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The baby box turtle

We are already starting to see the arrival of newly hatched or born offspring here at the center.

In almost all cases, young wildlife does not need our help. They are so small and helpless looking, that looks can really be deceiving. We want to remind people as more time is being spent outdoors to always ask for advice before approaching the young of this season.

Eastern box turtles hatch out of eggs that have been buried about six inches, months before and dig their way to the surface spending the first few years of life hiding under leaf litter. They need protein and calcium for their shells to grow strong and start out as strict carnivores. They prey upon worms, beetles, salamanders, and bugs getting the water they need from those food sources. Depending on when the eggs were hatched, young box turtles will stay in their nests throughout their first winter and make an early appearance with the spring rains.

The young do not hatch with the natural defenses of adults and rely on their ability to stay hidden and to blend into their environment.

The young turtles’ shells are pliable and don’t have hinges which makes them easy prey for larger predators. Herpetologists who study reptiles report that only one in a thousand young turtles ever reach reproductive age.

Female box turtles lay between two to six eggs in several nest sites during the summer, often digging a “false nest” to confuse predators. Digging holes with their back legs as deeply as they can allows the nests’ temperatures to remain stable. They add layers of leaves or soil over the nest tops, making the nests almost undetectable. Once the nests are dug the females abandon the nests and the eggs and hatchlings are left on their own.

Temperature influences incubation times, usually 60-70 days, and influences the sex of the hatchlings. Ranging from 72°F - 93°F, eggs in the lower temperatures will be males and in the higher temperatures will be females. Those in the middle could be males or females. Hatching can take a few hours or a few days. Often, after hatching, they will absorb the rest of the egg yolks sustaining them for several weeks.

Adult box turtles are relatively safe from most natural predators because of their ability to close the bottom portion of their shells. These hinges box them in giving them their name.

The loss of natural and native habitat is causing turtles to appear in some unlikely places. Female turtles will venture as far as half a mile from their home ranges to find the perfect sites to dig their nests, often crossing roads and lawns.

Adult box turtles have a small home territory and as they explore their habitats, favorite places for food, water, and hides are stored in their memories. If they are removed from those homes they may wander endlessly trying to get back to where they know they belong.

Baby box turtles who have not developed this territorial behavior, are able to be relocated to a suitable habitat.

If you see a turtle in the road that they need to think about their safety first. It’s important to send the turtle in whatever direction in which it was heading. Turning the turtle around to the wrong side of the road just forces them to start all over again.

Finding a baby box turtle can be exciting and it’s fine to take some photos of it but it is important to allow these turtles to remain in the wild. It’s never a good idea to keep a turtle as a pet because they don’t do well in captivity.

Experts agree that habitat loss and human inference are contributing factors in the decline in population numbers. The best thing we can do to help these turtles is to make sure their habitats are protected.

If you are a turtle enthusiast, be sure to stop in some time to visit the turtles who live here at the center!

Jeannie Carl is a naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center in Summit Hill.

For information on the Carbon County Environmental Center, visit www.carboneec.org.

Even at this small size, this turtle has all the right instincts to help it navigate through the woods in Pennsylvania and does not need any help from us. JEANNIE CARL/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Newly-hatched box turtles are about the size of a quarter. This young turtle has quite a bit of growing to do to reach the size of this adult box turtle who is 40 years old.