Mushrooms. A search of the web for "Box turtle diet" brings up hundreds of statements that indicate (among all other food items), that Box turtles eat mushrooms. Of all the hundreds of species of fungi, mushrooms, slime molds, jellies, puff balls, polypores, etc. found in these temperate deciduous forests, in this study area, and of all the observations over the past 14 years tracking Box turtles on this study site, the one and only fungi species that these turtles have been observed eating is (Variable) Russulla, a common, non-poisonous mushroom species. Statements on internet sites, and even in research papers that humans will be poisoned by eating Box turtles due to poisonous mushrooms are almost certainly myths. Archaeology at native American sites, confirms that Indians collected and roasted Box turtles for food, but with little reward, I suspect, since they contain very little flesh.
Water Use Box turtles need water. They can get seriously dehydrated, and one of the primary initial treatments for Box turtles brought to wildlife rehab'ers is re-hydration by soaking in a shallow pan of water.
Many of the turtles in this study area have primary activity areas located away from any water source, and most do not travel to areas that do have water. Others spend at least part of their travels near creeks, springs or seeps.
Prior to 2014, no turtle had been observed drinking, soaking, or traveling through water at this study site. Thread trailing shows that when crossing creeks containing water, these turtles choose a dry crossing course from bank to bank, walking on limbs, rocks and leaf debris, but avoiding the water entirely.
During the 2014 season, turtles M4 (F) and M14 (M) traveled long distances far from their previously tracked activity areas and found and spent significant amounts of time soaking in small creeks, seeps, and the edge of a pond (M14). And in 2015 M14 started his summer in a small muddy seep, and turtle M19 (M) travelled to and spent 21 days soaking in the exact same spring that M4 had used in 2014 for 18 days.
Box turtles do get water intake through their diet. Those who spend most of their time in the woods have a consistent supply of slugs, snails, caterpillars and the like, and those who live primarily in meadows, ROWs and forest edge have strawberries, raspberries, and other fruits (when in season) often spend the days following heavy storms in the woods eating slugs, earthworms and mushrooms.
Transients and Residents Transient Box turtles are those that by definition have undefined home ranges. The role of transients in Box turtle ecosystems seems to be to keep local populations from becoming biological islands. The existence of transient Eastern box turtles have been recognized for some time, but no one knows when or why individuals become transients, what distances they travel, whether they travel repeating routes, or if they are transient all their lives or eventually settle into a population as permanent residents.
For consideration is whether there should be another class of residence: the temporary resident. Technically, these turtles that appear to reside with other permanent, stable residents of a local population, and leave after 2 or 3 years, would be transients. This population may have at least 1 or 2 turtles that have done exactly that.
More difficult to prove, especially with short monitoring periods, is the temporary or pseudo-transient. These turtles (if they exist) are turtles that leave a stable local population for a short time: maybe 1, 2 or 3 years, and return to their original activity area within the resident population to become permanent members. Some turtles studied are said to have 2 home ranges, but they are usually in close proximity (relatively), to each other and turtles that are tracked in long-term studies find that travel between them occasionally occurs.
Not all Box turtles that travel long distances are transients. Some very stable members of a local population occasionally make a long foray for some unknown reasons, possibly to soak in springs for health reasons, for mating, to find new food resources, or to establish activity areas, but then return to their original primary activity areas.
Carapace and Body Temperature While growing up, I was taught that a turtle left in the sun would quickly fry and die. Even today, it seems only natural to move a turtle from the sun into the shade. But this now seems ridiculous, at least when discussing this wild population.
These turtles become active around daybreak and seek out, or at least tolerate direct sunlight throughout the morning, and often through the entire day, even during the hottest days of the hottest months. Except in the deepest woods, sunflecks; patches of direct sunlight permeating through the canopy, sweep across the forest floor, and larger open areas are continually being created by the blowdown of tree crowns, branches, or entire trees. Turtles often spend a considerable amount of time in these forest openings, edges and meadows (natural and man-made).
Throughout the season, air, carapace, and plastron temperatures are recorded at each GPS location. Usually these are taken after 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. The results show that carapace temperatures are nearly always greater than either air or plastron temperatures. In the sun, a turtle's carapace absorbs heat in the morning and the heat is then slowly lost under the leaf cover of a form, and probably partly by the soil through contact with the plastron. The forest floor also absorbs and re-radiates heat.
