September 4 – Turtles all the way down

Today’s factismal: Baby box turtles like to eat insects, slugs, and snails. Adult box turtles like to eat fruits and vegetables.

If you grew up in Oklahoma, Texas, or Louisiana, odds are that you had a box turtle for a pet as a child. And you probably wondered why your little turtle friend would never eat the lettuce that you put out for him. The answer is simple: just like young humans, young box turtles don’t eat their vegetables. Instead, they prefer to munch on insects, slugs, snails, and other turtle junk food. But, as they get older, the box turtle’s diet shifts and they start to eat more plants (probably because the plants can’t run away from them the way that insects do).

A box turtle sits on a rock, contemplating how he got into this predicament (My camera)

A box turtle sits on a rock, contemplating how he got into this predicament
(My camera)

That’s not the only way that box turtles are like people. Box turtles age at about the same rate that people do, too! Most box turtles grow very slowly after they hatch and only reach maturity (read: get ready to date) once they are about ten years old and six inches long. Female box turtles lay one or two clutches of eggs each year, with three to six eggs in each clutch. The adult box turtles then continue to chase plants and each other for the next twenty to forty years; some researchers even report seeing 100 year old box turtles!

But there’s something out there that may keep most box turtles from living that long: people. Many box turtles are taken to sell as pets or food, and others are killed by cars as the turtle crosses the road (to get to the tossed salad, in case you were wondering). As a result, the number of box turtles in the wild is shrinking. How far? We’re not sure. And that’s where you come in! If you spot a box turtle in Texas, then please report it to the Texas Nature Trackers: Box Turtle Survey Project. And then reward yourself with a nice, juicy worm! (Or an ice cream cone. Your choice.)

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