Box Turtle Observation Project

Behavioral Observations

Housing Arrangements

To understand the comments below, you need to understand the housing arrangements for the turtles. In the summer, they migrate north along the ancestral pathway called Interstate 77 to Cleveland. In Cleveland, they reside in our patio. The patio is bordered on 4 sides by buildings; at about 12 feet tall these make serviceable fences. Besides 3 patio doors opening onto the patio, there are two other openings; these are in the form of a gravel walkway that enters and leaves the patio and runs along the wall on one side (the walkway separates two buildings). While the turtles are in residence, these openings are blocked by concrete building blocks stacked two high. This low barrier is easy for humans to step over. The main portion of the patio is covered with terra cotta tile. Bordering two sides are plant beds with ivy as a ground cover, a small birch tree, and other small shrubs. The beds form an "L" which is about 15 feet by 3 feet on one leg and 8 feet by three feet on the other. There is also a pool which the turtles can wade in.

In the winter, the turtles are in my office in Marietta. One corner of the office is blocked off by a combination of strategically placed office furniture and concrete blocks. The concrete blocks have their holes utilized as planters for vining plants such as golden pothos which hang over into the enclosure. A shelf holds additional plants which hang down over one of the two water baths. There are two large water baths with ramps made of plastic eggcrate and Astroturf. The turtles love to huddle under the ramps, in or out of the water. A third tub with similar ramps holds soil. The enclosure is about 5 feet long on one leg and 10 feet long on the other. It is about 3 feet wide at its widest. The floor is Astroturf over concrete. The area is lit by sunlight from the office windows (slightly) a fluorescent shop light, and an incandescent light. The shop light and the incandescent light are on a timer set to provide a 14 hour day length. The sun is not on a timer, and provides varying day lengths over the course of the fall, winter, and spring. Heat is provided by a radiator above the enclosure on one leg, a 1 gallon bucket filled with water and containing an aquarium heater, and a "sizzle stone" glued to the bottom of a flat rock. A 1500 watt oil-filled electric radiator is in the office in the (unlikely?) event the college doesn't have the heat on, for instance, over a break.

Periods of Activity

The turtles are most active from just before dawn until an hour or so after dawn. In the summer, they spend most of their time searching out insects, slugs and earthworms. By the time direct sunlight reaches the enclosure, they have sought out and found a hiding place from the day. They normally remain there unless disturbed or if the sun reaches that point. For a few weeks in the summer, sun angles are such that there is no place in the vegetation that they can remain for the entire day without the sun hitting the surrounding vegetation (the ivy bed is deep enough that the turtles are completely shaded by the ivy). During these weeks, the turtles will move from one part of the bed to the other when the sun reaches them. There is little or no activity in the evening.

The turtles become most active in wet weather. Several people have told me that box turtles can sense low pressure in advance of a front and begin to move at that point. I have not seen evidence of this myself with these turtles. They usually emerge from hiding after the rain begins to fall. A sprinkler will not lure them out. They will remain active as long as the rain falls and for some time thereafter. During warmer weather, rain at night will also bring them out.

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Modified  10/23/96