Turtle M1 is a very old, large (560 gr) female that was found crossing the road on 7/5/08 and has been tracked since. M1 is an active long distance traveler who's primary activity area is approximately 19 acres, located on a steep south-facing slope with an oak-hickory overstory. She rarely constructs a resting form or spends much time basking in direct sun, and travels routes in long straight stretches. GPS distance traveled;
M1 nests annually, laying 4 eggs per clutch. No eggs have survived in the observed years: all being destroyed by racoons within a day of nesting. She nests at different sites each year and occassionally crosses the road to nest in the meadow, and crosses again as she returns to her primary activity area.
Turtle M2, a middle aged, medium size (410gr 14.1cm CL) male was found 9/29/08 while crossing the road, and was tracked 0.3 miles in 2008 and 2.0 miles in the 2009 season before being run over by a vehicle while crossing the road, likely headed for his familiar winter hibernation area. Turtles M4 and M11 were found mating with M2 and tagged. M2 was killed while returning from M11's activity area.
Turtle M2 was killed when he was run over intentionally by National Park Service employee, Charles N Painter,a local redneck and sociopath, on his early morning commute to work. As result, all research turtles are now monitored while close to roads and crossings video recorded, and some turtles assisted across the road. The value of the future data is more valuable than a single road mortality statistic when the death can be avoided.
Turtle M3 was found on 4/24/09 only one day before M1 (F) emerged from hibernation, and only about 6 feet away from M1's hibernation location.
M3 is a 485 gram male whose primary activity area is comparatively small (3.8 acres) and mostly within the power line ROW, and has chosen a number of hibernation spots at the ROW edge and in the woods, over the years. M3 enters into hibernation on nearly the same day each fall.
Turtle M3 poses an interesting problem when interpreting tracking data: his primary activity area includes a dog-leg corner in the power line ROW, and although he is occassionally found in the woods inside the dog-leg, he is more often found in the ROW itself, so he might be traveling the ROW more than the route map indicates. GPS miles travelled:
1.5 miles in 2009, 43 points
0.9 miles in 2010, 26 points
1.9 mles in 2011, 38 points
1.1 miles in 2012, 26 points
2.0 miles in 2013, 41 points
1.4 miles in 2014, 34 points
2.4 miles in 2015, 50 points
2.0 miles in 2016, 59 points
2.9 miles in 2017, 60 points
1.9 miles in 2018, 41 points
1.6 miles in 2019, 37 points
M3 has never been known to cross the road. He seems particularly adept at locating other males for meetings, and females for mating. His activity area includes much steep and rough terrain with dense vegetation, and consequently is tracked is less intensively than other resident turtles. He likely mates and meets with at least 3 times more turtles than the number observed and recorded.
Turtle M4 (686 grams) is a very old female and the second largest turtle in this population. She was found 6/3/09 mating with M2 (now dead) in one of the few small areas that I now recognize as "Meeting Areas". M4 spends nearly all of her summer months within a power line ROW, leaving occassionally after rains to search for mushrooms, slugs and snails in the adjoining woods, and to hibernate in a stand of Pines nearby. GPS miles traveled:
1.0 miles in 2009, 40 points
1.4 miles in 2010, 58 points
1.5 mles in 2011, 52 points
1.4 miles in 2012, 63 points
2.3 miles in 2013, 83 points
2.6 miles in 2014, 69 points
1.3 miles in 2015, 51 points
1.3 miles in 2016, 61 points
1.6 miles in 2017, 43 points
1.1 miles in 2018, 37 points
M4 was observed nesting at the ROW edge in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The powerline ROW was first cut in 1956 and has been mechanically trimmed only a few times since. M4 is older than the 55 years the ROW has existed. The power line changed ownership in the fall of 2010 and will no longer be maintained. North facing ROW slopes (like M4's) are dominated by a heavy cover of ferns.
Turtle M5, a 345 gram male, found 6/11/2009 while crossing the road, was lost for most of the summer, and re-found before seeking out a hibernation site. M5 seemed unpredictable in his movements. Although he did not originally appear to be a transient, an established primary activity area was not determined.
