Did you know that the Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is North Carolina’s state reptile? This happened way back in 1979 when the General Assembly passed a bill to adopt the box turtle as the emblem of the state’s reptile population. The preamble to the bill included some interesting language to inspire politicians to pass the bill:
Whereas, the turtle, which at a superficial glance appears to be a mundane and
uninteresting creature, is actually a most fascinating creature, ranging from species well adapted to modern conditions to species which have existed virtually unchanged since prehistoric times; and
Whereas, the turtle watches undisturbed as countless generations of faster hares run by to quick oblivion, and is thus a model of patience for mankind, and a symbol of this State’s unrelenting pursuit of great and lofty goals
Inspiring, isn’t it? This terrestrial turtle can be found throughout the fields and forests in every nook of NC. Their unique shells have hinges on the underside that allow the turtle to pull in and close up completely when threatened. Many times when they do this, they release all the air in their lungs making a hissing sound to frighten the predator and to fit in the shell better.
Personally, they’re one of my favorite animals out there and a species I’ve spotted on almost every TLC property I’ve visited (which since it’s my job to monitor every owned property we have, is nearly 50 properties!). There are many of our management practices that help to enrich habitat for such an animal. They readily feed on berries, fruits, flowers, and small animals like slugs, snails, frogs, and toads. So when we plant native flowering plants and shrubs for the benefit of pollinators, we are also helping encourage a healthy turtle population! When we use prescribed fire to keep these areas open, we also select various hardwood stands to run fire through to open up the forest floor which in rainy springs like we’ve had helps encourage mushroom growth, another popular food source of the Eastern Box Turtle.
Just as many species are, Eastern box turtle populations are declining and they’re listed as a priority species in the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan. Here are a few tips if you’re interested in trying to attract box turtles into your yard:
- Provide shelter: brush piles, fallen logs, and leaf piles make great shelter
- Use native species in plantings, such as mulberry trees, wild grape, or blackberry
- If you can, provide both shady and sunny areas in your lawn
Whether you’re out at Johnston Mill, or Flower Hill, take a slow walk down the trails and look into the woods to try and spot the only terrestrial turtle found in North Carolina. So get out your sunscreen and bug spray and come out to explore our nature preserves. The only way to experience the beauty of nature is to put yourself out in it.