Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)

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Submitted by Rick L.

 

The Eastern Box Turtle became North Carolina’s state reptile in 1979.  From the NC Secretary of State’s page: “The turtle watches undisturbed as countless generations of faster ‘hares’ run by to quick oblivion, and is thus a model of patience for mankind, and a symbol of our State’s unrelenting pursuit of great and lofty goals.”  The Box Turtle Is North Carolina’s only full terrestrial turtle, and one of two in South Carolina, the second being the Gopher Tortoise.The Box Turtle gets its name from the ability to completely close up in his shell, made possible due to the hinge they develop on their plastron (The hinge does not completely develop until around two years of age. This makes the young unable to close up, making them more vulnerable to predators.) No two Box Turtles are alike.  Like finger prints, their shell markings are all unique to that individual turtle. (Taking pictures of found box turtles and leaving them be is a great way to keep a record of box turtle encounters.)The Box Turtle is one of the longest lived species in the world, as well as one of the slowest in reproducing. Males reach sexual maturity at 5 to 7 years and females at 7 to 10 years. Box Turtles can live up to a 100 years or possibly more; females are able to keep reproducing until the end, yet only 2 or 3 hatchlings may survive to adulthood to take the place of the older turtles and keep that area’s population going.  Any time a turtle is killed or taken away for a pet, it creates a huge gap in that area’s turtle population. Box Turtles will live in the same area, the size of a football field or two, their entire lives. They have a strong homing instinct. It is never a good idea to relocate or move a Box Turtle. They will try and return to their home territory, encountering many dangers in doing so, roads and animals, to name a couple.

Sexing an Eastern Box:  Males in general are usually more colorful, from yellows, reds, oranges, and a mixture of all. Females generally have more of a brown coloration with less of the vibrant colors present. (However, we have encountered some very bright, heavy colored females before.)
Males will often have bright red to orange colored eyes, and the females will have brown to dark brown eyes. (Some females will posses light orange eyes and even white eyes on rare occasions.)The dome of the shell can some times be used as well to sex turtles.  As with the eyes and coloration, it’s not always written in stone. Females tend to have a shorter, higher domed shell, as where males will posses longer, flatter domed shells.The bottom of the shell (the plastron) will always be flat in a female Box Turtle. The males often time have a slight concave indention in their plastron, starting a bit behind their hinge. Some males do not posses an indention or it is hardly noticeable.The tails of a male Box Turtle are thicker, and often times longer than that of the female Box Turtle. The anus is placed further down the tail away from the turtle, beyond the marginal scutes.  The female’s anus is placed higher up, closer to the body.

The back claws on the two sexes are also different. Males have thicker, more curved nails, and females have thinner and more straight.

Box turtles are omnivores.  They will eat most anything they can get into their mouths–fruit, insects, vegetables, worms, slugs, snakes, frogs, salamanders, rodents, and even carrion.

Box Turtles also eat mushrooms that are toxic to humans, which can build up in the meat of turtle, in turn killing any individual who decides to dine upon a Box Turtle.

Box Turtles can be found in every county in North and South Carolina.

With the ever increasing fragmentation of habitat, as well as the loss of it, and the pet trade, Box Turtles may not be found in every county much longer.

With continued conservation education, the help of Citizen Scientists, Scientists, and the on-going collection of data from Box Turtle projects, hopefully every county will continue to posses Box Turtles.
One way you can help Box Turtles is by submitting info to the Herp Atlas, as well as always taking the time to help these guys cross the road. Always put them in the direction they are heading.