Friday, August 24, 2007

Three-legged Box Turtle

Shellie is the resident three-legged Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina). Box turtles have the ability to pull in their head, legs and tail and using their hinged plastron (bottom portion of the shell) tightly secure themselves within their shell. Prior to arriving at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest, Shellie apparently was unable to pull in his (yes, Shellie is a male) left rear leg and lost it to a predator. Predators of young turtles include racoons, dogs, foxes, cottommouths, copperheads, and rodents. However, once a box turtle has reached adult size, few can swallow it whole or break into the shell.

The age of a box turtle can be estimated by counting the rings of the scutes (sections) on the carapace (upper portion of the shell). Box turtles can easily live to 30 years and as reptiles they likely live longer than that. Shellie appears to be 10 years old.

Shellie eats a variety of fruits and vegetables, but his favorites foods are watermelon, blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and earthworms while taking a warm bath! Sections of the boardwalk have been covered in ripe Muscadine Grapes (Vitis rotundiflora), so we brought some in for Shellie as a side to his tomatoes. Through the glass, Jake the Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) intently watch the food delivery even as she (yes, Jake is a female) digested eight mice that she consumed over the last two days.

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