Saturday, August 5, 2017


                           Your common Eastern box turtle, a solitary soul in the woods.

    At Claytor Lake (VA) there is a "discovery center" where I've volunteered as a Master naturalist. And I noticed something about the turtles in the fish tank. First, fellow volunteer Judy M. noted the female box turtles have brown eyes, the males red (though they seem kind of orangy to me). But more than that, it was the way the two box turtles in the small tank interacted -- not that well at all.
    Judy and I both noticed that when Emily the interpretive ranger tried giving both turtles worms that one just stood there, its head facing the tank glass. The other turtle aggressively climbed over a rock to get at the worms and ate them both. When she wasn't eating she was trying to climb on the other turtle, like it was a rock to get out of the tank, making its shell dusty with dirt.
    On this day, Emily put wineberries into the tank that had more dirt than leaves in it (I'm not sure why). Once again, the aggressive female turtle went over to get those berries. The other stood by the glass. Finally, Emily moved the more aggressive one to an open plastic container so she could more easily return the timid one back to the wild. Judy, who owned two snakes and knew a thing or two about reptiles, pointed out box turtles didn't even need to be together. I guessed one the facing the wall, like actress Marlene Dietrich, "wanted to be alone."
     When kids visiting the center asked where the turtles were, I went to get "aggressive Gertie" myself. Not only did she show no fear about being picked up, but she wiggled around and her claws scratched my hand!
    You never think that creatures as instinctive as reptiles would be all that different. But some are bolder than others. Some are more adaptable to different environments. And some are just plain aggressive and "want to get out" of their human environment. That is why we only keep them around a month, to return them to their natural habitat, something they are genuinely used to. And as for box turtles, I hope they are returned to the almost exact location, as they appear to have a territory they want to spend their lives in, much like those who grow up in a small town may prefer to stay there all the time. In that way we might actually be alike.