Friday, May 15, 2009


What if nature were to have a beauty contest.....where do you think turtles would place? Put them up against the cuter, furry raccoons, squirrels, deer and such I imagine turtles would be way down on the "cute" O meter! In fact, the only one they may beat in a contest might be snakes!! And in the turtle "world" I bet we'd be happier picking up a Box turtle over a Snapping turtle any day!

Have you heard the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." ? Mother nature seems to have given turtles the "it ain't broke, so don't fix it evolution". Fossil records tells us that turtles have been on earth about 200 million years, and have changed little in all that time. Box turtles won't win any races but they must have what it takes to be around that long!

Box turtles differ from other turtles in several ways. They are terrestrial (land-dwelling) turtles. Their high, domed shells and unwebbed feet are adapted for life on land, not water.

But to discover the unique feature from which box turtles get their name, you have to turn them over. The bottom shell, known as the plastron, has it's own "hinge". This hinged shell allows box turtles to close their lower shell against the inside edge of the upper shell (called the carapace). The turtle's head, tail and legs are pulled inside - as if enclosed in a box, hence the name "Box Turtle".

Missouri is home to this little guy. The three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis) is found statewide, except in the northwestern corner and extreme northern Missouri. Adult three-toed box turtles are 4.5 to 6 inches long (115-145mm). Three-toed box turtles, as their name implies, typically have three hind toes - but some individuals have four. They are a forest species, although they may also be found along forest edges and brushy fields. They consume earthworms and insects, but adult three-toed box turtles tend to be more vegetarian, eating a variety of plants, berries and mushrooms. This is the common box turtle of the Ozark woods.

Adult male turtles can generally be identified by their more colorful heads and forelimbs, a slight depression in the plastron and bright red eyes. As in most of nature, the males are more bright than the females.

A close examination of each individual plate (or scute) of a box turtle's bottom shell can reveal the turtle's age. Box turtles exhibit growth rings on each scute similar to the annual rings of trees; one ring equals one year's growth. On young turtles up to 10 years old, the rings are conspicuous and easily counted. However, older turtles gradually wear these rings smooth. A turtle with a completely smooth lower shell with no visible growth rings can be estimated to be at least 30 years old. Just how long box turtles live is uncertain. Estimates range from 32 to more than 80 years. Three-toed box turtles of over 50 years have been documented.

Most box turtle mating takes place in the spring. Two to eight white eggs are laid in the spring or summer. Young turtles hatch in two to three months; however, some clutches laid in summer may not hatch until the following spring.

Box turtles are usually homebodies with small home ranges of about two to five acres. However, some turtles do travel. These are the turtles that drivers encounter crossing roads in the spring. Research has shown that road-crossing box turtles are typically young (not yet sexually mature) turtles or young adult male turtles. Adult females and older males make up but a small percentage of these wanderers.
During the Spring, here in Missouri, Box turtles become roadkill at an alarming rate....Joe hates taking me anywhere when they are roaming as I always have him pulling the car over so I can "rescue just one more". Last Spring I almost got hit by a car trying to save one!
If you happen to be in the woods in Missouri and find one, pick him up, see if you can figure out how old he/she is....but please, put him/her back down. Where you found it is most likely the area it has called "home" for many years and will be for many more.
When your driving through Missouri in the Spring, watch your speed, and watch for our Three Toed Box Turtles crossing the road....if your careful you can avoid them and let them go about their slow lives for years to come!!