The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) ranges from northeastern Massachusetts to Georgia, west to Michigan, Illinois, and Tennessee (Conant and Collins, 1991). The eastern box turtle is small, with adults ranging from 11.5 to 15.2 cm in length (plastron) and approximately 300 to over 400 g. Hatchlings weigh approximately 8 to 10 g. Turtles continue to grow throughout their lives; however, their growth rate slows after reaching sexual maturity (Ernst and Barbour, 1972), and growth rings are no longer discernable after 18 to 20 years (Stickel, 1978). Body fat reserves in a Georgia population averaged 0.058 to 0.060 g of fat per gram of lean dry weight from spring through fall (Brisbin, 1972).
Typical box turtle habitats include open woodlands, thickets, and well- drained but moist forested areas (Stickel, 1950), but occasionally pastures and marshy meadows are utilized (Ernst and Barbour, 1972). In areas with mixed woodlands and grasslands, box turtles use grassland areas in times of moderate temperatures and peak moisture conditions; otherwise, they tend to use the more moist forested habitats (Reagan, 1974). Many turtles are killed attempting to cross roads, and fragmentation of habitat by roads can severely reduce populations (DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983; Stickel, 1978).
Adult T. carolina are omnivorous (Ernst and Barbour, 1972). When young, they are primarily carnivorous, but they become more herbivorous as they age and as growth slows (Ernst and Barbour, 1972). They consume a wide variety of animal material, including earthworms, slugs, snails, insects and their larvae (particularly grasshoppers, moths, and beetles), crayfish, frogs, toads, snakes, and carrion; they also consume vegetable matter, including leaves, grass, berries, fruits, and fungi (DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983). A high proportion of snails and slugs may comprise the animal matter in the diet (Barbour, 1950), and seeds can become an important component of the plant materials in the late summer and fall (Klimstra and Newsome, 1960).
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endemic to a single nation
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Population density varies with habitat quality, but studies linking density to particular habitat characteristics are lacking. In some areas, population densities have declined steadily over the past several decades (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974; Stickel, 1978). Some investigators attribute the decline to increasing habitat fragmentation and obstacles (e.g., highways) that prevent females from reaching or returning from appropriate nesting areas (Stickel, 1978; DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983).
Sexual maturity is attained at about 4 or 5 years (Ernst and Barbour, 1972) to 5 to 10 years of age (Minton, 1972, cited in DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983). One to four clutches may be laid per year, depending on latitude (Oliver, 1955, cited in Moll, 1979; Smith, 1961). Clutch size ranges from three to eight eggs, averaging three to four in some areas (Congdon and Gibbons, 1985; Ernst and Barbour, 1972; Smith, 1956). Juveniles generally comprise a small proportion of box turtle populations, for example, 18 to 25 percent in one population in Missouri (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974) and 10 percent in a study in Maryland (Stickel, 1950). Some individual box turtles may live over 100 years (Graham and Hutchinson, 1969, cited in DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983; Oliver, 1955, cited in Auffenberg and Iverson, 1979).
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Life History and Behavior
In the northern parts of its range (northeastern Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois), the eastern box turtle enters hibernation in late October or November and emerges in April. In Louisiana, Penn and Pottharst (1940, cited in Ernst and Barbour, 1972) found that T. c. major hibernated when temperatures fell below 65 degrees F. To hibernate, the box turtle burrows into loose soil and debris or mud of ponds or stream bottoms. Congdon et al. (1989) found a South Carolina population of box turtles to occupy relatively shallow burrows (less than 4 cm) compared with those occupied by box turtles in colder regions (up to 46 cm). Dolbeer (1971) found hibernacula of box turtles in Tennessee to be under 15.5 cm of leaf litter and 5.8 cm of soil on average. In southern states, during rainy and warm periods, box turtles may become active again (Dolbeer, 1971). In Florida, the box turtle may be active all year (Ernst and Barbour, 1972).
