River talk

The turtle with a security door

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 7/27/21

In these parts, observing a turtle in the wild is not too uncommon. We can usually spot species such as painted turtles or snapping turtles in lakes and ponds; we also find them trying to cross the …

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River talk

The turtle with a security door

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In these parts, observing a turtle in the wild is not too uncommon. We can usually spot species such as painted turtles or snapping turtles in lakes and ponds; we also find them trying to cross the road, especially during nesting season. Erie Pond in Narrowsburg, which is very close to the River Reporter office, has a population of painted turtles.

Less seen are some of the land-dwelling turtles. I spotted a wood turtle a few weeks ago crossing a dirt road in central Pennsylvania; it was the first one I’ve seen in a while. The one species that is really fascinating is a terrestrial turtle; its scientific name, Terrapene carolina carolina, reflects that. This is the eastern box turtle; maybe as a kid, you had one for a pet (which is not permitted nowadays).

Box turtles are easy to spot if they are in the open. Their carapace (upper shell) is adorned with an array of random orange markings, and each scute (segment of the shell) has its own pattern. The head and the legs have orange patterns and spots. One of the most interesting things about the box turtle is that its plastron (lower part of the shell) is hinged and acts as a form of door to protect its head and forelegs if threatened.

Box turtles are a species of special concern in both New York and Pennsylvania, thus, it’s illegal to keep or otherwise disturb if found in the wild. Many turtle species are in decline in the region due to a number of factors, including the illegal pet trade. If you spot one, take a few snapshots (it might be shy and close its security door; stay still for a few minutes and it will pop its head back out for a photo-op), and leave this special creature to live out its life in the wild.

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