Veronica Senefeld – Interpreter at Glenwood Gardens
If you’ve ever visited the Highfield Discovery Garden at Glenwood Gardens, there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled upon our friend Mac the Eastern Box Turtle. Many enjoy stopping by his home and saying hello to Mac (or as we formally call him, Mr. Turtle). But what exactly is Mac’s story, and why is he living with us at Great Parks?
Mac’s beginnings go as far back as 1988. When he was just a hatchling in the woods, a preschool classroom found him and decided it was a good idea to take him home to be a class pet. When the school closed in 1994, the teachers decided to donate Mr. Turtle to Great Parks, where he eventually settled in at Glenwood Gardens.
As the parks took on care for Mac, they realized he had some quirks. The first thing they noticed was he was too big for his own shell! Also, as they prepped his diet, they noticed he would only go for night crawlers. We believe he may have had a limited diet in his early years, and the lack of nutrients may have caused some stunted growth.
Box turtles get their name because when they feel threatened in the wild, they can tuck their legs, head, and tail into their shell. The top domed shell is called the carapace, and the lower shell is called the plastron. The hinged plastron can close like a door boxing the turtle up.
So what does it mean to have a tiny shell? Since Mac doesn’t quite fit in his shell, he is not be able to properly protect himself in the wild. Some guests ask why we can’t just find him a new shell or take him out of his old one. The answer is that box turtles are born with their shell and grow with them their whole life. Their backbone is even fused to their carapace meaning they can’t just crawl out of it.
Mr. Turtle has become a permanent resident at Glenwood Gardens – not only because of his small shell, but also because he became too reliant on the care of people. He’s spent most of his life in captivity, so any new place we would release him to would make him vulnerable to predators or not finding proper food, water, and shelter. This is a common problem box turtles face when people find them outdoors. We may have the best intentions of bringing home a new friend, but we are taking an animal out of their home and surrounding them with unknown environments and foods they may not be used to eating. When people by re-release them back into secluded woods, it is usually away from their original territory. Sadly, this practice can have lasting effects on a turtle now being far away from its home and too overwhelmed to continue to search for food.
If you find a turtle, or any wild animal outside, the best thing to do is leave it be. If you notice an injured or distressed wild animal, you can call 800-WILDLIFE (945-3543) or visit wildohio.gov to connect with the proper individuals and to learn more about species-specific guidance.
Mac and his special condition have earned him an important place at Glenwood Gardens. He works as an animal ambassador for school programs, teaching children about turtles and the importance of keeping wild animals in the wild. Over time we have offered Mac various foods to get his diet back on track. He has found some favorite foods including blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and sweet corn. Aside from corn, he can be a bit picky with his other vegetables, so we try to hide them in a special protein treat such as a hard-boiled egg. He still gets a mix of protein including his occasional night crawlers, as well as other bugs.
His habitat is equipped with heating sources and basking bulbs in the cooler months, and a UVB light to help with metabolism. We even offer him a “spa day” of soaks and special lotion if his skin is looking a little dry. If you’re ever visiting Highfield Discovery Garden, be sure to stop in and say hello to Mac or sing him a song. Mr. Turtle is already older than half of his human co-workers, but as a team, we will continue to provide him the best life possible at our parks.