Three-toed box Turtle

 

three-toed box turtleThe Three-toed Box Turtle
by DEBORAH MITCHELL

Why did the box turtle cross the road? Most likely, just to get to the other side.

Whether in search of food, a mate, or somewhere to hibernate for the winter, box turtles seem drawn to the middle of the road. Every year, thousands of these highway travelers meet their doom under the wheels of a vehicle.

Box turtles may cross the road for a variety of reasons, and once they have decided to go somewhere, little can get in their way. They have an exceptional sense of direction, and can return to a home area from miles away. Box turtles navigate using scent, visual landmarks and possibly even celestial clues.

The three-toed box turtle occurs throughout the eastern two-thirds of the state. These turtles have a somewhat uniform, olive colored shell. Males generally have red eyes, while females eyes are brown or yellow.

Breeding occurs mostly in the spring, but can also occur in summer and fall. Since box turtle populations are relatively sparse, turtle pairs often mate whenever they happen to cross paths. Female box turtles have the ability to store sperm for several months until conditions are right to fertilize her eggs. When she is ready, the female digs a nest and lays her eggs under the cover of darkness. The eggs hatch in about three months.

As newborns, box turtles are about the size of a quarter, and grow to between four and six inches in length as adults. Hatchling box turtles are quite vulnerable to predators since their shell is relatively soft and they are bite-size to a hungry raccoon. Young turtles protect themselves by hiding. Box turtles have a nearly impenetrable shell as adults. Upon reaching the age of about three years, the shell is hinged, allowing the turtle to close up tightly in its shell until danger has passed. This protection will serve them throughout their lives, which may last as long as 100 years.

Three-toed box turtles have a wide diet. They eat earthworms, snails, grubs, fruit, leaves, insects, and have even been seen feeding on carrion. Young turtles require more protein than adults and will consume more animal matter than older turtles.

Countless children have had box turtles as temporary pets during the summer months. They are usually kept for a few days, then due to boredom or frustration on the part of their captor, the turtles are released. Three-toed box turtles may seem to be the ideal pet – on the surface they are low maintenance, relatively clean, and don’t have to be walked.

However, this is just an illusion as they are not maintenance free. Box turtles require a highly varied diet and plenty of clean water. Many captive turtles also require some sort of mineral supplement. For someone with their heart set on a pet turtle, biologists recommended that a captive breeder be contacted so that natural populations are not depleted.

And watch out for turtles crossing the road, because Outdoor Oklahoma just wouldn’t be the same without this natural harbinger of spring – the three-toed box turtle.