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Box turtles are solitary except briefly during the mating season. Individuals restrict their activities to a foraging home range, but home ranges of different individuals can overlap substantially (Stickel, 1950). Mating usually occurs in the spring but may continue into fall, and eggs are laid in late spring and summer (Ernst and Barbour, 1972). The female digs a 3- to 4-inch cavity in sandy or loamy soil in which she deposits her eggs and then covers the nest with soil. Nests tend to be constructed several hundred meters from the female's foraging home range in the warmer and drier uplands (Stickel, 1989). The duration of incubation depends on soil temperatures, and sometimes hatchlings overwinter in the nest. The young are semiaquatic but seldom seen (Smith, 1956).
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National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NU - Unrankable
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Eastern box turtle
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The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is a subspecies within a group of hinge-shelled turtles, normally called box turtles. T. c. carolina is native to an eastern part of the United States.
The eastern box turtle is a subspecies of one of two species of box turtles found in the United States. It is the only "land turtle" found in North Carolina, where it is the state reptile. Box turtles are slow crawlers, extremely long lived, slow to mature, and have relatively few offspring per year. These characteristics, along with a propensity to get hit by cars and agricultural machinery, make all box turtle species particularly susceptible to anthropogenic, or human-induced, mortality.
In 2011, citing "a widespread persistent and ongoing gradual decline of Terrapene carolina that probably exceeds 32% over three generations", the IUCN downgraded its conservation status from Near Threatened to Vulnerable.
Eastern box turtles have a high, dome-like carapace and a hinged plastron that allows total shell closure. The carapace can be of variable coloration, but is normally found brownish or black and is accompanied by a yellowish or orangish radiating pattern of lines, spots or blotches. Skin coloration, like that of the shell, is variable, but is usually brown or black with some yellow, orange, red, or white spots or streaks. This coloration closely mimics that of the winter leaf of the tulip poplar. In some isolated populations, males may have blue patches on their cheeks, throat, and front legs. Furthermore, males normally possess red eyes (irises) whereas females usually display brown eyes. Eastern box turtles feature a sharp, horned beak, stout limbs, and their feet are webbed only at the base. Eastern box turtles have 5 toes on each front leg, and normally 4 toes on each hind leg, although some individuals may possess 3 toes on each hind leg. Staying small in size, most range from 4.5 to 6 inches, but occasionally reach over 7 inches. In the wild, box turtles are known to live over 100 years, but in captivity, often live much shorter lives.
Eastern box turtles have many uniquely identifying characteristics which separate them from North American tortoises and water turtles. While the female's plastron is flat, in males it is concave so the male may fit over the back end of the female's carapace during mating. The front and back of the plastron are connected by a flexible hinge. When in danger, the turtle is able to close the plastron by pulling the hinged sections closely against the carapace, effectively sealing the soft body in bone. The shell is made of bone covered by living vascularized tissue and covered with a layer of keratin. This shell is connected to the body through its fused rib cage which makes the shell permanently attached and not removable.
When injured or damaged, the shell has the capacity to regenerate and reform. Granular tissue slowly forms and keratin slowly grows underneath the damaged area to replace damaged and missing scutes. Over time, the damaged area falls off, revealing the new keratin formed beneath it. Unlike water turtles such as the native eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), box turtle scutes continue to grow throughout the turtle's life and develop growth rings. Water turtles typically shed their scutes as they grow.
Distribution and habitat
The eastern box turtle is found mainly in the eastern United States, as is implied by its name. They occur as far north as southern Maine and the southern and eastern portions of the Michigan Upper Peninsula, south to southern Florida and west to eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In the northern parts of their range, they are rarely found above 1,000 feet in elevation, while they may be found up to 6,000 feet in the southern parts of their range. The eastern box turtle is considered uncommon to rare in the Great Lakes region; however, populations can be found in areas not bisected by heavily traveled roads. In the Midwest, they are a Species of Concern in Ohio, and of Special Concern in Michigan and Indiana. Eastern box turtles prefer deciduous or mixed forested regions, with a moderately moist forest floor that has good drainage. Bottomland forest is preferred over hillsides and ridges. They can also be found in open grasslands, pastures, or under fallen logs or in moist ground, usually moist leaves or wet dirt. They have also been known to take "baths" in shallow streams and ponds or puddles, and during hot periods may submerge in mud for days at a time.
