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Atoning to Box Turtles

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I was driving this spring at the screech of dawn in a driving rain, trying to get somewhere or other, some airport, some festival. I don't remember. But I will never forget the sound and feel of running over a box turtle who was crossing our country road. I couldn't see it; it was well off to the right side, and obscured by the sheets of rain that my wipers weren't clearing. It's not the first turtle I've hit, and I'm sure it won't be the last. These things happen, even to people who love turtles.

I've always tried to help turtles whenever I can, whether by moving them across the road in the direction they're headed, by trying to fix them when people bring them to me busted, by raising hatchlings to release size, and even by offering food to the wanderers who cross our lawn.
This lovely female (note her brown, not red eyes) was slowly crossing our driveway. I walked by and casually dropped some strawberries in front of her. Wouldn't want her to think I wanted her to eat them or anything. I get such a kick out of watching turtles take in the information. Suddenly strawberries. What to do?

Of course, they're wary creatures, so I withdraw and shoot at a distance through my telephoto lens. This one was aware that I was still watching her, and hunkered down. So I left her to her contemplation of the luscious fruit, dropped from heaven. Ten minutes later, I returned.
And what would that be on your chin, Mrs. Turtle?

I've lost count of the turtles I've moved this spring, but this one is my favorite: a gorgeous little juvenile. I have one the spittin' image of him in a tank at home; he's on his third season with me since he hatched, the progeny of captive parents, in a backyard near Youngstown. I'm growing him on until he's too big for the chipmunks to chew up, and then I'm going to let him go right here on Indigo Hill.
If you count the rings on this wild animal, you'll find four, and he's starting on a fifth. He'll fit in the palm of your hand, and he's four years old. Pretty humbling. My turtle, Shoomie, has had the benefit of an abundant diet, calcium supplements, and the leisure simply to grow. He's a bunch bigger than this one, with only three growth rings. I feed him Repto-Min sticks for aquatic turtles, floating them in his shallow water dish. The Brownian motion makes them move, and he snaps wildly, sometimes eating four at a time. I can almost see him grow. It's good to know he's getting a balanced diet, that it will help him grow fast and strong, and get closer to release every day. We've started to let him tour the living room under close supervision, and he's a speed demon. He'll do well in the wild.

We're home. At 2:30 AM, we rolled into the driveway. After being on planes for eight hours, hauling all our Utah luggage plus the two large suitcases JetBlue lost, then sent out to us at Salt Lake City, we hit a roadblock (police cars with flares) at 1 AM and were forced to turn off the car as we sat on the highway for 30 minutes. We all fell asleep, awakened only by the roar of trucks rolling again. All we saw at the end of the mile-long backup was two police cars, shining a klieg light into the forest. Maybe they were filming an episode of Cops: Muskingum County. Maybe they had a Bigfoot sighting.

Count is strep throat: 3, still standing: 1. That one would be me. We'll get a nurse practitioner's opinion on Dr. Zick's preliminary diagnosis. For now, it's laundry, mail, restocking the larder, doctor at 3 PM, and looking forward to picking up Chet Baker at five. Oh, are we looking forward to that!  Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!


Hi Julie,

Enjoyed reading about the box turtles. I had one in my garden a few years back - he LOVED nibbling on my cucumbers!


Suddenly strawberries.

(Thanks for the chuckle at that!)

Nifty turtles! We are very much lacking in turtles up here. I do love them!

Sorry to hear the fast-paced life of bird artistry/festivals etc has taken its toll. Good luck on the healing front.

Zane called me from his car this morning, still in the driveway, to tell me there was a box turtle by the mulberry tree. I hustled Oona, still in her onesie and without shoes, outside to said tree to get her first look at a turtle (one word she can say very clearly) in the "wild". She's a good audience for these things: eyes go wide and mouth closes to a tiny "o", with grunting, high pitched giggling and lots of wows. Yesterday she picked her first black raspberries of the bramble in the north yard. Yum!

Great detail on how to make a turtle puzzle--drop strawberries in front of her.
Where we live is so developed that I haven't seen a turtle in ages. I hate to see any critter get hit along the road, and especially feel badly about turtles--they are so pre-historic looking.
Hope you all get better quickly. Maybe seeing Chet again will help!

Hi Julie-I enjoyed hearing your stories, espeically about turtles at Murphin Ridge a few weeks ago. A great weekend. I thought of you as I stopped to rescue a box turtle attempting to cross the road on my way to the vet last Friday. A rather small one, maybe juvenile? that someone ran over with obvious cracks in the shell and some bleeding. I wasn't hopeful, but my great vet did some surgery and wired the shell; put Boomer (I found him on Boomer Road) on IV's and under a heat lamp to recoup. One of the vet tech's has several injured box turles in her care, so she is taking Boomer home with her. I hope more people will notice these little guys when driving; especially as you pointed out, right after a rain when they feel safe to move. Keep up the good work!

