Let’s Talk Turtles…….

I don’t know about you, but for the past month and a half, turtles have been just about everywhere around here.  My dogs can’t take a walk without sniffing them out and yes, even putting one in their mouths when I’m not looking.  These mainly land-based creatures have their pick on where to go and roam, and that includes neighborhood streets and driveways.  I’ve even heard some of these turtles wandering up driveways into garages lately.

Our most common turtles are the genus Terrapine, and they commonly come out of their hibernation in mid-to-late March around here and begin their feeding and mating once the average temperature goes above 65 degrees.   They feed on anything they find, including snails, grubs, fallen fruit, caterpillars and other worms.  Our garbage remains are not out of the question!

Once the mating begins each Spring, the average egg clutch varies from one to seven per female turtle.  The gestation period is about two months.  Our common local box turtle will stay active all through warm weather, until they have to seek hibernation accommodations by burrowing underground once Jack Frost announces his presence.

little turtle walk ahead, just a few days old

I have always referred to turtles as amphibians, but there is a lifestyle preference of some of these shelled creatures verses others.  Our box turtles prefer land, but tortoises of course are truly amphibious.  I recently came up on a two-foot tortoise in my neighborhood, just a few blocks up from the bayou.  Both tortoises and turtles as a group live long lives, and tortoises live longer than other turtles, according to Thomas H. Boyer, DVM, DABVT who practices in san Diego, CA..  He has studied chelonians, or painted turtles, and has evidence that most of them live 50-100 years.

Says Boyer “I’ve seen several desert tortoises that were in their eighties.  All the desert tortoises I’ve seen that were really old lived in a yard with Bermuda grass, which has a nutritional profile similar to what they eat in the wild.  Conversely, the most common health issue in them is poor nutrition”.  Boer added that most turtles tend to not die of old age, but from man and other predators.

Along with dogs, coyotes, wolves and foxes, large birds and snakes can also prey on turtles.  As well-intended as man may be, turtles die from getting in the wrong place at the wrong time (like a street or driveway), and tortoises get hurt by way of fishing nets, fishing lines or fish hooks.  One of the saddest moments I had this Spring was when I accidently crushed a turtle with my truck tire only because the poor thing chose the cool shade d my tire as his resting place.

As independent as turtles are, many turtles die in captivity when they are removed from their natural habitat.  So, while well-intended, many attempts at keeping box turtles as pets fail because of variables that differ from their true homes.

Dr. Chris Duke

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