Eastern Box Turtle
High Elevation Study
A Relic Population Doomed To Extinction?
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MushroomsA 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 10 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 poisoious 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 here had been observed drinking, soaking, or traveling through water at this study site.  Thread trailing showed 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 consistant 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  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.

I am beginning to wonder 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 times, is the 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 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 travel between them occasionaly

Not all Box turtles that travel long distances are transients.  Some very stable members of a local population  occasionnaly make a long forray 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 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 taken 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 through 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.
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Observations
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.  Most of 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 dates, from past seasons.

But there are also places that I call "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 travel considerable distance from their primary activity area.   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.

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.
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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 "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 10 years.  Once by turtle M9(f) who I am pretty sure 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 appears as part of mating behavior,  sometimes damaging 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 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 through it's home range (activity area), but it is extremely unlikely that turtles have any need to or desire to protect (patrol) any part of or an entire home range.  Box turtles are lifelong opportunistic omnivores and likely do search for food resources and mates, and apparetly  remember where resources are located from past visits.
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 50' area in most seasons, only 20 to 25 feet from pavements edge.  ROW edge is different, as it is often used for hibernation.
Mapping and Data Collection Page
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Box Turtle Fitness Index

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Transient ID
Charts and Graphs
Randomness in turtle movement, meeting and mating
Smooth Carapace, Worn Carapace, Aging Box Turtles and Aged Turtles
Some 15 years or so ago I heard or 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 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 info 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).

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