Meet #150

Wednesday, October 22, 2020,

This handsome beast is a male Box Turtle. He doesn’t have an official name but he does have a number. And a tag. Number 150 lives on the grounds of Sweetbriar Nature Center. He’s not a pet, nor is he an “inmate” or one of our rehab turtles. He’s a free roaming Box Turtle with full access to the full 54 acres that Sweetbriar has to offer. 

It is probably natural to question how such a turtle has a number or is even recognized at all. The answers to both of those queries are fairly simple but you can count on me to be a bit long-winded in my explanation. You’re lucky to be reading this because I’m even worse in person. I can edit myself in print, not so much while I’m speaking. 

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I am a long-time volunteer at Sweetbriar Nature Center. Sweetbriar is a nature based educational organization as well as a wildlife rehabilitation center. During the course of each year, we have several large events in which we need to mow the open fields to allow room for parking. Being a wildlife rehab center we certainly don’t want any of our native residents getting injured. In the weeks prior to the mowing, we have teams of volunteers walk the fields in search of Box Turtles. Any turtles that are found are documented and put into enclosures for safe keeping. Documentation generally involves the when and where, especially the where, as we want to return each turtle back to its own home turf. 

We also measure and weigh each turtle so we can keep tabs on their growth and general health. Speaking of health, any turtle that we find gets a checkover and any needed treatment. We take good care of our friends. 

Most of the turtles found in previous years have been “tagged” in one way or another. This is usually a numbered tag that has been glued to the turtle’s shell. The tag allows us to recognize particular turtles. In the past few years we have also photographed each turtle. This comes in handy if and when a tag falls off. Each Box Turtle has its own markings on both its shell and face, much like fingerprints. 

It has often been my lot to identify turtles by photo when a tag is not present. Something to do with me being a photographer with an eye for detail. Truth be told, my eye for minor details has come in handy on occasion but it can be a tedious process. On the other hand, examining minute details of Box Turtle markings is an illuminating experience. So many intricate designs, so many minor differences. This particular chore is not as terrible as it may seem.

So, back to #150. This has been a weird year because of COVID. Sweetbriar hasn’t been able to hold any large events, so we haven’t had the need to sweep the open fields for Box Turtles. This does not mean that we have given up on keeping track of the turtles on the grounds. When we find one, we still give it the once over and document the encounter. As it happens, I spotted #150 making his way across the back lawn recently. He had been tagged but apparently never photographed. I took care of that. It turns out that #150 hadn’t been seen for five years. This is not unusual when you consider that Sweetbriar is situated on 54 acres. There’s no way to keep track of every turtle in such a large area.  Number #150 was in perfect health so we set him on his way. I hope to run into him again. JK.

A Box Turtle at Sweetbriar

Tuesday, August 6, 2019,

This is an Eastern Box Turtle. I encountered this little lady at Sweetbriar Nature Center. She’s not quite a full-grown adult yet. While no longer a baby, she still has at least an inch to grow.

I was able to discern her gender using two methods. The first, which is not foolproof, concerns the color of the eyes. Males tend to have bright red or orange irises, whereas females usually have brown eyes. A more certain method of determining the sex of a Box Turtle is to pick the turtle up and have a good look at the plastron, or bottom shell. The plastrons of the males are concave which comes in handy during mating.

There are a few more methods that can be used to differentiate between male and female Box Turtles but, judging by the look she’s giving me here, perhaps enough is enough. Maybe that conversation can wait for another day. JK


Baby Boxer

Friday, October 14, 2016,

This is a baby Box Turtle. Cute little beastie, isn’t it? I was with a group of birders at Avalon during the most recent Four Harbors Audubon monthly walk. One of the walkers – one with much better eyes than my own – spotted this tiny little guy near the side of the path. And, as the next two pics will show, this is one small turtle. In fact, these photos are slightly larger than life. Click on each pic for an even larger view.

After all of us had a chance to view this diminutive marvel we began discussing what species of hard-bodied critter this was. Birders are like that. It’s not enough to see a bird – they insist on identifying everything they see. Some of the walkers thought we were looking at a baby Snapping Turtle and others were thinking it was a Diamondback Terrapin. I was certain that it was neither. I’ve seen plenty of baby Snappers and baby Terrapins and this wasn’t one of either. My first instinct was Box Turtle but I couldn’t be sure. While I’ve been very familiar with Box Turtles since childhood, my experience with baby Boxers is quite limited. The shape of this guy’s head screamed Box Turtle but that shell didn’t look quite right. The dome didn’t seem high enough but, again, I don’t get to meet many baby Boxers. 


Luckily, birders are not my only resource. I sent these pics to some of my friends at Sweetbriar Nature Center and then I posted the shots at Facebook’s Long Island Wildlife Photography page. The general concensus was that this was, indeed, a baby Box Turtle. And while this may seem like an ‘I told you so’ moment, the truth is that without the input of others I would never be certain of what this little guy is. Thanks to everyone who helped me figure this out. JK

A Box Turtle At Connetquot State Park

Saturday, October 10, 2015,

20150917095300-5x7wThis is a Box Turtle that I saw at Connetquot River State Park Preserve. Yeah, it’s a bit of a mouthful but it’s a great park. In my head it’s Connetquot Park which is easier for my simple mind to digest and much easier to say. Anyways, back to the turtle. This guy was enjoying a sunny patch on one of the trails. Click on the pic to see him a bit larger. Box Turtles are handsome critters. I’ve been a fan of these guys since I was seven or so. They have always been a part of my Long Island landscape.

By the way, I don’t know the actual gender of this turtle. There are ways to ascertain this but it involves picking the critter up and looking at its lower shell. These days I usually prefer to just let Mother Nature be and take the pics. This turtle was gracious enough to let me take its pic and did not need me to roust him from his morning sunbath. We both got to enjoy the morning and I came away with this pic. Life is good. JK