Newsletter; late winter 2018

Why Box Turtles are good for your Garden, and How you can get them to be a regular visitor: 

February Preparations


Many Years ago, before the advent of common pesticides, Box Turtles were kept in gardens as a form of pest control. Our native Eastern Box Turtles are omnivorous and have evolved eating organic matter that many other animals could never eat. The Eastern Box Turtle is sometimes even considered the only poisonous turtle in the world due to its ability to eat and process toxic mushrooms that are lethal to most. So if your garden has a good supply of decomposing plants that feed bugs, insects and slugs, you have a turtle buffet!

Blackberryface

 
How to Create a Turtle Hide-a-way with your yard Debris

Mother Winter often leaves our yards littered with offerings from the trees. So far this winter at the sanctuary, we have lost a few small trees and shrubs due to Ice and snow damage, and although it is messy and time consuming to clean up and replant, winter damage is a natural and beneficial process for both the plants and the critters that use them for shelter and food. Cold Weather damage to plants have two basic causes:

  • native plants have gotten weak from insects, disease or to much fast growth.
  • non-native plants are not prepared for our winter.

Although February weather is not conducive to replacing damaged winter plants, it is a good time to clean up the debris, and begin planning native alternatives for wildlife in your yard.

Here’s What you can do Now

 

  • Locate an area along the border, in the tree line, or in a corner of your yard where you can build and leave a pile of your yard debris.
  • Create a pile of sticks and branches and intersperse with leaves, soil, and compost,
  • DO NOT USE soil with additives like fertilizers and weed controllers, and do not place any non-native invasive plants that may root or seed into your pile.

 

Here’s What you can expect
  • Moisture in the leaves will attract insects which will begin decomposition, creating warmth.
  • Sticks and branches will begin to rot as they are consumed by moisture and insects, your pile will begin to shrink.
  • Insect eating birds, reptiles and amphibians will begin to visit your pile, eating insects, and further encouraging decomposition..
  • The shelter and protection from predators and the elements that is created by your pile of debris will keep your new wildlife visitors returning, and create a new hot-spot of wildlife diversity for you to enjoy.

Educational Opportunities for 2018

As an Advocate for Turtles, Educational programs are created around their schedule..

Programs are limited!   Book Yours Today!


Turtle Parties are a
Great Educational
Ohh and Ahhh Moment for Kids of All Ages!Turtleteach c
 
*NEW for 2018
Turtles from around the World!
Meet Sully!
Learn about turtles and their Habitats!
How their shell can help you tell where they live and what they eat!
 

Meet Sully

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. And Learn how you can encourage these ancient reptiles to visit your yard and keep them coming back.

Hibernation or Brumation?
What’s the Difference?

Although many people, including turtle keepers, refer to the winter dormancy period of all animals as hibernation, the truth is they are two quite different metabolic processes

Hibernation is a state of winter dormancy in which animals (usually mammals) do not eat or drink and are able to lower their metabolism to expend a minimal amount of energy.

Brumation is a term that refers to cool-blooded or ectothermic reptiles, and is physiologically different in that when the external temperatures drop, so does the turtles body temperature. This drop in body temperature limits the turtles functionality and causes him to seek shelter until warmed by the sun.

University of Richmond School of Law

Thanks to our Student Attorney from the

University of Richmond School of Law Intellectual Property & Transactional Law Clinic,
We now have official volunteer and release forms and are busy scheduling our first Volunteer day

for Saturday May 26, 2018!
MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW! AND WATCH FOR MORE INFORMATION!

 

Do you have Questions, suggestions or comments? Do you know someone that loves turtles? Are you interested in learning how you can help? Please share or drop me an e-mail!

 

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 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.

Box Turtles are coming out of Hibernation

Virginia is known for its crazy unpredictable weather

Especially in the spring and fall.. seasons tend to blend together. This fall, winter, spring season certainly has been no exception. It amazes me that any of our native turtles survive these crazy changing temperatures, but hey, they have been around for more than 250 million years, so I guess our weather patterns are mild compared to some that they have endured over the centuries. Interestingly enough, the weather here in Central Virginia, is not the turtles biggest concern.

photo 3Survival of the fittest

Turtles do what they have to do just to survive. A couple of extremely warm days and The Eastern Box turtles begin to poke up out of the dirt. There is no mass exodus from the ground, rather it is about the sun and the heat. Slowly they work their way to the surface after being buried in up to a foot of soil, eyes still shut, seeking out the warmth of the sun and hoping for a warm spring rain to rinse of the caked on mud and to re-hydrate. The middle of March is extremely early for this awakening, and turtle watchers, although excited about the reappearance of their shelled friends, worry about the inconsistent changing of the weather and the turtles ability to dig back into the earth when the weather turns cold again.photo 2The Eastern Box turtle has many threats to its survival in this day and age, one would hope that they have a good grasp on dealing with the weather in a place where they have live for generations, but if an individual turtle goes into hibernation without being in optimum health, being caught in a cold snap can mean the ultimate demise for that turtle.

So many box turtles are relocated by good doers who find them crossing the road in places where there is no longer habitat enough for them to survive. Choices are slim, and often dictate that the best option for these turtles is to relocate them to a nearby park. Box Turtles have an uncanny instinct to return to their native hatching place as they know that territory… if this has been destroyed then survival is dependent solely on luck to find food and water. A Box Turtle can go a long time without food and many of these transient turtles can survive their first lost summer, but when winter approaches if they have not stored up the necessary reserves for hibernation, it may be their last.

photo 1
Soon, Turtles will begin marching about, looking for other turtles, food and water. Remember to look out for these amazing reptiles crossing the roads, especially after a warm spring rain, in the early morning hours, and help them across if you can. With all the threats that turtles now have to their very existence, it is so very important that we leave them in the wild whenever possible. Viable populations of turtles are becoming more and more rare in their native habitat so it is up to us to try to save, create and preserve habitat where ever we can.

Have Questions on a found Box Turtle? Leave me a comment and I will get back to you ASAP.. Thanks for helping these amazing gems of the forest!

Shelley.[sgmb id=”1″ customimageurl=”” ]