The PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation is home to a friendly eastern box turtle named Russell.
Eastern box turtles are found in woodland areas, but can also be found in pastures and marshy meadows. Box turtles can be found foraging at the edge of the forest and they tend to avoid open areas and bright sunlight. Their shell is permanent and a part of their skeleton and the pattern provides camouflage. The shell is their armor, protecting them from predators and weather. However, the shell is not impervious to pain or pressure, because it contains nerve endings.
Male eastern box turtles are easy to identify because of two characteristics: red eyes and a concave shaped plastron (the bottom shell). Female eastern box turtles have brown eyes and a flat plastron. To read more about eastern box turtles from Naturalist Michael Gaige, click here.
In 2007, a family took Russell from the woods of Maryland. The family was moving and could no longer care for Russell, so he was given to Saratoga Independent School in Saratoga Springs, NY. Russell stayed at the school for a year and then he was given to The Parklands. Since Russell has been in captivity for 7 years, he has lost some level of caution towards humans and other animals. If we released Russell back into the wild, there is a good chance that he would be easy prey for raccoons and opossums.
Threats to Eastern Box Turtles
Wild turtles require specific care and diet, which is why half of captive box turtles die. After taking wild turtles from the woods and caring for them, they cannot return to the woods because they have lost a sense of caution. Other causes of death include railroad tracks, roads, and lawn mowers.
Russell is a wild turtle and clearly shows that it is poor judgment and selfish to remove box turtles or any animal from the wild. Now that Russell lives with us he is a great tool for educating young Outdoor Classroom students and giving them an up-close look at these amazing animals.
How Can We Protect Eastern Box Turtles?
Many states have laws protecting box turtles. Here at The Parklands we love introducing Russell to the public but are always sure to educate people about the importance of protecting box turtles and other wildlife.
Wild box turtles also struggle with loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation. Florida has been using overpasses for turtles and other animals to help decrease the amount of turtle deaths on roadways. At The Parklands we are working to restore natural areas, building greater connectivity among forest patches and “rewilding” our landscapes, initiatives that will help box turtle populations and all native flora and fauna. What ways can you think of to help protect our friends the box turtles in nature?
The worst thing would be for people to see Russell and decide they want a box turtle of their own. Rather, our goal at The Parklands is to share Russell with the public and teach the importance of keeping turtles where they live and can thrive.
Russell is an ambassador for wild turtles! Stop by an see him during open Welcome Center hours, he’s always happy to have visitors.
Story by Olivia Kaiser – Interpretive Ranger for The Parklands.