Species-Specific Management (SSM)
Terrapene carolina carolina, the eastern box turtle, is a very abundant turtle in the eastern United States. It was a staple in the diet of pre-settlement humans in Eastern North America. The turtle is an omnivorous, woodland species and occupies the same home range throughout its lifetime (approximately 50 years). Its diet consists of small vertebrates, invertebrates, seeds, succulent foliage and carrion. The turtle is also an excellent indicator species to use to gage environmental conditions because it is long lived. Box turtles utilize diverse habitats during the day and year to maintain an adequate body temperature. These habitats are selected based on the different microclimate conditions (humidity and temperature) that they select during the various seasons. Some commonly used structures are brush piles, vines, logs, and stumps. It is important to provide different types of cover as well as an interspersion of habitats. Turtles favor edges between forest and brush, and forest and field. For nesting purposes, it is important to provide areas with loose soil or debris, which allows the turtle to burrow deep into the humus. Although these turtles are relatively common, they may be managed to meet the demands of the public (many people keep them as pets) and to maintain an adequate supply of genes in the population. Young turtles are carnivorous, later changing to omnivores as adults, and eat up to 130 different kinds of food. It is imperative that food be abundant during late autumn when they are preparing for hibernation.
There are many things that landowners can do to increase the number of turtles in an area. Some are simple and some take much effort. However, no matter what the course of action taken, the goal should be to provide a desirable mixture of food and cover to box turtles year around, then to enjoy their presence.
- Create brush piles, debris piles, or tangled vines near the edges of fields. Don't burn brush. These piles provide good resting cover during the day. These areas should not be extremely thick; rather they should allow for the turtle to move easily about within them. Often turtles create cavities or "forms" in these piles that provide excellent night cover.
- Create leaf piles to provide night or sleeping cover. These piles should be deep enough to insulate the turtles from cold temperatures. A minimum depth is 6 inches (15.5 cm).
- Allow stumps and fallen trees to decay naturally. These are often used by turtles who sleep and forage in them. These are also used during dry periods because they are moist.
- Develop drainage areas which provide moisture and cool soils during the summer months. This could be as simple as keeping existing creeks flowing. It is important that this be shallow, slow moving water.
- Till soil plots in garden-like areas about 1/4 acre each near a forest to create and maintain a loose soil base. This provides burrowing areas for the turtles.
- Turtles do not migrate. Therefore, it is important to maintain year-around habitat for the eastern box turtle to maintain a population.
- Grassy areas and cultivated lands are often used for nesting. Therefore, provide small garden plots and develop areas that will not be mowed.
- Because turtles prefer forest, brush, and field areas, allowing yards or lands to grow without mowing or trimming can aid in providing these diverse habitats. This pattern also provides interspersed habitats with different types of cover. This also aids in providing a maximum number of home ranges available to a population of box turtles.
- Do selective thinning to open the canopy and provide ground cover on the forest floor. Leave some large logs. This cover decomposes to humus in which turtles may dig.
- Canopy openings about 40 yards by 40 yards also provide sunning areas and are highly desirable by turtles.
- Keep old trails and roads open. These provide sunning areas and easy travel corridors for the turtles (as well as opportunities to observe them).
- Monitor nests and protect them with wire or fencing until hatching time.
- Introducing beaver into an area is also beneficial to turtles. A beaver dam provides a constant supply of water and water related plants and animals on which they feed. Shallow ponds are used occasionally to eat plants, snails, and fish eggs.
- Plant species which are utilized by turtles, both for food and cover. Desirable species are:
blackberry, blueberry, mulberry, plum,
strawberry, sweet celery, wintergreen, ground cherry
Desirable plant groups are:
Rubus, Polygonum, Ambrosia, Galium,
Vitus, Bromus, Paspalum, Hordeum
Plant fruit trees in hedge-rows. Put mushroom spores on debris piles. Leave fruit (apples, etc.) on the ground for insects and the turtles.
- Grazing livestock is beneficial to box turtles. Grazing contributes to open understories, and cow dung and the invertebrates in it supply another source of food.
- Controlled burning aids in soil fertility, which aids in plant growth, which in turn aids in supplying a large source of protein and palatable plants. It is important to consider the size of the burns, as you may affect several home ranges. A good rule of thumb is to make burns, spread throughout a 5 square foot area.
- Once openings are created, you can plant the desirable species listed under #14, or allow natural succession to occur.
- Many young die due to predation and lack of food. Applying the management actions already stated will help prevent this.
- Many box turtles enjoy grazing on human crops such as lettuce and tomatoes. To eliminate these conflicts, buffer zones should be placed between the garden plots and suitable habitat areas to prevent turtles from trespassing onto these plots. Fences (or brush piles that are very thick) may prevent their passage. This also reduces the impact of human farming practices (pesticides and herbicides) on the turtles.
- Beaver dam ponds and surrounding areas provide turtles with a source of food. Associated food items are fish, frogs, toads,
salamanders, and some snakes.
- Building a small pond can provide some food items mentions above, as well as grubs, spiders, crayfish, slugs, snails, millipedes, and flies. These are all things turtles will eat.
- Garden plots are good sources of food, not only from the plants, but because of the associated insect with them, i.e., ants, beetles, termites, and caterpillars.
- Compost piles are also excellent sources of food. By providing composting areas, one can get rid of unwanted materials, and also provide turtles with food.
- Discourage use of insecticides for it reduces their food supply. Place signs to reduce highway deaths. Educate the public about the box turtle and its ecology. Keep a record of turtles seen per hour afield. Make notes about effective practices.
A contribution of Teresa Martinez (1992) and Lori Lowe (1993),
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0321
Reptiles and amphibians are poorly represented in this unit of the Website.I'll welcome contributors.(The unit on salamander management may be of interest.)
Frog calls of the Dakotas are available.
Miscellaneous resource on tree frogs.
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Last revision January 17, 2000.