Turtle, Florida Box


Terrapene carolina bauri


The domed carapace can reach 6 ½ inches high. Each carapace scute is generally black with bright yellow stripes. The plastron has one hinge that allows the shell to shut firmly. Males have a depression in the posterior area of the plastron.

Family

Emydidae

Order

Testudines

Class

Reptilia

Range

Florida peninsula

Habitat

Woodlands, wet meadows, pastures and floodplains

Life Expectancy

80-100 years

Sexual Maturity

5-7 years

Diet

In the wild they consume insects, plants, worms, berries, carrion, dung and some small vertebrates. In the Zoo they are fed vegetables, leafy greens, rabbit chow and fruit.

Status

IUCN - Not listed, CITES - Appendix II

Behaviors

Florida box turtles create shallow holes (about the size of their shell) that they can back into. If the weather is dry, they will burrow underneath a rotting log to obtain moisture. When it rains, they emerge to drink and soak in mud puddles. Breeding occurs in the spring. With their hind legs, they dig cavities in the ground for the nest. The eggs are laid before the nest is completely covered by the female. The incubation period is 70-140 days. The clutch size is 3 to 8 eggs, with an average of 4 or 5.

Adaptions

Claws are very sharp. The beak is very sharp for tearing food. The hinge on the bottom shell (plastron) enables these turtles to close the shell tightly, protecting them from predators like foxes, skunks and raccoons.

Special Interests

Female Florida box turtles can store sperm and fertilize their eggs whenever they choose to lay them, up to 6 years after a single mating. An Eastern box turtle, a different subspecies, was found in 1953 in Rhode Island with two dates carved onto its shell – 1844 and 1860!

Folklore

Turtles were often used as amulets because they were considered difficult to kill, and this protective power was thought to transfer to the wearer of the amulet. The turtle’s heart represented strength, endurance, and longevity. The Onondaga people of the northeastern woodlands (U.S.) tell this story of creation: Before the earth was created it was only water, and the ancient chief who lived in the sky had a young wife who dreamed she saw a great and beautiful tree uprooted. The ancient chief said that, as with all important dreams, everyone must work to make the dream come true, so he, himself, found a large tree in the sky and uprooted it. The young wife looked deep into the hole where the tree had been and suddenly lost her balance and tumbled downward. As she fell, she grabbed a handful of seeds from the tree. The animals below saw her falling. Two swans caught her but did not know what to do with her – they knew she could not live in the water. One by one, the animals dove far beneath the water to try to bring up earth for her to stand on. All failed until a small muskrat said she would try. She dove deeper and deeper, almost dying with every effort, but at the very last she was able to grasp a handful of earth and bring it to the surface with her. She put it on the turtle’s back, and there it grew and grew and became the earth. Even today you can see the marks of the muskrat’s tiny paws on the turtle’s back. The Navajo say that the reason the turtle walks so slowly is because it is carrying the weight of the world on its back. Native Americans used the plastron (upper shell) as a calendar. Each of the large scales (scutes) represented a month (there are 13 large scales, one for each full moon in a calendar year). The small scales around the edge of the plastron were used to count days between full moons (they number 28, the same number of days in the moon’s cycle).

Conservation

The Florida Box Turtle is a protected species because of the tremendous depletion of their population numbers to fuel the pet trade. Today it is illegal to commercially sell Florida box turtles.

Jacksonville Zoo History

This subspecies first appears in the Zoo’s animal collection during December 1980, but was probably represented even earlier than these records indicate.

Exhibit

Wild Florida