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TURTLE PAGES: Main Page     Background     Radio Tracking     Report Sighting    
Estimating Population Size     Lawn Mowers     Research Permit    


Globally, turtles are extremely threatened. Here in West Meade, our Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) may too be at risk. In order for the neighborhood population of box turtles to survive, the individual turtles must: live long reproductive lifespans; have access to adequate nesting and over-wintering habitats; and be in contact with sufficient other individuals for breeding. If too many turtles are killed by cars or lawn mowers or if they do not have access to adequate breeding grounds, then the population may dwindle to extinction.

In undertaking this study, we would like to know how many box turtles live in this area, what their ages are, and where they nest. To accomplish this, we are asking community members to assist in monitoring the individual box turtles in the neighborhood. Photographing the shell patterns of turtles allows us to uniquely identify individuals. If you find a turtle, please submit your observation by following the directions at this link.

How old is this turtle?
Aging turtles can be quite tricky. For the first decade or so, box turtles grow annual rings on their shells that can be easily counted. If you look for rings on the plastron of many of the local turtles, you will find that this lower shell has worn completely smooth. Some say that this happens by the time a turtle is 30-40 years old. When the carapace has also worn completely smooth, that turtle is likely over 50-60 years old. If everything goes right for a box turtle, that individual may live for over 120 years.

Is this turtle a male or a female?
Males tend to have flared out edges to their carapace (top shell), and a concavity in their plastron (bottom shell). Both of these features may help stabilize the turtle during mating. Males also typically have brighter colored eyes and skin, longer tails, and their vent is past the end of their shell.

Females usually have higher domed carapaces, flat bottom plastrons, duller eye and skin colors, shorter tails, and their vent is closer to the body.

For a good reading on what is known about box turtles, check out this book:
Dodd, C. K. 2001. North American Box Turtles: A Natural History. University of Oklahoma Press.