With the record rains and high water at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, 2011 has already become a memorable year. Of all the wildlife I have observed this Spring, the sightings of so many Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) has added to the mystique of this year. My history with this engaging turtle in this park is slim. During the eight previous years I’ve come across live specimens only twice. On two other occasions I’ve found the intact carapaces of deceased turtles, one of which had a pellet-sized hole in its shell. Their relative scarcity reinforced the idea that although this is a widespread turtle in our country, it was becoming less common for many reasons including habitat loss, road kills, and wild animals collected for the pet trade. What I’m about to present is a portfolio of eight individual box turtles that I have seen and photographed over the last two months. No doubt the flooding helped concentrate them in ever shrinking territories and this is why I came to find them. I tried to be careful in handling and left them where they were found. The first turtle I came across was in the western section of the park and here are two images of it.
This one was found after the first flood. It has really interesting and colorful beading on its neck.
The Box Turtle #2 was found swimming to higher ground during the height of the second flood in May and in the eastern section of the park.
Box Turtle #3, I found twice in the same day in the eastern section of the park. Here is what it looked like. Note that the second scute bears what looks like a lower case letter “a” on its shell.
Here’s the same turtle the second time around and this time he has found a friend!
At first I thought this was a male and female turtle, but I didn’t check anything but eye color which in this case was on the red side indicating the chance they were both male. When I came across them, they were certainly aware of each other. The larger of the two box turtles may have been the older specimen based on how worn its shell was. I’ve heard that counting the growth rings on these turtles is not a reliable way to determine their ages. My field guides indicated that this is a long-lived turtle with individuals easily living to 40 to 50 years and in rare cases possibly a 100 years old. Here are three images with Box Turtle #4.
Box Turtle #5 …I only have one image of it mostly retracted in its shell. This one is also from the eastern section of the park.
Box Turtle #6 is very colorful and was found near the Interpretive Center during the height of the flood. Although it’s hard to tell…it’s standing on the remains of a refrigerator that floated in with the Ohio River.
The next two turtles are the smallest ones I’ve found thus far and each was found in the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park. This is Box Turtle #7.
Here’s the underside of the same turtle showing the plastron and the hinge that allows the box turtle to completely hide inside its shell.
To close, I have three images of Box Turtle #8 and its the smallest yet. One other thing I noticed about this little guy was that it was missing part of its left front foot which had healed from whatever injured it.
Another image to help provide scale using a quarter for a guide.
Of all the info I learned about box turtles, the fact that most surprised me is that if left alone they can live their entire lives in a relatively restricted area the size of a football field. They become so habituated to this territory that if they are moved from their familiar surroundings they can become dislocated and fail to thrive. This is a good reason not to take these turtles out of the wild. I placed #8 on the ground wishing it well. It pleased me knowing that there were at least this many box turtles in this small park. I wonder how many others I will come across before year’s end?