Behavior and diet
The eating habits of eastern box turtles vary greatly due to individual taste, temperature, lighting, and their surrounding environment. Unlike warm-blooded animals, their metabolism doesn't drive their appetite, instead, they can just lessen their activity level, retreat into their shells and halt their food intake until better conditions arise. In the wild, eastern box turtles are opportunistic omnivores and will feed on a variety of animal and vegetable matter. There are a variety of foods which are universally accepted by eastern box turtles, which include earthworms, snails, slugs, grubs, beetles, caterpillars, grasses, fallen fruit, berries, mushrooms, flowers, bread, duck weed, and carrion. Studies at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland have also shown that eastern box turtles have fed on live birds that were trapped in netting. Many times, they will eat an item of food, especially in captivity, just because it looks and smells edible, such as hamburger or eggs even though the food may be harmful or unhealthy. Box turtles are also known to have consumed poisonous fungi making their flesh inedible by native American hunter gatherers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that hatchling box turtles are more carnivorous than their sub adult and adult versions. There is as yet no concrete evidence to support this theory.
Thousands of box turtles are collected from the wild every year for the domestic pet trade, primarily from South Carolina, the only remaining state where they can legally be captured from the wild and sold for profit. Captive turtles may have a life span as short as three days if they aren't fed, watered, and held in a proper container. The vivid shell color found in many eastern box turtles often fades when a turtle is brought into captivity. This has led to the mistaken belief that the color fades as the turtle ages. The truth is that insufficient access to full sunlight causes the color in the keratin layer to fade. The eastern box turtle is protected throughout most of its range but many states allow the capture and possession of box turtles for personal use. Captive breeding is fairly commonplace, but not so much that it can supply the market demand. Although box turtles may make hardy captives if their needs are met, and are frequently kept as pets, they are not easy turtles to keep, owing to their many specific requirements. Eastern box turtles require high humidity, warm temperatures with vertical and horizontal thermal gradients, suitable substrate for burrowing, and full spectrum ultraviolet lighting that mimics sunlight. A basking area at one end of the enclosure is important to offer the turtle the ability to warm itself and is critical to sexually mature males and females for development of sperm and egg follicles respectively.
Therefore, a large, easily accessible water dish for bathing and drinking is important to their health. Water should be fresh and clean and available at all times. Because box turtles seldom get the nutrients they need to foster shell growth and skeletal and skin development, they also may require vitamin supplements to keep them healthy such as calcium, vitamin A, and folic acid. Captive diets include various live invertebrates such as crickets, worms, earthworms, grubs, beetles and larvae, cockroaches, small mice as well as wild strawberries, and fish (not goldfish). Mixed berries, fruit, romaine lettuce, collard greens, dandelion greens, chicory, mushrooms and clover are suitable for box turtles as well. While some high quality, moist dog foods may be occasionally offered, whole animals are preferable. Reptomin is a suitable food for hatchling and immature/subadult box turtles.
The eastern box turtle is the official state reptile of two U.S. states: North Carolina (which gives rise to the species and subspecies name carolina carolina) and Tennessee. In Pennsylvania, the eastern box turtle made it through one house of the legislature, but failed to win final naming in 2009. In Virginia, bills to honor the eastern box turtle failed in 1999 and then in 2009. For the most recent failure, a Republican legislator criticized the creature for being cowardly because of its shell. However, the main problem in Virginia was that the creature was too closely linked to neighbor state North Carolina.
- van Dijk, P.P. (2010). "Terrapene carolina". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2011-09-18.
- Fritz, Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 197–198. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- "Eastern Box Turtle – North Carolina State Reptiles". North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State. Retrieved 2011-02-13.
- Shearer 1994, p. 321
- "Official State Symbols of North Carolina". North Carolina State Library. State of North Carolina. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
- "Tennessee Symbols And Honor" (PDF). Tennessee Blue Book: 526. Retrieved 2011-01-22.
- "Regular Session 2009–2010: House Bill 621". Pennsylvania State Legislature. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- "SB 1504 Eastern Box Turtle; designating as official state reptile". Virginia State Legislature. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- Associated Press (2009-02-20). "Virginia House crushes box turtle's bid to be state reptile". NBC Washington. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
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