You are a very kind person. You know they are very pretty little things. I've only seen a couple around where I live. We have a lot of rabbits,,,I saw a baby rabbit run across the front yard this morning,,I never have my camera when I need it. We have raccoons and even armadillos in the woods behind our house. The Racoons and squirells get very brave sometimes.

This has been a big turtle year for me. I have moved 3 box turtles, seen two safe on the side of the road and one on a trail, and watched one get hit right in front of me. It was in the opposite lane and I was going to stop, but I was too late. It seemed as though the huge pick-up truck aimed for it. I also another one quite dead. Score: 6 living to 2 deceased.

I have also seen HUMUNGOUS snapping turtle on the side of the road - he had just finished crossing, which is lucky because there is no way I could have moved him - and either a red-eared slider or maybe a painted turtle in a neighbor's yard, plus my resident slider in my home pond.

I can't remember this many turtles in one year in a long, long time.

Sorry about the strep throat. I will send you virtual chicken soup and hugs all around.

Kiss Chet for me,


That lovely female Box Turtle looks a lot like Junebug, the turtle I hosted after I found her, injured, up the road when the development behind me was being excavated. I took her to the vet, who showed me how to inject antibiotics into her scaly armpits (one day the right, the next day, the left) for two weeks and clean her wounds -- on the front of the top shell to the left of her head, and a triangular break on the plastron in front of the hinge on the right. She, too, thought one foodstuff came from heaven: earthworms, which I'd dangle through the screen. It got so whenever she saw me approach, she'd look up, waiting for the manna delivery. About a year after I found her, she laid four eggs, which she then ate. (She was far more picky about strawberries, which she'd only eat in season.)

There was no place left around here to safely release her, so I kept her for 13 years. But last year, after she awoke from hibernation, she was so rammy, I knew she needed a better, more active life than I was giving her. So I found a local rehabber with a lot of turtle experience and access to safe habitat, and took June down there for the next chapter of her life. When I took June out of the carrier, the rehabber commented on her beauty, turned her over, saw her black bottom shell, and exclaimed, "Ooh, she's at least 80!" (The darker the plastron, she said, the older the turtle.) I was floored. And humbled that June's time with me likely amounted to nothing more than an extended spa vacation.

I feel bad when I hit a monarch....I can only imagine how bad you must have felt after hitting the turtle. I hope the fact that you've saved so many is consolation to you, Julie.

Welcome home to all from your travels. I hope everyone feels better soon--I'm sure Baker kisses will help too.

Your writing is a daily balm when life seems unmanageable or just plain not fun for a time. That you can write with such warmth and understanding about turtles and all the other creatures in your Eden...and then by-the-by mention that you're all down with strep (not to mention dirty laundry and errant luggage!) Just knocks me out. Thanks for another day of perspective correction.

When we lived in Louisiana, I was taking a walk along a road behind our house. There were ripe blackberries on the sides and under one bush, a box turtle about the size of my hand (don't know exactly what kind). He closed up his shell when I approached and started picking berries. I dropped a handful on the ground in front of him and continued on down the road. On the way back I found he was still under the bush, but the blackberries were long gone, except the bits on his little mouth. It made my day!

Catbird, what a lovely story, and kudos to you for taking that turtle back to nature, where she belongs. If plastron coloration is an indicator of age, I'm not aware of it. We have melanistic turtles, and turtles who are completely yellow on the plastron, and I've found plenty of oldsters who are very pale on the plastron. The information I've been given suggests that a shell that is worn almost completely smooth, such that the growth rings are obscured, indicates great age. The only reliable indicator of age that I'm aware of, unfortunately, is when someone carves on a turtle and we find it 120 years later! Here's to you and to June. I love the spa vacation imagery.

Peg, if I seem to write well when I'm up to my eyeballs in laundry, it's because I wrote it when I wasn't! I'm tellin' ya--antblogging is the only thing that works for me. Back to folding little Superman underpants and sweeping dead crickets from under all the spiderwebs in the bathrooms...and everyone's feeling better today, thank goodness.

Thanks for the fabulous story. I have a soft spot for all the turtles out there. I found a Striped Mud Turtle yesterday at work and admired it's double-hinged plastron.

I've stopped in the middle of the road several times this summer to help a turtle cross. I think they are just such cool creatures. Welcome home Julie!

Cool. You seem to go to bed about the time I get up! LOL

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