Garden Diary - September 2019

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Saga of the Nesting Box Turtle
Sunday, 15 September 2019

Back in May I found a male box turtle near my tool shed.
Box turtles are easy to sex - males have red eyes, females have brown.

Early in June we saw a female, right next to our front walk. She
came back five days later. And again on the evening of June 15
when she dug her nest. It took her about 4 hours. Very laborious.
I only took one picture as I didn't want to disturb her with flashlight.

I put a crate over the site, weighted with a concrete block in case raccoons came looking for a midnight snack. I would remove it in the daytime, cover at night. Called around for information. Was told I could relocate hatchlings no more than 2 football field distance. Figured the marathon crawl across our lawn and possible drop over retaining wall could be an issue. So relocation to a brush heap would improve odds of success.

There would be - potentially - 4 to 6 eggs. The embryos have no sex chromosomes that would turn them into males and females. Instead, they have temperature-dependent sex determination. Cooler temperatures, and the embryo develops as a male, warmer and it becomes female. So those eggs at the upper, warmer portion of the 5 inch deep, flask shaped nest would hatch as females, those at the lower, cooler portion of the nest would become males. Global warming issue concerns, anyone?

Very few hatchlings survive the seven to 10 years needed to reach maturity.
Those that mature may live for 50 up to 100 years, baring road accidents. And
yes, of course I did relocate this individual across the road, in the direction it
was heading. That is significantly important, as box turtles are very territorial.

Now, back to my story.

Concerned that the tiny hatchlings might fit through the milk crate openings I gave my husband a bulb crate and he fastened a "skirt" of flattened gutter guard around the perimeter.

Alas, I should have butted up patio blocks around the outside, because on the morning of Sunday, September 15 I noticed a hole in the ground. The hatchlings are so tiny they were able to wander forth under the irregularities between crate and ground.

I waited a few days, then dug the nest up. There were shells
from, I think, 6 eggs. And one that never developed, filled with
some gray, oozy sludge. I gave them as good a start as I could.

What have I learned? Box turtles hatch at night. And that I am now concerned about mowing the grass.

Photographed here, at BelleWood Gardens,
Above left: on July 10, 2007. Above right: on June 30, 2009
Below left: on June 22, 2011. Below right: on September 7, 2013.

On August 8, 2019 this handsome fellow was spotted in the weeds
near the bottom of the driveway. He looks glossy because it's wet.

On September 8, 2019 he had hiked all the way up the driveway
to my tool shed. I don't know if it was a steady crawl or if he took
detours. But I can tell this is the same individual by the markings.

As I have seen three different individuals on our property this year,
my assumption is that there is a good population.

UPDATE: 12 December 2019

I went trolling through my images and found this one. It's a scan
from my pre-digital days which takes it back before 2005. Cute.
It's a juvenile. At a guess I'd say somewhere around 5 years old.

And this is a recent gift from my friend Ann, who makes needle felted birds
and other critters. I think he is just adorable, and very similar to junior, above.

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