Friday, June 6, 2014

Turtle and Ants

While on my way to the garden, I discovered this Eastern Box Turtle sitting at the edge of the mowed path.  I recognized this female as one who typically spends her summers feasting on fallen tomatoes.  Last year she had a decided preference for the taste of Early Goliath.  I made sure there was always a ripe tomato on the ground for her dining pleasure.

When she stuck her head out as I approached, I got concerned about the condition of her eye.  Eye infections are usually a sign that the turtle is in poor health.  I hated the thought of losing a friend I’ve known for so long.

Closer inspection revealed that the eye was in fine shape.  It was just closed.

The eye was closed for good reason.  The turtle was hosting a party of Allegheny Mound Ants.  The ants didn’t seem to be biting.  They were just investigating, as they would with any other stationary object found in their territory.

As I watched, more ants joined in.  The turtle had stopped right on top of a foraging trail and every ant to come along climbed on.  I’m wondering if the ants might be performing a cleaning service for the turtle.  They might be checking the turtle over for parasites or other hitchhikers and removing those undesirable pests.  The turtle stayed in place for another ten minutes and then wandered away.  If it had really been bothered by the ants, I figure it would have moved on much sooner.

The ants certainly did not treat the turtle in the same manner that they treated my feet.  If I stayed still long enough, they would probably clean me down to the bone.  The ants are fast moving and biting when on my feet, but they are calm and searching when on the turtle.  I think the ants and the turtle have a special relationship going on.


  1. I just love learning from you.
    Thanks again. Weedpicker

  2. You're welcome, Cheryl. I also learn from you about those things happening at the northern end of Ohio.

  3. Hello, Steve:
    I've heard of birds "anting" before, but never turtles. Cool!
    I did once find a very torpid female snapping turtle laying eggs once, who had a stream of ants of another species (Dolichoderus mariae) climbing up on her and removing the leaches stuck to her shell. I don't think getting leaches groomed off of here carapace was her primary motivation for being there, though.

  4. Hi James. I guess you just have to take your meals from wherever they become available.