Eastern Box Turtle
Terrapene carolina carolina
Box Turtle from Salem, WV area
photo by Mark B. Watson
Species Description: This common turtle can have a carapace length of about 6" (15 cm). They are usually brown or black with radiating yellow markings on each scute. The scales on the turtle's body may be yellow, orange, or reddish. Box turtles are called box turtles because they can withdraw their arms and legs, tail, and head into their shell and close up tightly. A hinge on the plastron allows them to do this. Males have a concave plastron, reddish eyes, and the cloaca is closer to the tip of the tail.
Habitat: Box turtles are the most terrestrial of any turtle in West Virginia. They are most often encountered during spring or summer after a rain shower. They are active during the day, wandering through forests or old fields in search of food -- earthworms, berries, mushrooms, etc. During the fall, box turtles move to valleys where they bury themselves under the soil or leaf litter. They hibernate in a shallow burrow in the soil. Like wood frogs and several other reptiles and amphibians, box turtles can survive freezing! Very cold periods during the winter may kill some turtles though.
Box turtles, like most turtles, have very long lifespans. They can live for well over 100 years. However, most probably do not live longer than 30 or 40 years in the wild. A major cause of death for this turtle is automobile traffic! Thousands and thousands of box turtles are killed by cars every year, though no one knows how this affects the species as a whole.
Individual box turtles usually have home ranges about the size of a football field.
Breeding Activity: Sexual maturity is reached by about 5-10 years of age. Mating occurs in spring, usually just after hibernation. The male chases the female, biting her on the neck, head, and edge of her shell. He may even roll her over on her back. The male eventually mounts the female (see the picture above) and hooks his toes into the female's shell. Males sometimes die as a result of falling on their backs during mating if they're in a place where they can't flip over again. Females store sperm, and may lay fertile eggs from one mating for up to four years! Eggs are usually deposited in May through July. The female digs a flask-shaped nest during dusk and four to five eggs are usually deposited, but two clutches may be laid per year. Incubation may take from 50 to 90 days, depending on temperature. Some clutches have been known to take up to 136 days to hatch. Like many turtles, box turtles have temperature-dependent sex determination. Clutches incubated at temperatures of 22.5-27.0 degrees C produce mostly males, while females are produced at 28.5 degrees C or above. The hatchlings do not look like their parents! (see above picture by Jeff Davis) They have flat, brown shells with a yellow spot on each scute.
Range: Box turtles can be found in every county.