M5 was lost for most of the 2011 season, and was re-found just prior to hibernation. After emergence he did not return to the location of the main population. He was lost again prior to hibernation in 2012.
Turtle M6 is a very old, large (510 gram) female found in the powerline ROW close to M3 (male) on 6/12/09 and tracked, eventually, to her nesting site where she laid 4 eggs. She was lost due to predator damage to her transmitter, but was re-found near M1(F) in 2010 near the "South Slope Meeting Area", and was again lost only 2 days later.
M6 was re-found again in 2011 in another "meeting area" located on the ROW corner. GPS miles traveled;
0.4 miles in 2009, 7 points
1.6 miles in 2011, 26 points
1.6 miles in 2012, 52 points
0.7 mles in 2013, 22 points
1.6 miles in 2014, 43 points
1.0 miles in 2015, 32 points
0.8 miles in 2016, 23 points
1.8 miles in 2017, 38 points
1.8 miles in 2018, 33 points
1.2 miles in 2019, 19 points
Like old adult turtles M1 and M4, and others, M6 has an entirely smooth carapace.
In 2013, M6 stayed on and near the south facing slope nearly the whole season, crossing the creek onto the north facing slope, as she does annually, before crossing back. M6 was not observed nesting in the 2013 season.
In 2014, M6's long travels eventually brought her back to her 2 previous years hibernation location, but she also appeared to be ill as she went into hibernation. She was taken to the Wildlife Center of Virginia for treatment, where she spent the winter and recovered. She was re-introduced in the spring at her hibernation site, and spent the 2015 summer season exhibiting normal behavior.
M6 regularly crosses the road to nest which puts her survival at risk at least as much risk as disease.
Turtle M9 was a small (430 gram) female found with M8(m) and M1(f) in the "Tank Rd Meeting Area" on 8/8/09. M9 had a relatively small primary activity area (8.46 acres), but was an active, long distance traveler both within and outside this area, traveling;
0.6 miles in 2009 (3 months), 17 pts
2.5 miles in 2010, 104 pts
2.6 miles in 2011, 69 pts
2.4 miles in 2012, 60 pts
2.5 miles in 2013, 102 pts
1.1 miles in 2014, 67 pts
1.5 miles in 2015, 72 pts
1.0 miles in 2016 (2.5 months), 36 pts
Her 2009 and 2010 hibernation spots were only about 4 feet apart and the dates only 9 days apart. Her 2011 and 2012 hibernation spots were about 2 feet apart and the dates only 1 day apart.
M9 spent an unusual amount of time at the forest/road edge in the grassy area between the road "mow zone" and woods edge, eating red raspberries and other berries from plants drarfed by years of continuious boom-axing and mowing. She rarely wondered into the open, mowed area, and almost never went near the road or shoulder except the almost annual crossing, traveling to the meadow above the man-made pond where she spent 4 or 5 weeks of the summer before re-crossing the road and spending the remainder of the summer in her primary activity area.
In 2014 and 2015 she did not cross the road to nest as she was normally observed to do, but returned to this behavior in 2016, and was killed by a vehicle while crossing the road. It was a dry, clear, sunny morning on a straight stretch of highway with very little traffic.
M9's death removes an important member of this local population, as a young female having mated with a number of male members and nested over the several years of this study. Turtle M9's death reduces the female/male ratio in the population which was already suffering greatly.
Turtle M8 was a 445 gram male that was found with turtles M1(F) and M9(F) in the "Tank Rd Meeting Area" on 8/8/09. He had a relatively small activity area of approximately 4.8 acres for most of the years he was tracked. GPS miles traveled;
0.3 miles in 2009 (3 months), 12 pts
1.8 miles in 2010, 71 pts
1.5 miles in 2011, 64 pts
1.9 miles in 2012, 71 pts
2.1 miles in 2013, 67 pts
2.4 miles in 2014, 72 pts
2.5 miles in 2015, 62 pts
1.9 miles in 2016, 57 pts
1.7 miles in 2017, 45 pts
2.1 miles in 2018, 49 pts
M8 was a middle aged adult with a primary activity area (which in this case was likely also his home range), that was smaller in area than other comparable adults in this population. But despite his small area of travel (relatively), he was an important member of this population, as he regularly met and mated with many other turtles who travel into M8's activity area.
