Box Turtles and People

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

Three-Toed Box Turtle

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Ornate Box Turtle

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strawberries and mulberries if given the opportunity.

Box turtle longevity

Because box turtles live on land and eat plants, people often think of them as being small tortoises. This has led to the belief that box turtles live a very long time, maybe 100 years or more. Missouri’s species of box turtles actually live an average of 40 to 50 years.

A 25-year study of a population of three-toed box turtles in central Missouri by Charles and Libby Schwartz showed that the oldest specimen in a sample of over 1,700 was 59 years old. Ornate box turtles have a shorter lifespan with an average age of 32 years (from a study in Texas).

When people and box turtles meet

There are times and circumstances when box turtles come in contact with people and, more often than not, it turns out poorly for these reptiles.

Turtles in gardens.

Many people who enjoy gardening have experienced box turtles getting into their crops of red, ripe strawberries or tomatoes. It’s easy to understand why box turtles frequently visit gardens in May and early June. There are few insects available at this time of year to eat, wild strawberries are scarce (and very small in size) and turtles are still trying to gain some weight after a long, over-winter dormancy. A garden with a nice crop of strawberries is too hard to resist for a hungry box turtle. Later in the summer, as tomatoes ripen, box turtles are attracted to the red color and the amount of moisture available in these fruits.

A simple solution to these problems is to build a low fence to keep box turtles and other wildlife out of the garden. Then, make sure the tomato plants have good, sturdy stakes or wire supports for climbing so that ripening fruit will be off the ground and out-of-reach of your neighborhood box turtles.

Relocating box turtles to new areas is not good for the reptiles. The new location may already have an established population with limited resources, and the transplanted turtles may not survive. Also, relocated wildlife have a strong urge to head back to where they came from, which can lead to them being killed on a road.

Box turtles as vacation souvenirs.

During their active season (April through September), box turtles move about their home ranges in search of food, water, courtship, an egg-laying site and/or a resting niche. While active, these animals become visible to people. Too often, folks

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