It’s been a little too chilly to venture out into the park to explore, so I’ve been spending a lot of my time hanging out in my log, enjoying my heat mat. My coworkers gave me a new type of substrate that has been really fun to dig around in, too! Since I haven’t been able to get out and about to collect the latest news, I thought I would check in with my box turtle neighbor Spot to see what he’s been up to.
Cornelius: Hi Spot! How have you been doing this winter?
Spot: Hi Cornelius! I’ve been doing pretty good. Lots of the usual – digging holes, taking naps in my log, and enjoying long soaks in my water bowl. I can’t wait until its warm enough to go back outside in my playpen, though!
Cornelius: Can you tell my readers a bit about what it’s like to be a box turtle?
Spot: Sure! Us Eastern box turtles may be small, but we have a really important ecological role. We are omnivores that eat lots of different kinds of leaves, fruits, seeds, invertebrates, and even mushrooms.
When we eat plants, we help to disperse the plants’ seeds to new locations in our poop! In fact, box turtles are a really big help in making sure that wild grapes, pokeberry, black cherry trees, and spring ephemeral wildflower populations are able to grow and spread! Imagine taking a hike in the park in April and enjoying all those beautiful mayapples, jack-in-the-pulpit, and wild geraniums in bloom. You can thank a box turtle for that!
We also really love mushrooms, although scientists didn’t really catch on to exactly how much we love them until fairly recently. One study found that box turtles can translocate over 20 species of Basidiomycota fungi, which includes things like puffballs, bracket fungus, and even those yummy morels that humans get so excited about!
Here in my tank, I can’t exactly go foraging like a wild turtle, but my coworkers make sure I get lots of variety. I have special turtle pellets with all of the important vitamins and minerals (the red ones are the best!). Plus I get hay, dried flowers, and lots of fresh veggies like carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes. On Mondays, I get to hunt bugs like mealworms, beetles, and crickets, which is always a lot of fun.
My favorite are the tomatoes though. Even though I’m an indoor turtle, I still did my part as a seed disperser last summer when my coworkers found a tomato plant growing in the spot where they usually dump my water bowl when it gets dirty. You can never have too many tomatoes!
Cornelius: If box turtles are so important to the outdoors, how did you end up living here inside the Visitor Center?
Spot: My brother Stripe and I were accidentally removed from the wild when we were tiny hatchlings. Some caring people rescued us from a very dangerous situation, but we never really learned how to be turtles that live in the wild. We much prefer to be turtles that have people to bring them delicious snacks and give shell rubs!
Since we’re not so big on fending for ourselves, Stripe and I got jobs here in the park as education turtles. We help teach students who come for field trips about turtles, habitats, and wildlife conservation. My favorite program to help out with is Summer Discovery camp – the campers always give me extra mealworms!
Cornelius: So where should visitors look if they want to meet a box turtle? (Besides here in the Visitor Center of course!)
Spot: We prefer to live in open forests, fields, and even wet meadows and shallow wetlands. Our favorite places are where forests grow next to fields, meadows, or wetlands – those overlapping habitat edges have lots of our favorite foods, plenty of places to shelter, and great soaking spots!
Just remember – if you see a box turtle in the wild, you can admire it, say hi, and take lots of pictures, but please don’t move them. Most box turtles live their entire lives within one square mile and know where every yummy mushroom and berry bush can be found. They would get really lost, scared, and hungry if people moved them to a different spot!
Cornelius: Thanks so much for talking with me today! It was great to get out and stretch my scales a bit!
Spot: No problem! Just make sure your readers know that I’m the best education animal at the park, even if I don’t have a blog!
Postscript: Dear readers – don’t listen to Spot. Everybody knows that I’m the best education animal. I know how to type even though I don’t have arms!