M8 appeared to have expanded his area of travel over the years, including travel to the "South Slope Meeting Area". Turtle M9, M8's primary mating partner was killed in 2016. The following season, M8 moved to the adjacent slope and was found mating with M43(f), also new to this slope.
Turtle M8 was found dead in hibernation in the spring of 2019. The cause is unknown.
Turtle M10, an old, large (555 gr) male, was found on 9/12/09 at the "ROW Meeting Area" mating with turtle M4. M10 has a primary activity area of approximately 12.8 acres and travels to M1's south facing slope, to the "South Slope Meeting Area" annually, spending a short time there before returning to his primary activity area where he stays for the remainder of the season and hibernates. GPS miles travelled;
2.0 miles in 2010, 55 points
2.0 miles in 2011, 40 points
2.8 miles in 2012, 58 points
2.3 miles in 2013, 63 points
2.6 miles in 2014, 78 pionts
3.0 miles in 2015, 63 points
2.2 miles in 2016, 55 points
1.8 miles in 2017, 39 points
1.3 miles in 2018, 33 points
1.6 miles in 2019, 30 ponts (6 months)
As indicated by looking at 10 years tracking, M10 generally confines his travels to familiar areas and routes. M10's travels include 3 or more "Meeting Areas" annually, where he is often observed meeting and mating with other turtles.
Turtle M11 is a 475 gram female who's primary activity area is mostly an open meadow on a high elevation knoll on private land that is maintained in an early successional condition by bush-hogging (mowing). Consequently, like a clear-cut, the environment is hot and dry and covered with locust, raspberries, bull thistle and other thorny and stickery plants. The open grassy part of the meadow is covered with tiny, wild strawberries that make up M11's diet in the early summer and stunted raspberries at forest edge mid summer. M11 hibernates close to (sometimes within 12 feet of) a paved roadway near the woods edge in locations exposed to sun and harsh winter weather. GPS miles traveled:
1.3 miles in 2010, 34 points
1.2 miles in 2011, 34 points
1.9 miles in 2012, 59 points
1.1 miles in 2013, 53 points
2.3 miles in 2014, 69 points
2.0 miles in 2015, 62 points
1.7 miles in 2016, 58 points
1.8 miles in 2017, 51 points
1.7 miles in 2018, 58 points
1.3 miles in 2019, 43 points
M11 was found in the woods in 2009 mating with M2, after he had traveled a long distance and crossed the road. Turtle M2 was killed while re-crossing the road after the mating. Turtle M18, a large old male was found mating with M11 in the meadow every year, at least once, since being found.
Turtle M12, an old, large male (455gr), has a primary activity area (approx. 5 acres) on the south facing slope he shares with M1(f), M6(f), M32(m), and others found there. GPS miles traveled;
1.5 miles in 2010, 30 pts
1.5 miles in 2011, 25 pts
0.7 miles in 2012 (lost 8/9), 15 pts
1.0 miles in 2013 (7/9 to HIB), 16 pts
2.2 miles in 2014, 44 pts
1.6 miles in 2015, 31 pts
0.9 miles in 2016, 21 pts
1.2 miles in 2017, 25 pts
1.1 miles in 2018, 20 pts
0.5 mles in 2019, 13 pts
He has never been observed to travel to the ridge tops on either side of the drainage. M12 has a carapace that is smooth over about 1/3rd of it's surface, and has distinct annuli over the remaining scutes.
M12 hibernated in 2013 only 3 feet from his hibernation location in 2011, but chooses different hibernation sites nearly every year.
Turtles have inhabited the earth for over 200 million years, Box turtles for 20 million years. During the ice age, there were enormous box turtles more than 10 inches long, but Box turtle numbers are now decreasing throughout their range.
