“Gypsy was the name my brother gave a pet turtle he had. I always thought it was so peculiar.”
— Joel Hodgson-American writer, comedian, TV actor. Age 61.
‘Tis the season for the annual box turtle migration. Remember when after a spring/summer thunderstorm sidewalks would be littered with red squiggly worms. One would practically have to play hopscotch to avoid them. Box turtles enjoy the same delight as they inch there way out of their usual habitat and onto highways, byways, pavements, and gravel roads after a thunderstorm. So far this season I have seen three crossing the road from a wooded area to another wooded area. I’m always tempted to turn around and put the little fellow into a safer environment. Usually when you do turn around the box turtle is gone. On a couple occasions, I managed to gingerly rescue the crossing turtle from our road and put it in the garden where I thought the turtle would be safe and happy. The garden has a wooden fence enclosure. I even made a little shelter according to a box turtle website only to find by the next day the fellow had vanished
A friend texted me last week she discovered a box turtle on her deck. Somehow, he had climbed up the steps and found a corner nose first. Her husband chopped up celery but the turtle did not feel like snacking at the moment. Box turtles are omnivores and will eat vegetables, fruits, and the occasional insects and worms. I suggested if the turtle was worrying her to gingerly pick up the turtle by holding her fingers across its shell and place it on the ground toward the woods. Wearing gloves might make one feel more comfortable and protected. The turtle will not hurt you but they do often carry the salmonella bacteria. Another occasion for vigor handwashing.
The Eastern Box Turtle is a pretty little turtle and easy to identify. As turtles go, he is small from about 4.5 inches to 6 inches across. His shell is high and rounded-something like a helmet. The bottom of the shell is hinged so he can completely close himself into the shell. They like to hide. His hind feet have four toes. His shell is dark with yellow or oranges botches, thus easy to identify. They are quite docile. They have no teeth but a “beak” to break their food.
As a pet it is possible for a box turtle to eat from your hand if you seem trustworthy. As they get to know you, they will come at the sound of your voice. It takes five year for a box turtle to mature. In the wild they’ve been known to live 50 years, in captivity a decade or two less. Box turtles can be ordered online. Mississippi does not allow for the purchase of a turtle with less than a four inch “shell span.” Be aware, pet box turtles are not cheap. Prices typically range from $189-$489 for a certified healthy guaranteed live box turtle. As for wild turtles, it’s always best to leave wildlife in the wild. If you find an injured turtle, you can contact Central Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, a non-profit facility in Meridian. Box turtles are shy little creatures.
Columns by Shannon Bardwell of Columbus appear in The Dispatch weekly. Email reaches her at [email protected]