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Our Famous Friend: The Eastern Box Turtle

by Katelyn Emanuaelson, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation

Quest Nature Center is the home of several different species of animals, all native to North Carolina. Many of these animals come out on a regular basis to meet visitors, take a walk in the preserve, or travel to school programs. One of our most requested residents is Sheldon, the Eastern Box Turtle!

Eastern Box turtles are found in the eastern half of the United States. They range from southeastern Maine to southeastern New York, west to central Illinois, and south to northern Florida. Box turtles have a limited home range where they spend their entire life, ranging from 0.5 to 10 acres (usually less than 2 acres).

Box turtles are easy to notice thanks to their unique orange and yellow markings. They are most often encountered after summer rainstorms and around bodies of water but not in them. Box turtles are terrestrial turtles and are the only terrestrial turtle found in North Carolina; in 1979 this special species was selected as North Carolina’s State Reptile.

Box turtles are omnivorous, so they eat fruits, veggies, and meat. You might see them eating mushrooms, berries, grapes, and other fruits, juicy worms, slugs, small snakes, or insects. Sheldon’s favorite food is strawberries, and his least favorite is broccoli. Box turtles have a low metabolic rate, which means they process their food slowly, allowing them to survive during times when food is hard to find. These animals are long-lived with most of box turtles living anywhere from 50 to100 years of age. The box turtle is named for its ability to completely box up inside its shell when it feels threatened.

How Can You Help the Turtles?

  • Leave turtles in the wild! They should never be kept as pets. Whether collected singly or for the pet trade, turtles that are removed from the wild are no longer able to be a reproducing member of a population. Every turtle removed reduces the ability of the population to maintain itself.

  • Never release a captive turtle into the wild. It probably would not survive, may not be native to the area, and could introduce diseases to wild populations.

  • Do not disturb turtles nesting in yards or gardens.

  • As you drive, watch out for turtles crossing the road. Turtles found crossing roads in June and July are often pregnant females and they should be helped on their way and not collected. Without creating a traffic hazard or compromising safety, drivers are encouraged to avoid running over turtles that are crossing roads. Also, keeping safety precautions in mind, you may elect to pick up turtles from the road and move them onto the side they are headed. Never relocate a turtle to another area that is far from where you found it.

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