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Encounter With a Box Turtle

Lou came inside the other day and announced we had a visitor...a box turtle!I had not seen a box turtle in our garden for a couple of years, so I grabbed my camera and went outside. The box turtle was nestled against our walkway by the patio, with his head poking up out of pine straw. I wanted a photo, but I wanted one with a clear view; so I sat down on the walkway and carefully removed most of the pine straw, whereupon he pulled his head into his shell.

Box turtles are North American natives, land dwelling members of the American pond turtle family. They protect themselves by hiding, by biting (as my son Josh once discovered!) and by tightly closing up their shells. My visitor pulled his head in but did not close his shell, so I was optimistic he might relax if I stayed very still. I lay down on the walkway so my head was not too far from the turtle and waited. In less than five minutes I was rewarded when his head began to cautiously emerge, little by little. Soon we were eye to eye with each other.

I was impressed with his nostrils. I also noted his red eyes. Red eyes indicate the turtle is probably a male, whereas females have yellow brown eyes. I have no idea what he thought of me, but he looked me over for about ten minutes. I shot a bunch of photos of his face; I do believe he was posing for me! Then I slowly adjusted my position to shoot some side views.This turtle has been around a while, and he has had at least one close call.

Deep scratches and bite marks are symmetrically placed on both sides of his shell. Was it a raccoon? Or a dog? One thing for sure, he is fortunate to have that tough shell for protection! Young turtles with softer shells often fall victim to predators, but once they reach adulthood, they can live a long time. The average life span of an adult box turtle is fifty years, and it is not uncommon for them to live longer than 100 years! With lots of wear on his shell and a mature countenance, this turtle is no spring chicken! I would not be surprised if he has been around as long as I have.

After a while, the box turtle decided to move along.

The end!  

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Reader Comments (19)

What a super post, you certainly got down close and personal with your visitor! You have taken some amazing shots of him before he decided that he had had enough of the paparazzi !

July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

I love visitors like that! Your pictures are wonderful, although I can imagine that getting them wasn't an entirely comfortable exercise. Such are the travails of the talented paparazzi! A turtle - or perhaps it was a small tortoise - popped up at my parent's backyard once when I was in high school (or college). We guessed that it had belonged to neighbors who moved away while it was hibernating. It remained with my family for a year or more, then disappeared never to be seen again. I still wonder where it went and hope it didn't suffer a bad fate.

July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

What wonderful photos of your visitor :)
Have a nice weekend :)

July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEla

you have much more patience than I. My tortoise shows a glimpse of head for me. How wonderful to have a portrait of yours!

July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

I had one in my yard for a year or so...same thing, as your friend, all marked and scratched. When he suddenly disappeared I felt bad.. :( I hope he just moved on!!

July 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkaren mulhern

Deb, you are right, he was posing for you! I've never seen a turtle's face so close. You are a very patient person, and your shots are great and so clear! Thank you!

July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

Wonderful photos and so educational. I've never seen a turtle THAT close-up and was just as interested in his nostrils and red eyes as you were. I thought his snout looked a big like a bird's, too. Third photo needs a caption something like, "What's with this chick?"

July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Jones

How fun! You were patient, curious, and persistent, and it paid off. Great photos!

July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

Oh Deb he's a beauty...such a distinguished critter...we do not see these here but have seen a few snappers and painted turtles. Great pictures!

July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

So beautiful!

Thank you for sharing.

I wonder how to attract a box turtle to my yard...

FYI, apparently they are omniverous: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_box_turtle#Behavior_and_diet

July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

He sure is a cute visitor. When I lived in PA they were everywhere. I think I saw only only a few here in NY in thirty years. It must be loss of habitat because they really seem rare to find. I liked your photos very much. I bet a neighborhood dog was playing with it. So many turtles are lost to dogs. I have had the red-eared show up in my city garden on three different years, but no box turtles.

July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Great photos. He/she does look rather as if posing for you. Last year I saw a wild tortoise in the garden but I've never seen it sinse, amazing as I cann't imagine how it got out!

July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

How wonderful! That's not something we'd ever find in our gardens here in the UK. You really got some great shots of this super visitor!

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaula@SpoonsnSpades

Wow, I didn't know box turtles lived that long! I remember when I was a kid visiting some relatives that lived near a pond, I had a talent for coaxing turtles out of their shell. The little turtle is so cute! I hope he sticks around in the area for you!

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

What a amazing encounter...does he like to be near water, or does he mind hanging out in the garden?

He is gorgeous...I wonder if I will ever have one around here.


I loved this post. We had box turtles at my old house in Cary, NC - probably because we back on a stream and a woods. They were always so much fun to stumble on (well, almost stumble on) in the garden. Your photos are amazing and I know well how hard it is to capture them. I tried, but got lousy shots. Yours are great.

Great shots Deb! He is a large one too! It's always nice to find box turtles in the garden! :) We have a lot of them here on the mountain and in and around our garden. I usually find them half buried under plants.

Here is a link of a post I did last year on our Eastern Box Turtles, http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/eastern-box-turtles/

July 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermichael

great shots, Deb, and the commentary was really good too.The 2 closeups of his head are quite funny, he looks supercilious, I think. I've never seen such an expressive turtle or tortoise. But then I've never got up so close and personal ...

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

No turtles here in Robin's Nest, but I do love box turtles. When my kids were small, we took a chilly family picnic around Easter, and my brother found one in the woods. It would not come out of it's shell, so he thought it would be a good idea to put it on the grill for a bit, you know, just to warm it up. My kids have never forgotten this misadventure! My brother always did keep life interesting.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobinL

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