Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ornate Box Turtle - A Harmless Homebody

Ornate Box Turtle

Inhabiting the arid sandhills of western Nebraska, the ornate box turtle is perfectly content to live life in the slow lane. Sharing some of the same traits as the persistent pioneers that first settled the area, he is admired for his grit, determination and perseverance.

The species was first discovered in Nebraska circa 1795 and described by early explorers as occurring in “vast numbers” all across the prairie. Today, their status is uncertain but the population must be at least stable because I frequently see them during the summer.

This tortoise is a harmless homebody that doesn’t require much room to roam. Active from April through October, he saunters through the brush existing in a small territory that’s just a few acres in size. By the first frost, he digs a shallow burrow and hibernates over the winter.

In his small world there isn’t much competition for available food resources because this easy-going omnivore isn’t a picky eater. His favorite meals are insects, spiders and worms but he’ll also happily consume fruits, vegetables and carrion.

Like most reptiles, his daily activities revolve around thermoregulation. Mornings are spent warming up in the sun but during the hottest part of the day, he rests in the shade. Drawn back out by cool temps, he's probably most active in the evening.

The little land-dweller is distinguished by the yellow paint that’s splattered artistically all over his dark body and shell. Created with a hinged plastron, he can completely withdraw his head, legs and tail into a defensive box position for protection from predators.

He's a sensitive creature that’s terribly vulnerable to disruptions in his homeland. Habitat destruction due to agricultural expansion is probably the biggest threat to his continued survival but surprisingly, the most common cause of death comes from car collisions.

He doesn’t ask for much, just green grass, soft dirt and fresh water but if you’re ever driving through Nebraska, please keep an eye out for our humble friend. If you do happen to see him in the middle of the road, kindly pull over, pick him up and place him on the other side.

Perfectly content in the slow lane

The species was first discovered in Nebraska

He doesn't require much room to roam

An easy-going omnivore

Mornings are spent warming up

He's splattered with yellow paint

He can completely withdraw into a box

A very sensitive creature

Keep an eye out for our humble friend

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