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Box Turtle

photo courtesy of: marietta.edu

Season 5, episode 15
From the Northern reaches of the Llano Estacado in Eastern New Mexico to the Big Bend Borderlands of Texas, this is Nature Notes.
The favorite pet of many people on the Llano Estacado and in the Trans Pecos is the box turtle. What makes these turtles wonderful and admirable neighbors?
From Marfa Public Radio, in cooperation with the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, Texas, this is Nature Notes. Hello, I’m Dallas Baxter.
Consider the qualities of turtles: tough and enduring, watchful, tidy, quiet and dignified, purposeful, respectful, and gentle. Turtles keep trying, plan ahead, love their home territory, and are smart.
Early in the morning, about the time of the Pyrrhuloxia's and Painted Bunting's first songs, there is a quiet beat, a scuffling in the underbrush. The custodian of the desert is making its rounds. It feeds on prickly pear fruit that has dropped to the ground, ripened ground cherries, and carrion. It‘s been around since the desert began.
In eons past the box turtle developed a fine life style. It lives as long as a human and has adjusted to life and its environment quite well. It comes from hibernation in spring, usually mid-April, and spends a month exploring how its world has changed since it went underground the October before.
Beginning in May, box turtles mate, and the female stores enough sperm to fertilize several clutches of eggs. Turtles take their time in mating, the actual copulation sometimes lasting two or three hours. In late summer and early fall, box turtles harvest what the desert provides, storing food in their bodies for their half year snooze.
The box turtle's daily cycle is ideal for life in the desert. It awakes early in the morning and hunts for food, from several hours before sunrise to three hours afterwards. Then it goes underground, not coming out until just before sunset. It feeds for another two hours, then sleeps, hidden, again.
The box turtle doesn’t have a very large home range and the same turtles day after day are found in the same small area. According to research males use ten acres and females five. Box turtles basically eat anything they can catch -- earth worms, millipedes as well as a good bit of vegetation, including fruit.
In folklore the turtle is usually considered to be wise and to be the foundation on which the earth rests in space. In some myths the land itself is the top of a turtle's shell. Mercury made the first lute from the shell of a turtle he found on the banks of the Nile.
Turtles are rarely mean, and many youngsters have box turtles for pets, though caring for turtles in captivity requires some skill and attention so that their needs are met. Sadly, many of these animals die because of poor care. Pet turtles should never be taken from the wild as their numbers are dwindling because of loss of habitat and collection by the pet trade. Unfortunately, pet stores turtles are usually collected from the wild. But it’s still possible to have a turtle pet – check breeders and dealers of captive bred turtles. And then learn how to be a skillful turtle keeper.
Box turtles have a relatively trouble free life, it’s usually the young ones that are killed by predators. The box turtle is a true desert dweller and knows how to exist in the heat of a Texas summer. He works in the morning and in the evening, the rest of the time he siestas. He polices his plot of land; he is the guardian and sanitary engineer.
Nature Notes is sponsored by the Dixon Water Foundation and is produced by KRTS Marfa Public Radio in cooperation with the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, Texas. This episode was written by Burr Williams. Visit sibleynaturecenter.org and join Williams' Facebook page where photos are posted daily.