Population Survival The lifespan for Box turtles is often 60 years or longer, and once they become sexually mature they can reproduce for over 40 years. This is important because the mortality of their eggs, hatchlings and juveniles is very high, with an average annual survival rate near zero. This long-lived reproductive strategy makes Box turtle populations especially vulnerable to any disturbances that increase the rate of mortality of adults.
Mortality rates of adults in a normal Box turtle population as low as 2% annually, may be enough to eventually lead to the extinction of a local population, and in a small population, very small losses; i.e. the removal of even one or two adult turtles, can result in the gradual, imperceptible extinction of the population.
Due to the longevity of the vestige individuals masking the critical instability of a population, it can take decades to recognize that the remaining geriatric population has long passed the threshold to extinction. Low recruitment rates of juveniles replacing their missing adult parents makes population rebounds impossible.
When adult Box turtles are killed before being replaced by juveniles surviving to adulthood, the population declines inevitably toward extinction.
Study Area Description: The core of the study area is approximately 650 acres of combined federal, state and private land located in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia in the Blue Ridge Bioregion between the Shenandoah Valley to the West and the Piedmont to the East. The area has distinct winter-summer climatic seasons with occasional devastating ice storms and heavy winter snow pack. These mountains are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. There are no perennial, and few intermittent stream/creeks or seeps within the study area.
Site elevations range from 2900 to 3480 feet, with steep slopes and an overstory of oak-hickory-poplar-maple-pine. The soils are harsh and overly well drained of the Marbleyard type. The site is primarily forested with small natural meadows (treefalls), a clearcut, powerline right-of-way, and a USFS hiking trail. There is one seasonally/heavily traveled paved road that bisects the site, as well as much less traveled dirt and gravel roads. The private land contains residence development and the government land contains residences, shops, utilities, etc.
On the federal lands, wildlife is protected by federal law, and wildlife is protected by numerous state laws. In reality, little wildlife or natural resource protection actually occurs unless the opportunity for large restitution dollars exists. Where the roadway speed limit is 45 mph, very little actual enforcement takes place and most traffic travels much faster, especially on weekends and holidays, and by local residents, resulting in dramatically increased hazards to wildlife. Speed traps and air conditioned patrol vehicles offer no wildlife protection.
Turtle M13 is a large (510 gr) adult male that significantly increased the size of my study area in 2010. He was originally found in the "Tank Road Meeting Area" on 5/15/10, and traveled very long distances that season. The first large loop, crossing the road twice, ended exactly where it started, and then continued on 2 very long distance trips to a recent clear cut. This turtle consistently out-distances his 225 yard thread trailing bobbins between GPS locations.
Road Crossing BehaviorTurtles in this population have a behavior (or procedure), for road crossing that is distinct from travel within their primary activity areas, ROW's or trail crossings, and is almost always followed. Preparation for road crossing is characterized by a beeline track toward the road and an abrupt halt at the treeline or occasionally the mow line. The turtle then waits at this location for 1 to 3 days. Occasionally during that wait, she will move a short distance parallel to the road/treeline and if the wait is greater than a few days, she may make a move into the woods and loop back to the original roadside location,
The road crossing nearly always takes place in the early morning between daybreak and about 8:30 a.m. (at this study site), and after crossing , the turtle continues in the original direction sometimes with great haste. It is not unusual for a turtle to appear to "rest" in the exact same location for several days before making a big move, but road crossing behavior is so predictable, that I can now be on-site to observe nearly every road crossing and provide the necessary assistance to preserve future turtle data and equipment (lost when a turtle is run over).
The 2 exceptions to the above behavior are (1) crossings immediately following afternoon thunderstorms on hot steamy summer days, and (2) female crossings at night enroute to or from nesting areas. The latter has only occassionally been observed in this population, but at least one research paper claims that this occurs commonly.
