Carapace Chronicles

The Eastern Box Turtle
June 16, 2010, 3:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Eastern Box Turtles are part of a group known as the hinge-shelled turtles, or box turtles. They are found only in the Eastern United States and are a purely land animal. The species I am studying, Terrapene carolina carolina, is one of 5 subspecies of the Eastern box turtle.

The “hinge” is the unique characteristic of this family. It is located on the plastron, or the bottom part of the shell, and when combined with the large, domed carapace, or the top part of the shell, it will allow for total closure of the shell.

The carapace is normally brown to almost black with orange or yellow splotches covering the shell. There is no difference between males and females in the color of the shell. Below you can see variation in the different patterns on the carapace.

There are two different ways to tell a male box turtle from a female box turtle. First, males have a concave plastron that allows an easier time mating while the female plastron is flatter. It’s a hard shape to capture in a picture, but in the picture above, the word “hinge” sits in the concave divot on the plastron.

Another way to tell males and females apart is by eye color. The males typically have red eyes and the females have a more brown version. However, there are turtles out there that don’t fit this mold! Also, often when catching turtles they often retreat into their shell and we never see their eye color so the plastron then becomes the easiest way of determining sex. Below, the first picture is of a female box turtle peeking out of her shell and you can see her brown eyes, following that is a male with his red eyes.

Our box turtles prefer forested land and can often be found in ravines or on ridgetops. They are usually found among leaf litter. If we get lucky and it has rained, we can find them crossing roads, in fields, or near streams. They also like fallen logs and moistened ground to dig up their meals, such as worms, snails, and other bugs. In fact the other day we caught one that was eating a beetle! They also eat berries, flowers, and mushrooms.

As you can see the Eastern box turtle is a fabulous little turtle, or at least I think so!


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