The Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) , North Carolina’s State Reptile, is a terrestrial turtle found throughout the eastern United States and is one of the longest lived animals in the world. Box turtles are characterized by their highly domed carapace (top shell) and hinged plastron (bottom shell), which allows these animals to completely close up their shell to protect themselves from predators. The elaborate and brightly colored shell patterns of box turtles are extremely variable, making each individual unique. Box turtles are omnivores with diets consisting of anything from slugs and snails to mushrooms and berries.
Eastern Box Turtles can live longer than 50 years and have a rather slow growth rate, taking 7-10 years to reach sexual maturity. Of the hundreds of eggs that a female box turtle can lay throughout her lifetime, only very few hatchlings are likely to survive to adulthood. Therefore, box turtles are highly susceptible to population declines because they are not able to rapidly recover from the loss of adult individuals within a population. Major threats to box turtles are associated with human activities and include capture for the pet trade, vehicular traffic, lawn mowers, and habitat destruction and fragmentation due to urban development. Urbanization confines surviving populations to smaller spaces where they become more vulnerable to extinction. Railroads pose an additional threat to box turtles because they can become trapped between the rails where they are more susceptible to predation and may die from overheating.
The Eastern Box Turtle plays a valuable role in our ecosystem and, as the State Reptile, is an important part of our natural heritage that we, with a conscious conservation effort, will be able to enjoy long into the future.
The General Assembly of 1979 designated the Eastern Box Turtle as the official State Reptile for North Carolina. (Session Laws, 1979, c. 154).
Written by Leigh Anne Harden, Davidson College Herpetology Laboratory, 2006
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