How long do they live? First, let me mention that these turtles are land turtles, which is why they are not listed in the aquatic species category. Next, there’s evidence that eastern box turtles do fall into the negligible senescence group of creatures, which means they don’t seem to age, even though they are still moving through time like you and I do [1] (I assume). There’s not a whole lot of evidence beyond one paper to suggest this, though. These turtles are not only slow growing, they walk really slowly too, which makes them extremely susceptible to being mowed over by agriculture equipment (oh damnit, now I have to know that happens), hit by cars, and unable to escape habitat destruction by yours truly, the human race. If they avoid being smashed or worse, then they could live up to 138 years or possibly longer [2].

eastern_box_turtle_terrapene_carolina_carolina_-_fairfax_-_02
Figure 1. Try not to let the horrifying image of tractors running over this little guy ruin the picture. Vertical farming is sounding better and better. BTW: the red eyes mean male.

Where are they found at? Like the name implies, they are found mainly in the eastern United States.

box_turtle_distribution_map-svg
Figure 2. The dark blue indicates where you find the eastern box turtle.

What do they eat? Like us, they are omnivores. They feed on fruits and vegetables, carrion, insects, worms, and pretty much anything that fits into their tiny mouths.

What do they look like? More adorable than the tortoises, which means they will melt your cold heart. Males usually have red eyes and female have brown eyes. Adults are itty bitty when compared to some of the other reptiles on this list and they are usually only 4 to 6 inches in size. See Figures 3 and 4 for colors and shell identification.

Eastern box turtle. Copyright Clare-Anne Canfield 2017.
eastern-box-turtle-902498_960_720
Figure 4. The female eastern box turtle has brown eyes.

 

How do scientists know how old they are? They must know the date of hatching since growth rings are not all that reliable [3].

How do they reproduce? Fertilization is internal and eggs are buried in the dirt until they hatch, which is as soon as 55 days later depending on the temperature [4]. See Figure 5. Females can store sperm in her oviduct for over 423 days [5]! Although I found a lot of information regarding when the eastern box turtle reaches sexual maturity, not too much of it was consistent. The turtle may reach sexual maturity between 7 and 10 years of age [6].

hatchling_eastern_box_turtle
Figure 5. There’s no way you can frown while looking at this picture.

So what are we lacking? A good start would be definitive age data, some telomere research and better reproductive age data. There’s no information regarding the genome of Terrapene carolina uploaded to NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), which … really? Nothing? I have to missing something.

Conservation status: Near threatened to vulnerable in some areas. It doesn’t help that evidence suggests that some pesticides are contributing to life threatening infections in the eastern box turtles [7].

Fun fact: If you see a turtle on the road and you want to help it avoid getting plowed over by folks who could not care less about the living creatures in the world around them, then always place them on the side of the road that they were headed to in the first place (pointing that way as well). Once turtles are on a mission, you can’t stop them. And don’t assume you can just throw them into a nearby pond, they are LAND turtles and you may very well kill them if you chunk them into a body of water that they can’t quickly wade out of. Just place it the way it was facing and out of harm’s way.

Please contact me if you have any information about how these adorable creatures avoid the sands of time. Also, any information about their genome would be greatly appreciated.

  1. Miller, J. K. “Escaping senescence: demographic data from the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis).” Experimental gerontology 36.4 (2001): 829-832.
  2. Nigrelli, Ross F. “SECTION OF BIOLOGY*: SOME LONGEVITY RECORDS OF VERTEBRATES.” Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences16.6 Series II (1954): 296-299.
  3. Bill Love. Turtle Age By Shell Markings. http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Turtles-Tortoises/Turtle-Care/Reptile-Shell-Markings/ Accessed. 9/11/2016.
  4. Backyard Science: Eastern Box Turtle Eggs and Hatchling Turtles. Accessed 9/11/2016.
  5. FAQ’s On Box Turtles. http://turtlesohoolihan.wiki.lovett.org/FAQ%27s. Accessed 9/11/2016.
  6. Gist, Daniel H., and Jeffery M. Jones. “Sperm storage within the oviduct of turtles.” Journal of Morphology 199.3 (1989): 379-384.
  7. Tangredi, Basil P., and Richard H. Evans. “Organochlorine pesticides associated with ocular, nasal, or otic infection in the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina).” Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine (1997): 97-100.