Road Crossing Mortality Experiments with turtle sized models on a straight, level 45mph section of the paved roadway produced the following results: When a turtle model is placed in either tire track either road lane (any time of day), 3 out of every 4 cars or 4 wheeled pickups ran squarely over the turtle. Three wheeled motorcycles were no better, and have a third track in the center of each lane and usually have very fat rear tires. Three wheeled motorcycles rarely swerve to avoid obstacles or even to give way to bicyclists or pedestrians. Two wheeled motorcycles nearly always swerve to avoid obstacles.
For busses, RV's, and trucks and cars pulling trailers, a turtle in either tire track is doomed, because the mortality rate jumps to nearly 100%. These vehicles almost NEVER swerve to avoid an obstacle whether rock, branch, snake or turtle or even to give space to a pedestrian beside the roadway, and many of these vehicles have wide, and sometimes multiple sets of tires covering most of the width of their lane of travel. These described actions occur at nearly ANY SPEED making these vehicles the worst offenders of wildlife mortality travelling the highways.
If a turtle reaches the center line, the survival rate is better, but only for the time it is actually on the yellow line. There is still one more lane to cross, so if there is traffic, the same probability of death occurs once again. Some drivers interviewed, especially locals, actually run over Box turtles intentionally "to hear the pop they make" when hit. Here is a video on a roadkill experiment and here is the YOUTUBE link.
Home Range and Activity Areas: Home range is one of the core concepts of modern spatial ecology, and has been used since Burt (1943) defined it as “that area traversed by the individual in its normal activities of food gathering, mating and caring for young.” Home range indicates the manner in which an animal uses it's habitat. Thus the distribution of resources necessary for survival and reproduction determines the amount of time and energy spent in any particular part of the home range. And Burt went further: "Occasional sallies outside the area, perhaps exploratory in nature, should not be considered as part of the home range”. Although Dodd (2001) states that "feeding, exploratory, and nesting forays may extend the home range of T. carolina ".
Defining and discussing Home range can be confusing, and many research papers on Box turtle home range never attempt to define the term, or how the term is used in their own research. Home range size and location may change over time, and multi-year location studies are absolutely necessary to understand the importance of a Box turtle's season movements.
The simplest way to define the boundaries of a home range is to draw the smallest possible convex polygon around the location data. But this method (MCP) is subject to sample size and is greatly affected by outliers often grossly over-estimating the size of home ranges.
Associated with the concept of a home range is utilization distribution; a model that describes the relative amount of time that an animal spends in any place within its home range. Site fidelity is another concept used to describe when an individual's movement within an area is non-random.
Primary Activity Area is the term I prefer to describe Eastern Box turtle travel and their land use in this study. It infers that there can be secondary activity areas, and multi-season location sampling proves it's importance over home range.
For turtles such as M8 (male) their primary activity areas may indeed also be their home range. In contrast, turtle M9 (f) and M10 (m) have locations (primary activity areas) to which they return after temporary travels away.
M1 All Years A 19 acre primary activity area verses 77+ acre home range as defined using location data alone. M1 travels long distances to different areas annually, and returns to the south facing slope before hibernation.
Powerline right-of-way shown on the aerial photos, photographed mid-summer looking south. The ridgetop/ROW on the horizon is well within the boundary of the study area.
M2 hibernated high on a partially sheltered north facing slope in 2008 at a depth of 23 inches (the deapest ever recorded in this population). The burrow was preserved with a 4 inch ABS pipe and continues to be used to record winter soil temperatures at that site. GPS miles traveled (partial seasons);
0.3 miles in 2008, 11 points
2.0 miles in 2009, 39 points
Eastern Box Turtle
High Elevation Study
A Relic Population Doomed To Extinction?
"One in twenty-five people (4%) is a sociopath lacking empathy for other people or animals"
"It takes a mighty brave man to run over turtles" The Great Santini
M4 spends most of her time traveling among the ferns on the north facing slope, so the secession of maintenance may not have much, if any effect on her daily travels, at least in the short-run.
