Eastern Box Turtle

From Ohio History Central
Eastern Box Turtle.jpg

The box turtle (Terrapene Carolina Carolina) gets its name from its hinged plastron that allows it to close tightly against the carapace for protection. The upper shell is very dome-shaped with a ridge and comes in a variety of colors such as tan, dark brown, yellow, orange or olive. The shell can have no design but often has a block pattern or blotching. A simple identification between male and female is that males have red eyes, while female eyes are yellow-brown.

Breeding season lasts from May to July. After mating, the female will lay 3-8 eggs. Barring being killed by predators, box turtles can live up to 100 years.

The box turtle is most definitely a land turtle, preferring a woodland habitat. Their diet consists of slugs, earthworms, fungus and leafy vegetation. It is diurnal, being active in early morning or evening. They will spend the rest of the day under rotting logs, dead leaves and other forest floor material. Box turtles are very vulnerable to being hit by cars because of their habit of going onto the warm, wet pavement of a road after a sudden summer rain shower.

Box turtles have been prevalent in Ohio’s history for centuries. Native Americans used the turtle for a variety or purposes. Their meat was eaten and the shells were used for bowls, ladles, ceremonial rattles, which were often found in burials. Native Americans in the New York region are said to have been responsible for the extirpation of the box turtle between Ohio and New England.

David Zeisberger, an eighteenth century Moravian missionary, described the box turtle as a “land tortoise” with “a hard shell… small and very prettily marked.” He also mentioned that it was used for food during the time period.

Excavations back of Zeisberger’s log house at, Schonbrunn [sic] are supposed to have yielded a great number of shells of this turtle although I am unable to substantiate this rumor; if it is true there can be little doubt that Zeisberger himself had not been averse to cracking a turtle, once in a while, for his dinner.
August C. Mahr

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