I love box turtles. When I was a kid, rarely did a summer week go by that we didn’t see one plodding around our yard. Amy and I would find one, put him in an Avon box (much of life’s fun revolved around Grandma’s collection of Avon boxes. Someday I’ll tell you about rabbit hunting…), and keep him for a couple of days. Often, we’d carve our initials into the shells, because nothing beats the fun of vandalism like vandalism in motion. This act of torture was only secondary to pulling the lights from lightning bugs to make rings. We were mean kids. But the turtles were cool. I even remember one summer, riding to town from the lake with Mom and Beth, seeing the road covered with turtles. We crept through them so slowly, slalom-style, and didn’t kill even one. Impressive. I can’t remember who was driving, but I can only assume it was Mom.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen fewer and fewer box turtles. I’m sure this is due, in part, to our slow migration from the country to increasingly suburban areas, but at least a little bit to the fact that there just aren’t as many to see. Apparently the biggest threat to the box turtle is, you guessed it, humans – being pulled from the wild to keep as pets, or having their environments destroyed by development. Sigh…It always comes back to us, doesn’t it?
So I have a soft spot for these animals. I’ve always wanted to catch a wild box turtle to show my children. (This is what Mommy had to play with kids. Quit complaining that you want a new Wii game!) So three years ago, when I was driving down a busy two-lane, and I saw a turtle crossing the road, I knew I had to get him. He would surely be crushed if left there. So I turned my van around, headed back, and pulled over at a wide spot in the road. I had about five paces to walk toward the turtle, and we would be home free. And then a car came. A car that swung wide because there was a woman walking up the side of the road. A car that exploded my box turtle. I was horrified. I went home trembling, and for days would mist up when driving by the dark smudge in the road. The turtle I was trying to save? Might have made it if not for me. Now you know the truth. I am a haunted woman, and haven’t seen a turtle in the wild since.
This Thursday we headed to get Spence from school as per usual, and there, in the middle of Sibcy Road, was a box turtle. I pulled over, ran back, and…AND….RESCUED him. We took the turtle to school, where we filled a crate with grass, water, and a couple of carrots, and to the pool with us, where he lounged in the shade while we swam (I wasn’t about to leave him in the car to boil. thus being responsible for the death of yet another of these creatures.) We brought him home, where I hurriedly sat down at the computer to learn all I could about the care and feeding of box turtles. Only to find my internet out. Fabulous. So we kept him overnight, and yesterday made the decision to return him to the wild. I wanted to reduce his chances of another confrontation with a car – after all, who could be so lucky twice? – so the plan was to take him to a state park about thirty miles away. We had a picnic lunch, enjoyed the playground, and fnially let our turtle go free in the beautiful setting of woods and lake. I felt like a hero.
Until this morning, when I (with my newly restored internet) read this on Wikipedia:
Finding box turtles in the wild and taking them as pets, even for a very short period of time, can have detrimental effects. Box turtles want to stay within the same area where they were born. If one is moved more than a half-mile from its territory, it may never find its way back; but may spend years unsystematically searching. This exposes the animal to danger and also disrupts the breeding cycle.