Saturday, August 4, 2012

Yard Turtles

I was walking through the back yard last Tuesday and encountered this female Eastern Box Turtle.  I just happened to be carrying a few fresh garden ripened tomatoes, so I broke one apart and gave it to her.  She quickly ate about half of the tomato and then disappeared.  When I looked out the window Wednesday morning, I saw her sitting beside the patio, so I grabbed some strawberries and headed out the back door to give her another meal.

What I found outside the back door was a little bit surprising.  I had set a bag of over ripe bananas outside with the intent of mixing up some butterfly bait.  The aroma apparently attracted another female turtle who crawled inside the sack for a banana feast.  She in turn attracted a male turtle who was doing his part to insure a new generation of turtles.  Somewhere in the process, he fell over backwards.

I’ve seen male turtles in this position before.  Everything goes fine until the female decides to move forward.  The male has his hind feet tucked up beneath the female’s shell, so it’s not possible for him to walk along with her.  His front legs are not built for hugging, so the typical outcome is a backward flip.

The female is totally focused on the bananas.

The male eventually composed himself and regained his proper orientation.  I figured he deserved a couple of strawberries for his efforts.

The other female waited patiently while I photographed the romantic couple.  I finally got her a portion of the strawberries.  These three turtles have been here for over 20 years and all arrived after suffering from encounters with automobiles.  In the late 80’s, I had a reputation for being a turtle rehabilitator and over a two year period, acquired about a dozen turtles delivered by people who had found them hit on the road.  Each turtle was cleaned up and placed into a 12 foot by 16 foot enclosure that provided a pool, a subterranean den, a variety of cover types and food.

This female came to me with a puncture through the top of the shell.  I didn’t do any real doctoring to these turtles.  I just gave them a place where they were protected as they recovered from their injuries.  Many box turtles respond to injury by pulling themselves in and remaining immobile while the damage heals, a strategy that doesn’t work very well in the middle of a road.  After this female arrived, it was two weeks before her head emerged from her shell.  After a few days, her wound became covered with fly eggs. Maggots spent several days cleaning up dead and infected tissue.  After the maggots left, the wound skinned over.  When I came out one morning, she was drinking from the pool.  Soon after that, she began eating.

The male suffered several cracks near the front of the shell, which is to the right in this photo.  The damaged shell actually flexed at the seams when pressure was applied.  He spent a period of immobility while the seams healed and then went up and over the wall of the enclosure.  That was typical of most of the turtles.  The enclosure walls were just some old planks of barn siding and were easily scaled by any turtle with a little bit of ambition.  Finally, one particularly rotten board fell down and the few turtles that were left were free to leave.  The turtles had been in the pen for over a year and were in no hurry to depart.  Three of those turtles, these two females included, spent over a year foraging around the yard and returning to the enclosure to get food and to hibernate.  I don’t see them often and sometimes a year or two will pass between encounters.  It’s nice to know they are still alive and doing well.

A Camera Critters submission.


  1. Hi Steve...Dear me I had a good chuckle over the turtle story..poor fella, but you can't blame a guy for trying!! : }}}
    So when you mow the lawn do you have a bummer sticker that say's "This vehicle stops for turtles" ; }
    I wish you lived closer I could use those downed trees in your previous post "fire wood"!
    Your pretty quick or either that was lucky shot to get that lighten bolt eeeks!! Now that you can have !!
    I liked all your pretty butterflies too...
    Hope you have good adventures this weekend!!

  2. A great post and really informative. Love the photos. I'm glad there's someone out there who cares enough about these turtles to give them a safe home to recover from their injuries.

  3. Sound like your yard is a refuge for the turtles. Great info and post. Cool photos too. Have a great weekend.

  4. that is really cool! we used to have a couple of box turtles that would feed on raw hamburger, fruit and lettuce. :)

  5. Loved this post. Fun shots, a good story and lots of info. Good for you to card for these turtles. They eat really well! Happy Critter Day!

  6. What a good turtle rehab story! Great shots too.

  7. Hahahaha I love the story. I did not know that turtles love fruits!

    Pomeranian, your comment is always highly appreciated! Have a great weekend.

  8. The poor fella- that was too funny!

  9. Hi Grace. The possibility of turtles in the yard is one reason I mow in the middle of the day when the turtles are typically off in the shade. For the lightning bolt, I held the shutter release part way down so the camera was focused and ready to shoot. I pushed the button the second lightning appeared. I still missed several before I got this one.

    Thanks Denise.

    Thanks Eileen.

    Hi Theresa. When there was nothing fresh, my turtles stuffed themselves with high grain canned dog food. My biggest problem was keeping them from getting so large they couldn’t close up their shells.

    Thanks Snap.

    Thanks Pat.

    Hi Rose. Turtles will eat just about anything.

    Hi Terri.

  10. very cool creatures.....and accompanying your great pics is interesting info on these slow-moving guys....