Discover Nature: Missouri's Turtles
Discover nature this week with Missouri's turtles.
If you’ve been driving through the countryside lately, you may have noticed box turtles sharing the pavement. As they search for food and mates, these harmless land turtles must cross roads that pass through their home areas.
Turtles often spend decades within a small plot of ground, but sometimes they wander great distances. Biologists have used tracking devices to follow these traveling turtles. From one turtle’s point of capture, it crossed roads, fields, and backyards -- it even swam a creek and burrowed under a fence! And when the biologists finally stopped following it, the turtle had traveled more than six miles.
The ornate box turtle is small, colorful, and has a domed upper shell and a hinged lower shell. The upper shell is usually smooth or flattened along the top, without a ridge, and is normally brown with numerous yellow lines radiating from the center of each individual plate. A yellow stripe often runs down the top. The lower shell is brown with distinct yellow spots and blotches. The head and limbs are brown or black with yellow spots and blotches. There are normally four toes on each hind leg, and the turtle is harmless. It also can shut itself up in its boxlike shell, hence the name.
While most Missouri turtles live 15 to 30 years, box turtles can live 50 to 80 years, occasionally more than 100 years. They spend their quiet lives eating plants, earthworms, and insects. Their shell provides a bony shield to protect them from most natural enemies. But cars needlessly kill thousands of turtles each year. In fact, cars are probably their biggest cause of death. Next time you drive across the countryside, please be alert to avoid hitting these innocent travelers.
More information about turtles in Missouri can be found online at MissouriConservation.org.