Often, these turtles have carapace temperature measurements well over 110 degrees F, and will stay in the direct sunlight even when shade is close by, and will do this for many days at a time. Recent speculation suggests that this behavior is the turtle's attempt to rid itself of parasites or virus (ranovirus dies in an environment maintained above 30 degrees C or 86 degrees F).
Turtle rehabers and vets ofter use this same strategy, using lights or heaters, in treating ill turtles for suspected virus and disease.
Always Under Construction...
This page is a collection of personal observations concerning this particular study area's wild turtle population. The incentive to make this page was simple: hundreds of hours spent reviewing Box turtle research papers, web pages, text books, workshops, posters, etc. reveal many differences between this study population and those documented in other populations.
Meeting Areas and Pass-Through Areas As tiny as they appear when plotted on a study area map, there are a number of locations that turtles frequent (several times annually or year to year), that are not within their primary activity areas.
Some turtles regularly travel long distances outside their primary activity areas, and intersect other turtles' activity areas. These turtles seem to be intimately familiar with their areas of travel, and are not just randomly moving about. It seems possible, or even likely, that turtles remember meeting and mating locations, and even calendar dates, from past seasons.
But there are also places described as "Meeting Areas" where turtles of opposite or same sex are often observed together. These are not necessarily within either turtle's primary activity area, or even an overlap of the same, but to meet in one of these areas, both (or sometimes three) turtles necessarily have to be at the same place at the same time. And sometimes they travel considerable distance from their primary activity areas. This does not appear to be chance occurrence. Maybe this is related to the question "how do turtles in a wild population find each other?", but it seems likely that the turtles are recalling previous travels.
The Cabin Meeting Area, studied in 2017 appears to be an extreme example of resident use (and discovery) of Meeting Areas, especially newly created ones.
There are also a number of small areas that I term Pass-through Areas, where, over time, a significant number of individuals have been recorded to have passed. Most notably, (and most numerous) are ROW crossings. I sometimes find turtles meeting and mating at these areas, and more often find turtles here alone. These areas are recognized partly by the locations of trailing thread, and also by the number of closely spaced flagging markers left from several years of tracking.
Road, Trail, and Pathway Use Box turtles in this study area don't utilize roads or trails as travel routes. In addition to the 2 main paved highways, there are multiple dirt roads, maintained trails, wildlife trails and historic roads and historic rail beds within the study area, but no tagged turtle has ever been observed travelling on roads or trails except to cross. None seem to present significant barriers to turtle movement, and often turtles are tracked for several days traveling parallel to a road or trail, eventually crossing to the other side, and continuing their travels, occasionally parallel again. Extensive thread-trailing proves this fact.
A number of turtles will travel within the powerline ROW, or at least the ROW edge, and a few spend a considerable amount of the summer season within the ROW. These same turtles also don't use roads and trails, except to cross.
This may not be as odd as it sounds. Roads and trails present literal exposure to danger. When selecting locations for "resting forms", these turtles nearly always select locations where exposure from direct view, or harm from being stepped on (by a deer or inattentive tracker) is minimized.
Aggression, Territoriality, and Home Range Patrol I've been bitten twice by Box turtles over the last 15 years. Once by turtle M9(f) who thought my pinky finger was a worm, and once by turtle M32(m) who took a chunk of flesh out of my hand while being handled. M32 is aggressive every time he is handled, but aggression has never been observed toward any other turtle he has been seen with.
Apparent aggression by males toward females is part of mating behavior, sometimes damaging the marginal scutes of the female's carapace in the act. And occasionally two males will push and peck each other when a female is close by, but outright aggression on free ranging Eastern box turtles is extremely rare, and despite a couple of questionable references in some literature, territoriality is almost certainly non-existent.
The term "patrol" has been used by one researcher to describe Box turtle movements throughout it's home range (activity area), but it is extremely unlikely that Box turtles have any need or desire to protect (patrol) any part of it's home range, and research has not confirmed any type of patrol behavior. Box turtles are lifelong opportunistic omnivores and likely do also search for food resources and mates, and apparetly remember where resources are located from past visits, but surely do not engage in combat to protect their resources.
Home Range, Hibernacula, and Nest Site Fidelity
Meadow and ROW "Edge" Utilization for Hibernation Also referred to as "Edge Effect". "Forest Edge", and "Ecotones", this strip of diverse plant and animal species is usually considered to extend about 15 to 30 feet inside the forest edge, probably depending primarily on aspect. Occasionaly the blowdown of a large tree inside the forest will create a natural and relatively temporary ecotone, but, at least in this study area, the vast extents of forest edge are man made by the creation and occassional maintenance of power line ROW's, and the annual or occasional mowing of meadows and road shoulders.
