Looked what spring woke up! Newly arising out of a deep winter sleep within loose land and leaf litter around New York Harbor, it’s was a lone Eastern box turtle. The little reptile was sunning itself on my front porch.
I spotted the box turtle the other morning. My best guess, the little critter was a bit chilled after a chilly evening. Morning low temperatures were in the 50s. It needed a dry, sunny place to warm-up.
Since reptiles, including turtles, are ectothermic or cold-blooded, their body temperature is largely dependent on the ambient air temperature. Ectothermic creatures take on the temperature of their surroundings.
Ectothermic animals are more energetic when temperatures are warm and more sluggish when temperatures are cold. Basking in the sun controls their muscle activity and digestive system through external metabolic processes. The metabolism for ectothermic animals speeds up when it’s hot, and runs slowly when it’s cold.
The box turtle was most likely basking in the warm morning sun to increase its body temperature and metabolism. It didn’t stay long though. A common woodland creature, box turtles will return to forests or the edge of forests to forage for a variety of food, including berries, grasses, spiders, snails, and earthworms.
But I'm sure the little critter didn't go far. Eastern box turtles usually live within an area less than 700 feet in diameter. They are amazingly versatile reptiles and inhabit a wide variety of habitats around New York Harbor, from the edges of wetlands to forests to grassy fields. Their favorite habitat, though, is a moist forested area with plenty of underbrush to hide from sneaky predators, including raccoons and foxes.
Although not aquatic, box turtles will often venture into shallow water, like puddles, to bathe. During hot periods, turtles may also submerge in mud for days at a time to cool off.
Eastern box turtles are long-lived creatures. Commonly they reach 30 to 40 years of age. Sadly, many in captivity will not live that long due to the transfer of human diseases to turtles and frequently poor care.
Always keep wild animals wild. Never take a wild box turtle as a pet.