percent of them in the United States are in danger of extinction,   Although loss of habitat and road fatalities have greatly contributed to this number, “collection for the pet trade is a major threat to tortoises and freshwater turtles worldwide” According to the Turtle Conservation Coalition,

 

How can you Help save Turtles?

Making a new friend!

  • Spread the word. Advocate. Tell your friends and family. Turtles will only survive if we make the effort to educate those who have been unfortunate not to have experienced the joy in finding a wild turtle in their back yard.
  • Make your space turtle friendly. If you have a yard, plant native beneficial plants. Ones that provide life, in the way of food and shelter for wildlife. Leave your leaves! If you must rake them, leave them in a corner or under bushes. Leaves are the food for the earth and  provide shelter and food for many small animals and beneficial insects. If you have a pond or water feature, make sure it is turtle friendly with easy ins and outs.
  • Don’t have a yard? Volunteer at, and support your local nature center or wildlife sanctuary. There is always work to be done and you can learn tons of cool stuff, get exercise and help wildlife!
  • Keep your dogs from roaming in turtle habitat. Domestic dogs are the second most common cause of injury to turtles (Can you guess who #1 is?)
  • Help turtles cross the road. When you see a turtle crossing or about to cross the road, timing is crucial, but your safety and the safety of others cannot be understated. When safe, always move a turtle in the direction it is going.
  • Get Involved. The Box Turtle Sanctuary is looking for People like YOU. Do you want to help but don’t know how.. help is needed with fundraisers, computer entry, facility upgrades and fence building. Do you have a special skill you can share? bookkeeping? website maintenance? blogging?  YOU CAN Make a Difference! Please reach out!

Solutions start at home, in our communities and neighborhoods. Do you or your family have an Idea on how to make your community turtle friendly?  Do you need help getting started? Let me know.. I am here to help!

 

Shelley

“And the turtles, of course…all the turtles are free, as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.” Dr. Suess

 

 

                                                                  

 

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!

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