Hiking trails and wildlife trails in the forest have little effect on ecotone creation, likely because they are too narrow to admit a significant increase in sunlight reaching the forest floor. And any new growth attempting to take hold is quickly trampled or eaten.
Characteristics of edge. to be added
Road Edge does not appear to be used for hibernation in the same way.....with one obvious exception: M11 who hibernates within the same small area in most seasons, only 15 to 25 feet from pavements edge. ROW edge is different, as it is often used for hibernation.
Randomness in turtle movement, meeting and mating
Smooth Carapace, Worn Carapace, Aging Box Turtles and Aged Turtles
Some 15 years or so ago I read about aged turtles having worn carapaces and for that matter, plastrons. I tried finding info about this statement, but never found a source, and still have not, to this day. Several sources have attempted to age EBT's by their "worn" carapaces, but can't seem to supply any research info on where this information originated. I suspect this is one of those things that has been repeated so many times it just seems to have become "fact".
My study population is composed of nearly all adults, some very old, some Virginia state record sizes, but I have old and young adults that have smooth carapaces, many old turtles with sharp annuli, and at least 1, (M12) that has a partially smooth carapace with about 1/2 of the carapace still with sharp annuli scutes.
All of my study turtles have at least 3 or 4 bright orange 3/4" vinyl dots attached to the carapace with small blobs of 5 minute epoxy, and at least 2 tiny information labels attached to plastron and carapace with a drop of superglue. Many of these dots have been on for 8, 9, or 10 years, and even though any of the dots or labels can be remove completely with just a fingernail, most have remained in place since they were originally put on. Even the tiny labels on female plastrons stay attached for 3 or 4 years.
Eastern Box turtles don't drag their plastrons while walking, and only a couple of these turtles have scratched plastrons. M1(F) in particular, has been observed closing up her shell and sliding off logs and even large boulders. If the carapace were being worn down by whatever method, my orange dots and labels would always be scratched, scraped and worn off.
There are a number of reasons that scutes get damaged of course: fire, disease, k-9's, small rodents, and other turtles. But there doesn't seem to be any laboratory or field studies that have observed scutes wearing down. (although I know of one researcher who regularly uses sand-paper on carapaces when attaching transmitters).
Randomness in nature, especially as it pertains to wildlife, seems to be a little discussed , but controversial topic. By definition , randomness means "without a discernable pattern", or "having the ability to be predicted", and is almost impossible to prove. But dispite this, a few turtle researchers have published papers with conclusions that box turtle movements, meetings and matings are totally random.
Popular perceptions of randomness are frequently mistaken, and are often based on fallacious observations, reasoning or intuitions.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "random" as "Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard."
randomness in terms of the unpredictability
In the common parlance, randomness is the apparent lack of pattern or predictability in events.
A random sequence of events, symbols or steps often has no order and does not follow an intelligible pattern or combination. Individual random events are by definition unpredictable, but since they often follow a probability distribution, the frequency of different outcomes over numerous even
Eastern Box Turtle
Terrapene carolina carolina
A Relict Population Doomed To Extinction?
Land Snails. When people ask what Eastern Box Turtles eat, most or surprised to hear that snails are an important significant part of their diet. This shouldn't be surprising as both Box turtles and land snails are primarily woodland species, Box turtles need and find several protein sources, snails (and slugs) are slow enough to catch, and both have primary habitats on the forest floor. Not only a good source of protein, snails also provide a source of water to the turtle's diet.
There are only 2 species of land snails that are commonly found in this study area: the Neohelix albolabris (the Whitelip) one of the largest and most familiar native Eastern land snails, and most often found in damp, rich habitats, and the Mesomphix inornatus (the Plain Button) which lives in upland forests under leaves and dead wood. The one species of snail that these Box turtles are seeking, is not clear since those snails observed being eaten, have characteristics of both species, and in addition, this snail has a very thin and fragile shell, so fragile in fact, they nearly always break apart when delicately handled.
2006 ..... males, however, are fiercely possessive of their core territories and will engage in violent· combat with other, unknown........ males in the course of which casualties may occur.
GRACE (2000) described his single observation of two fighting males as folIows: "The two animals stopped and began to ram each other. This went on, back and forth, for about ten minutes. The two also viciously bit after each other, aiming at either the opponent's mouth ... the front upper edge of the shell".