Martok
June 14, 2010

Goat and turtle
Photo by Sue Weaver
Uzzi found a three-toed box turtle.

Uzzi found a terrapin in our pasture! That’s what old folks here call three-toed box turtles, one of two kinds of box turtles native to the Ozark Mountains (the other kind is the Ornate Box Turtle, but it’s really rare).

The folk name “terrapin” comes from the genus name Terrapene. There are four species and eight sub-species of Terrapenes in the United States and Canada. The Three-Toed Box Turtle’s Latin name is Terrapene carolina triunguis.
 
These turtles are cool! A box turtle’s upper shell (his carapace) is domed and his bottom shell (his plastron) has two hinges in it, so he can give a big hiss (to empty his lungs), then pull himself inside, draw up the hinges, and nothing much can hurt him. Hatchlings don’t have hinged plastrons but hinges develop in two or three years.
 

Three-toed box turtle
Photo by Sue Weaver
The turtle was a male. We could tell because he had reddish-brown eyes.

By the time a three-toed Box Turtle is 5 inches long, he’s 10 to 13 years old. Uzzi’s turtle was much bigger, so he was an old guy. He might live to be 60 years old. That’s five times older than a goat! And you can tell what sex he was by the color of his eyes. Girls have dark brown eyes; boys like Uzzi’s turtle have bright reddish-brown eyes.
 
Mom and Dad stop box turtles, as well as other kinds of turtles, snakes, and tarantulas (ick!), from crossing the road because traffic kills more turtles than any other thing. Many turtle species are endangered; maybe you could help them too? If you do, be really careful that you don’t get hit by a passing vehicle yourself. Then pick the turtle up (box turtles don’t bite), carry it straight across the road in the direction it’s already heading, and put it as far away from the road as you can. But don’t take it anywhere else to let it go because box turtles are territorial; if you move them somewhere else, they’ll try to go home, even if it means crossing dangerous highways to get there.
 
And please don’t try to keep box turtles as pets. Unless you’re very skilled at keeping turtles, they’ll slowly die. Instead—get a goat! We’re easier to care for (and much cuter too).

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