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Eastern Box Turtle

The Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) owes its common name to the fact that it can hide its entire body inside its shell and seal it tightly to form a ‘box’ of sturdy armor. Its plastron (the bottom part of its shell) has two movable hinges – an unusual feature among turtles. In spite of its tough appearance, Eastern Box Turtles are quite sensitive to habitat disturbance and their numbers are declining in New York. Road mortality and collecting for the pet trade are hurting these animals.

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If you encounter one of these armored reptiles, please leave it alone. If it is found on a road, you can help by moving it off the pavement in the direction it was headed. Eastern Box Turtles do not move much and if their habitat conditions are right they can spend their entire life in an area less than 2 acres in size. That is quite amazing, considering that individuals are known to live for more than 100 years!

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In this region Eastern Box Turtles are only found on the Allegheny plateau. You may find them in sandy flood plains or in old field habitats near a swamp or marsh. If these animals weren’t cool enough already, here is one more fun fact about them: you can tell whether a box turtle is male or female by the color of its eyes! Male Eastern Box turtles have red eyes, while females have tan or brown eyes. If you are lucky enough to encounter one of these turtles, make sure to look deep into its eyes!

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Visit RTPI’s Digital Natural History Atlas Project page to explore our region’s fascinating natural areas.