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The Eastern Box Turtle – A Vanishing Species 

Excerpt from Wildlife Works - "Words from the Wild"  (Winter/Spring 2016)

WILDLIFE WORKS INC. PO Box 113 Youngwood, PA 15697,724-925-6862,,

"The Box Turtles which historically inhabited PA woods are nearly gone. Pet collecting and commercial human enterprise (including human recreation, mining and timbering) in the early 1900’s took its toll.


So many Box Turtle populations have disappeared across North America that 124 nations enacted treaty protection in 1995 under CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species).


This international restriction of box turtle pet trade strives to derail the present plunge toward extinction. Much of the harm we inflict on this gentle species stems from ignorance of its life patterns and survival requirements.


A vigorous, self-sustaining box turtle population probably needs more than 10 individuals per acre; such healthy populations are now a rarity.


If you are lucky enough to see a shy box turtle wandering the woods, please don’t touch it; simply revel in the peaceful privilege/joy of beholding an ancient body form that has been on earth from before the age of dinosaurs…a sight that fewer and fewer humans now experience.


Let us not be the disaster that ends their long presence on earth."


The above article is taken from a pamphlet written by Dr. William Belzer PhD, who is the founder of the Box Turtle Conservation Trust. The Trust is based in Venango County, where Dr. Belzer conducted his work. He was the head of the Biology Department of Clarion University’s Venango Campus for many years. After retirement, he continued his tireless work with these turtles to the present day. Today, we learned of Dr. Bill Belzer’s passing on March 24th, 2016. Our hearts are heavy, as he made a huge difference in the course of Eastern Box Turtle conservation and has been a great friend to Wildlife Works for many years. He will be sorely missed. 


1. Roads that fragment habitats and increase intrusion by machinery and humans, and pet collecting, are major culprits in this species’ disappearance.


2. A box turtle lives most of its long life span in a small parcel of land known as its home range, a plot not much bigger than a couple football fields near its birthplace. Year after year, it roams its small home range returning to special sites where (since infancy) it has learned it can find water, mates, sun, shade, slugs and worms and other foods, or soft soil for nesting and hibernating.


3. A box turtle has a homing instinct that compels it to look for “home” when it gets displaced. Outside an 800 yard radius, a search for home rarely succeeds, but turtles may persist searching for years before giving up the hunt (if they live that long). Before gaining sufficient familiarity with the habitat it ends up in, the turtle may starve or freeze.


4. Moving a turtle also poses a threat to other turtles, because the wandering errant can spread disease.


5. Box Turtles only lay 2-5 eggs. Almost none of a box turtle’s few eggs or hatchlings survives the ravages of climate and predators. But any juvenile that survives till it develops the strong protective shell of an adult can live longer than most humans. Some wild box turtles have been known to surpass ages of 120 years!


6. Removing an adult from a population has devastating, if not immediate, consequences. Research indicates that box turtles don’t use distant scent/sight signals to find mates. They rely upon habitual and chance encounters with one another. Thus, thinning a population leaves behind many adults who, for the rest of their long lives, may never meet and reproduce again

It is a common, but fatally wrong, notion that a box turtle that has been picked up and released in some new woodland will stay there and live “happily ever after.” Moving a turtle from its home can be its death sentence because, as it searches for a home, it may cross highways, suffer cat/dog mauling near residential areas, or get stranded in unfamiliar terrain whose food and hibernating sites it hasn’t discovered.

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