Photo of the Week – August 24, 2012

Ornate box turtles are a common sight in the Nebraska sandhills, where they have a wide-ranging diet that includes invertebrates, fruits, leaves, and carrion.  Box turtles are named for the “hinge” in the bottom portion of their shell (the plastron), which allows them to pull their head and legs inside and close the shell tightly for protection.  They can live up to 30 years in the wild if they can avoid being hit by cars or collected as pets.

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The red eyes of this ornate box turtle show that it is a male (females have brown eyes). This one was in the Nebraska sandhills in the north central part of the state.

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For more information on ornate box turtles, you can click here to read a Forest Service report on the species.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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3 Responses to Photo of the Week – August 24, 2012

  1. Frank says:

    Great photo of a cool critter.

  2. James McGee says:

    When I was young I picked up a box turtle in the middle of the highway on a family vacation with my parents. We saw many more that had been killed. I had that box turtle for many years. Even after moving to a new state, I always wanted to take the little fellow back to where I picked him up and release him again. Since I was too young to drive that was not a possibility. I finally ended up releasing him in a poor excuse for a prairie reconstruction at Brewer’s Park in Webster City, IA. This park was just down the street from my home at that time.

    During my teenage years I had developed an interest in falconry. The Iowa Falconers Association was touring the new Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. I went to see the new Wildlife Refuge and real falconers. At that time the visitor center had just been build and all their prairie reconstructions were old crop fields full of weeds.

    During the tour our guide asked us all where we lived. When I told him Webster City the guide said that was where we received our ornate box turtle. He then elaborated, telling me an ornate box turtle had been found in Webster City and was brought to the National Wildlife Preserve and released. I said to the guide, “You found my turtle.” He was very puzzled until I told him I had released it in Webster City.

    The tour guide then asked me if it had come from Iowa. I informed him it was from the Nebraska Sand Hills. He was devastated. I did not understand the importance of local ecotype at that time. I did not even think ornate box turtles lived in Iowa. I later found out that they are native to Iowa, but only to very restricted sand deposits mainly along rivers. This is not the soil type found in and around Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.

    I later learned an article had been published in the Iowa Conservationist Magazine titled something along the lines of “Ornate Box Turtles, Are They Returning?” I guess my little turtle had come a long way from a Nebraska Highway to being somewhat of a celebrity.

    My wife and I drove through the Sandhills on a baby vacation right before my son was born. We saw a few box turtles on the side of the road. This time when I stopped to take a look, I only came home with pictures. :)

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