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In our hurried world, we can be intrigued or frustrated by the
pace of the Texas box turtle. Most of us have seen this
reptile making its way across a country road or paved
highway. You can stop and help it cross the road or, take it
home for a pet. Question is, "Which is the better
"Turtles are some of the oldest reptiles on the earth," notes
Dr. J. Jill Heatley, clinical associate professor at the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences. "They are slow-moving, but these creatures have
survived virtually unchanged for thousands of years."
"The box turtle is a land animal that can also swim well,"
states Heatley. "It spends its life around water, marshes or
wetlands. It is an air-breathing animal, toothless and
reproduces by laying eggs. Generally, you can distinguish
male from female box turtles based on the color of their
eyes. Males have bright orange to reddish iris color while
females have brown to tan iris color."
The box turtle is characterized by a high domed shell that
hinges so the turtle can enclose itself, thus the fitting name of
box turtle, notes Heatley. Box turtles eat vegetation as well
as insects, slugs, snails and dead flesh.
Will this terrestrial creature survive the fast paced world of
today? Can it "out-pace" today's human desires for exotic
pets, run-ins with automobiles and loss of habitat?
"Turtles can make good pets, but taking a turtle from the wild
and placing it in your home may lead to a slow death for the
animal," cautions Heatley. "Like any pet, turtles require
daily attention, care and have specific nutritional and
"Relocating the native turtle to your home can be detrimental to
the animal. Turtles establish home ranges and they will try
to return to their home territory. If removed from it, they
may travel long distances looking for familiar grounds. This is
sometimes called 'homing'. In the process they may come in
contact with predators, unsuitable habitat, or they may lose the
race while trying to cross the highway."
The most common question I get asked is, 'What do I do if I see
a turtle crossing the road?', says Heatley. She recommends
pulling your vehicle safely to the side of the road and put on your
hazard lights. When you can safely approach the turtle based
on traffic, pick the turtle up by the back of the shell and place
it off the road in the same direction that it was headed.
Injured turtles may be brought to the college of veterinary
medicine at any time for care and repair.
Resist the temptation to "adopt" a turtle from the wild.
The box turtle confines its activities to a small area (several
acres) for its home range and breeding ground. Once removed
from this territory, many displaced turtles fail to establish a new
home range and few find their way back to their original home
range, explains Heatley.
Since the box turtle is long-lived with a life span of 20 years
or more, they experience delayed sexual maturity (anywhere from 7
to 10 years). This turtle species requires a long life span
and high population density to increase its population. A box
turtle must survive lawn mowers, farm machinery, predators and
crossing roads during its growth years before it can add to the
The box turtle is also threatened by the pet trade, notes
Heatley. As more people collect box turtles as pets or to
sell to others as pets, the turtle's population density would be
expected to decline. If levels get too low, box turtles will
not be able to sustain their numbers.
"Since box turtles take a long time to reach sexual maturity,
live in a limited home range and produce a small number of eggs in
each clutch, this animal is hard pressed when additional pressures
are encountered," explains Heatley. "It is for these reasons
that harvesting adult box turtles from the wild for pets is a
In our hurried and fast-paced world, if you make the time to
look for the Texas box turtle, may you continue to find them in
their natural setting, may you marvel at this centuries-old
creature who is trying to survive in an ever changing world.
Remember that it is best to leave the Texas box turtles on their
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