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Of a Certain Age

Apr 25, 2016

Journeying to exotic places and riding the wind are part of life for some animals. But a first birthday is not!

Many creatures live adventurous–but very short–lives. The monarch butterfly flies over a thousand miles to Mexico when it’s just 3 or 4 months old. They mate and lay eggs to produce the next generation of monarchs. But despite this excitement, they never live to see their first birthday or even to witness the splendor of all four seasons!

Many of our colorful songbirds, such as the orioles and tanagers, make long migrations and lead short lives, too.

Some larger animals, such as the red fox and red-tailed hawk, can live a long time in captivity–20 years or more for the hawk. But in the “fast lane” of the natural world, life for most birds and mammals is an adventure in survival wrought with danger and hardships.

On the other hand, perhaps the box turtle has the right idea. Most live their entire lives on just a few acres of land, and spend half of it hibernating. That may not sound like a thrilling life, but it is a longer one. Even in the wild, the laid-back box turtle can live from 50 to 80 years, occasionally over 100 years! And that’s plenty of time to experience the wonder of all seasons… over and over again!

Box Turtle: The Old Soul of Nature

  • Of all the reptiles, turtles are the most admired by humans for their symbolic characteristics of slow, steady progress, longevity, and resilience as well as for their unique body form.
  • Three-toed box turtles become active about April. Courtship and mating last from late April to July or later. The male courts by pulsating his orange throat.
  • Most egg-laying occurs from May to early July. At dusk, the female selects an elevated, open patch of soil or sand and digs a hole with her hind legs. A clutch is usually 3–8 eggs, which hatch in about 3 months. There are 1–2 clutches per season. Box turtles dig into leaf litter and soil and go dormant to survive winter.
  • Even though adult box turtles are defended by their shells, the eggs and young provide food for many predators. Hatchlings are only about 1 inch long and are especially vulnerable.
  • Young three-toed box turtles consume mostly earthworms and insects, but adults tend to be more vegetarian, eating a variety of plants, berries, and mushrooms.

Discover more about the box turtle with the MDC’s Field Guide.


Photo of male Baltimore oriole perched on branch
Baltimore Oriole Male
Male Baltimore oriole.


Monarch butterflies need plants in the milkweed family to survive.
Monarch Butterfly Photo
Monarch butterflies need plants in the milkweed family to survive.

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