Shell-a-brate Turtles


There are 11 species of turtle that can be found in the state of Ohio, and only four of them cannot be found in Hamilton County. Turtles are in the order Testudines and can relate back to the Triassic period from 200 million years ago. These creatures worldwide are one of the most endangered species. There are many obstacles they face, from poaching to pollution to being sold in the illegal pet trade.

While in the field recently I came across one of my favorite Ohio turtles, the Eastern Box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). These turtles are unique in the sense that they can close themselves inside their shells completely. Their shell is hinged and can close tightly shut when they feel threatened, hence the name “box” turtle. This special adaptation doesn’t allow for many predators to get them. However, they still face obstacles such as poaching, the illegal pet trade and even raccoons, who love to eat their eggs. Box turtles’ diets are omnivorous, meaning they eat both animals and plants. They enjoy feasting on worms, snails, veggies, berries and even poisonous mushrooms.

Each box turtle has a unique pattern on their shells and we can identify and monitor individuals through photos and recaptures. The carapace is the domed part while the plastron is the bottom of the shell. One might ask, how can we tell if it’s a boy or a girl? Well, if you pick one up and look at the plastron you may notice a concave belly or a flat belly; flat is female and concave is male. Males have bright red eyes and longer tails while females have light orange- to brown-colored eyes. They weigh only 1 to 2 pounds and grow to be about 4 to 5 inches long.

Box turtles can be found in woodlands, hiding in leaves and decaying logs and plants or even crossing roadways. They are listed as a species of concern with the Ohio Division of Wildlife which means they can become threatened if continued or increased stress occurs.

Nesting occurs in spring to summer and the temperature of the nest determines their sex. Females are produced at warmer temperature and males are produced at cooler temperatures. They lay three to eight leathery eggs and they will hatch about three months later.

If you would like to learn more about these shelled creatures please visit our upcoming program Turtle Celebration Weekend at Woodland Mound on June 23 and 24 from 2 to 6 p.m. We will have live turtles on display, crafts and activities for all to join in on. If you would like to learn more about turtles you can also visit The Turtle Room online.

Jenn Wallace

East Region Interpreter