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Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Box Turtle’

We have been having so much rain this month that I have taken to carrying an umbrella with me much of the time, including when I am going out with my camera. It’s a challenge to take photos in the rain, because of the juggling required to hold a camera steady while holding an umbrella and also because there are fewer subjects to photograph—most creatures have the common sense to seek shelter when it is raining.

Here are a few photos from a walk I took this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. They are a different style than most of the photos that I post on this blog, but I really like the way they turned out.

In the first image an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) had a different way for handling the rain than the umbrella I was carrying—it simply pulled its legs and head inside of its shell. In the second image a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) decided to brave the rain to get a breath of fresh air while perched atop a nesting box. The final photo shows a hummingbird view of a trumpet vine flower, one of its favorites. Alas, no hummingbirds were flying in the rain.

Eastern Box Turtle

Tree Swallow

trumpet vine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Can turtles smile? It is always cool to see turtles in the wild, especially Woodland Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina), like this beauty that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. She seemed to be trying to smile when I snapped her portrait. (I think the turtle is a female because of her brown eyes—males usually have red eyes.)

There is something really special for me about seeing the color, patterns, and even the shape of this turtle’s shell, which is quite distinctive and unlike that of any other turtle that I see. These turtles, which are also known as Eastern Box Turtles, can live for a long time, as much as 100 years when in captivity, according to Wikipedia. In the wild, though, their life span is considerably shorter. Why? According to the same article in Wikipedia, “Box turtles are slow crawlers, extremely long lived, slow to mature, and have relatively few offspring per year. These characteristics, along with a propensity to get hit by cars and agricultural machinery, make all box turtle species particularly susceptible to anthropogenic, or human-induced, mortality.”

Woodland Box Turtle

Woodland Box Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was moving slowly this past Monday as I sought to get photos of birds at Huntley Meadows Park, but not quite as slowly as this Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) that looked like it had just crawled out of the mud. This species of turtle has a beautiful pattern on its shell, but it is mostly obscured by the mud. I think that I might have startled the turtle, because it pulled its head and body inside of the shell for a little while, making it almost perfectly camouflaged, despite the fact that it was sitting right on a path.

Eastern Box Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the coolest turtles in our area is the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), also known as the Woodland Box Turtle. Unlike many turtles, this one spends most of its time on land rather than in the water. I spotted this beauty, which is probably a male,  last weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it was slowly making its way across a trail—males generally have red eyes and the females have brown eyes.

As I was doing a little research, I discovered that the Eastern Box Turtle is the official state reptile of North Carolina and Tennessee. Who even knew that states had official reptiles? According to an article in ncpedia.org, the General Assembly of 1979 designated the Eastern Box Turtle as the official State Reptile for North Carolina. Given that this was agreed in a legislative body, debates were held about the relative merits of this reptile versus other potential candidates.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I read the words of the preamble to the legislative bill that cited a variety of reasons why the box turtle was selected:

“Whereas, the turtle is a most useful creature who serves to control harmful and
pestiferous insects, and acts as one of nature’s clean-up crew, helping to preserve the purity and
beauty of our waters; and

Whereas, the turtle is derided by some who have missed the finer things of life, but
in some species has provided food that is a gourmet’s delight; and

Whereas, the turtle, which at a superficial glance appears to be a mundane and
uninteresting creature, is actually a most fascinating creature, ranging from species well
adapted to modern conditions to species which have existed virtually unchanged since
prehistoric times; and

Whereas, the turtle watches undisturbed as countless generations of faster hares run
by to quick oblivion, and is thus a model of patience for mankind, and a symbol of this State’s
unrelenting pursuit of great and lofty goals; and

Whereas, the woodlands, marshes, and inland and coastal waters of North Carolina
are the abode of many species of turtles; Now, therefore. . .”

As an interesting sidenote, Virginia, the state in which I live, has twice considered adopting this turtle as the state’s official reptile, but rejected the legislative proposals in 1999 and 2009. A posting on nbcwashington.com reported that during discussions in 2009, one delegate asked why Virginia would make an official emblem of an animal that retreats into its shell when frightened and dies by the thousands crawling across roads and counterproposed that the rattlesnake be chosen. The fatal blow, according to the posting, might have been the disclosure that the Latin name for the Eastern Box Turtle—Terrapene carolina carolina—implied too close a relation to a Virginia regional rival.

Eastern Box Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When you can see your own reflection in an eye, you know that you have managed to get really close to a subject, in this case an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) that I encountered this past week while walking through the woods at my local marshland park.

Of course, it is equally possible that I am imagining things and the reflections are merely those of the trees and the sky. In either case, I really like the isolated, almost abstract view that I managed to get of the eye of the turtle.

 

Eastern Box Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I looked intently through my long telephoto lens at the stagnant, debris-filled water in a ditch, I became acutely aware of bright red eyes staring back at me. What was this unusual red-eyed marsh creature?

Eastern Box Turtle

Pulling my eyes away from the magnified view in the camera’s viewfinder, I could see the contours of a turtle’s shell in the water, partially obscured by all of the debris. The bright color and distinctive shape of the shell and the striking red eyes made it easy to determine when I got home that this is a male Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina).

Eastern Box Turtle

Although these turtles spend most of their time on land, they seek damp mud or pools when temperatures get too high, according to information on the website of the Virginia Herpetological Society. On the day when I took this photo, temperatures soared above 80 degrees F (27 degrees C), and it’s probably pretty safe to assume that this turtle was simply trying to stay cool on an unseasonably warm spring day.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Previously I have seen turtles only in the water or sunning themselves on logs, but this weekend I encountered this cool-looking turtle, which I have identified as an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), while I was walking through the woods.

As I was searching to identify the turtle, I came across all kind of interesting factoids, like the box turtle’s ability to close itself up entirely in its shell and its normal lifespan of 25-30 years. The Eastern Box Turtle is so popular that, according to Wikipedia, it is is the official state reptile of North Carolina and Tennessee.

As for me, I am particularly attracted to its eyes, which somehow remind me of those of Yoda, the Star Wars character.

turtle2_blogturtle1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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