In 2014 most of turtle M4's summer season was normal, but on August 8th, she started a very long trek initially traveling east to the wood's edge close to the roadway, where she spent 2 days, then turned west and traveled back to and across her primary activity area of the ROW and by September 7th was found soaking in a small spring in the hollow (drainage) to the south. Later she crossed over the ridgetop and down into a large drainage, where she found a tiny pool to soak for about 8 days before moving uphill and hibernating.
She never made it all the way back to her normal hibernation area by the end of the 2014 season, but returned to her normal primary activity area in 2015 and hibernated near where she hibernated 2009 to 2013.
For scale, the photo represents approximately 4300 acres.
The vast majority of the travelled routes shown are of resident members of this local population. The stringers that are heading away from the resident population (and continue out of range) are transient turtles; many may never return, some may return in the future, but hopefully all depositied DNA during the short time they were here, strengthening the gene pool.
Green Dot = Emergence, Red Dot = Hibernation, Blue Dot = NEW FIND, White Dot = Dead
Everything on this web site is copyrighted by James Basinger 2015
M9 All Years 2009-2016
Turtle M9 was killed in 2016 intentionally, by Steven Allen Bryant, a local resident working for the National Park Service as a summer hire, while on duty, and while driving a government vehicle. Not unusual for this part of the country, these uneducated, uncaring, sociopathic redneck, cowards enjoy the killing of anything and everything that moves, and likely have accounted for a significant number of Box turtle deaths over the years.
Of all the wildlife that can be found using public roads, Box turtles, unlike mammals and birds, don't dart into the road, and can't move fast enough to get off of the road when traffic approaches, and can't quickly rebuild their population numbers when members are removed.
In September 2015, M5 was re-found while crossing a road, by a local resident. Here is a page showing the great distance traveled in the 3 years he was lost.
Each aerial photo to the left is 318.2 acres or 129.2 hectares in size (or about 3935 x 3525 feet), 1/2 sq mile.
The photo map to the left is approximately 350 acres.
In 2018, M4 was found looking ill and was taken to the Wildlife Center of Virginia for treatment. She was released just before hibernation, and after a slow start at emergence, traveled only a little less than normal during the 2019 season.
M8 All Years
M13 left the clearcut and hibernated in a mixed hardwood-pine forest stand nearby in 2010 and 2011. GPS miles traveled;
2.5 miles in 2010, 35 pts
1.6 miles in 2011, 15 pts
2.2 miles in 2012, 54 pts
2.4 miles in 2013 (2 mo), 38 pts
0.8 miles in 2014, 24 pts
0.7 miles in 2015, 36 pts
2.9 miles in 2016, 68 pts
2.3 miles in 2017, 43 pts
1.3 miles in 2018, 31 pts
0.8 miles in 2019, 19 pts
M13 traveled a completely unexpected route in 2013, and spent most of the season in the direct (hot) sun in a grassy area of a meadow, and hibernated in the woods nearby.
In 2014, he was tracked from emergence into the meadow where suddenly disappeared in mid June. He was re-found on September 21st across the state highway, re-tagged and tracked for the remainder of the season into hibernation
Eleven years tracking turtle M3 (as of 2019), and he has yet to deviate much from his very tight activity area.
But he can be counted on to find females, some new, every year very often from long distances, and often in the woods away from his primary summer travel routes with the power line ROW.
M4 All Years
M6 All Years
Female M6, is by far the most experienced road crosser of any other study turtle. Although she rarely crosses at exactly the same location, her destination in the meadow, in the densely overgrown interior of the loop in the dirt road, is always the same. She has been observed many times with other turtles while in the meadow, which are then radio tagged and tracked as residents.
Turtle M6 nearly always hibernates in EXACTLY the same 2 stump holes near the ravine bottom, holes year to year. There appears to little significant about this site compared to the rest of the south facing slope, so how she remembers and re-finds it year after year is not known.
The travels to the meadow and the return trip not only includes a long distance, but also travel up and back down a steep forested slope, and through the dense vegetation of a power line ROW. Until he was found dead in 2016, male turtle M16 was often found at the ROW corner "waiting on" M6 (and M1) after which they were found mating in several seasons.