Posts Tagged ‘Woodland Box Turtle’

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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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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