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Another Box Turtle Morning

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Do you remember a post called Box Turtle Morning? 
It was from July 6, 2022. Which, as I think about it, was very late for a box turtle in southeast Ohio to be laying eggs. 

If you haven't read it, or don't remember it, you might want to click above. The post will open in a new window. You won't lose your place here. To summarize: That morning, I found not one, but two freshly completed box turtle nests on my meadow paths, and I spent the morning making sure they were protected from predators, using wire baskets, stakes, and heavy rocks. 

In late October 2022, I was shocked to find one of the nests had hatched out. That’s the normal 3-4 month incubation period, but October had turned nasty. It was cold and rainy, but danged if at least three little turtlets hadn't dug their way out, leaving a neat exit hole. The mesh on the wire basket was large enough to allow them to escape, by design, and escape they did. Dang it! I shone my flashlight down into the nest chamber and saw the shell of a tiny turtlet. I gingerly touched his foot with my finger, and he pulled that foot in. OMG he was alive! 

Because it was so very cold and wet, and I knew that some hatchlings overwinter in the nest, I fetched a flimsy dead leaf and covered the exit hole his siblings had used to leave the nest. Then I piled loose earth over the dead leaf (I didn't want to bury him alive!) That way, he'd have a nice empty nest chamber to rattle around in, and he could dig his way out when he was good and ready. I had a hunch he'd decided to overwinter in there. Smart turtle. I wondered where his siblings had gone. The meadow is so huge, and they are so very tiny.  

To make sure I’d see him when he finally dug out, I placed a finer gauge mesh basket over the nest, that would contain him until I could get there to see him. I wanted confirmation that he’d made it through the winter. 

All winter long, I checked that nest every time I walked out, to make sure he hadn't dug out. All spring long, I've checked it every day (that I was home). I also have weeded it three times to keep the earth atop the nest loose and unobstructed. I’ve done the same for the second nest I found that July morning. The grass would have grown over them completely had I not done that. I've also watered the nests many times during dry, hot weeks in summer. I suspect many turtle eggs simply dessicate away and fail to hatch in very hot dry summers.

This morning, April 26, I checked the nest again, and I saw something different. I'd been gone overnight, and missed one nest check. Isn’t that how it always goes?

This photo is out of focus, but do you see what I see?

There was a new exit hole! And at the top, a tiny grayish disc...

Look at that! There are no tailings (piles of dirt) because the hole has been dug out from beneath. The sides are so finely scraped and scratched by tiny toenails. It's exactly big enough to admit one baby turtle, and no more. That, my friends, is a perfect hatchling exit hole. 

and THERE he WAS.

Had I not put the finer gauge copper basket over the nest, he'd have been long gone by the time I found the exit hole. He was trapped in the copper basket, just as I'd hoped. 

First look: He's got a little mossflower behind his ear.  I cannot believe my eyes. He's going to be a bright one--look at those orange arms!

It's SO cold this morning--mid 30's! And yet he's out, and responsive. Turtles will always amaze and surprise me, at every turn. 

I am wary of warming him up too quickly so I keep my hand and him out of my warm pocket. 

I carry him home and set him up in an escape-proof container outside, in the rapidly warming sun, on my chipmunk-proof growing table. Then I go back to investigate the nest, and make sure there are no more turtlets in there. Science Chimps gotta know everything there is to know. 

I find only the empty shells of a successfully hatched box turtle nest. How satisfying!!

He's such a muddy little thing! Only his moist eyes are clean. 

So I wash him off and scrub him with a Q-tip until I can see his true colors. 

Ach he's so tiny, so vulnerable. But he's strong. I don't know his sex for sure, but the bright orange forelegs are making me lean male.

I leave him basking and go back to double-protect the second nest, which did not hatch out in October. I weed it carefully, loosen the soil surface, and place the fine copper baby cage over the nest. (This is the first, hatched out nest with the exit hole).

This way, if the second nest’s occupants dig out this spring, I will be able to see and care for the babies--they won't walk off through the large white mesh the way this hatchling's siblings did last fall. 

Stake and huge cement block in place. Nothing's going to excavate this nest but the Science Chimp. It has been protected with the white cage all winter; I've just added the baby cage to it to contain any hatchlings.

Back home, the turtlet makes round after round of its enclosure, trying to get out. Such strength and energy he has! I try feeding him tiny white tender mealworms, and he walks right over them. 

I've promised this turtle if he won't eat for me that I will release him, and I think he knows that. 

By about 1 pm, he had dug himself back into the soft mud and gone to sleep. What a big day for a very small turtle! 

And for his protector. Tomorrow, I'll try him on some cat food treat, smeared on a tiny baby mealworm, in hopes that the fishy smell will stimulate his urge to bite. If I can't get him to eat, off he goes to the woods to rumble around and find his own meals.

Turtles know best what they need. 
Science Chimps just try to help them along their way. 


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