Box Turtles Remembered

I was born on a farm near Madison, Indiana and the biggest trouble I got into was staying in the woods all day. Clifty Creek was on the backside of my grandfather’s farm and what a place it was to explore. As I eased through the woods, pretending to be an Indian, It was quite common to see quail and Eastern box turtles. These days, I seldom see either.

I have lived on six acres, in southern Madison County, for twenty years. Every summer, until this past one, I saw and heard quail. Often, they would come into the yard. I would whistle and they would whistle back.

One day, a quail gave me the bob-bob-white and I whistled back. It seemed the whistle was coming from a shrub just outside my daughter Jourdan’s bedroom window. I eased closer, looking for the bird. Then the bird began giggling. It was Jourdan hiding behind the curtain giving me the fake bob white.

One winter, it got way below zero and some of the quail roosted in a shrub on the southeast side of the house. I guess those days are gone forever.

These birds have not been hunted, but the predator population is high and the habitat not ideal.

More common than ticks on a hound was the box turtle. I never thought the day would come when they too would cease to be a staple of the woods.

The Eastern box turtle can live to be 60 years old, but they lay but one to seven eggs and they take four months to hatch. A male must see and recognize a potential mate before approaching her. For that reason, a high-density population is necessary. If I haven’t seen a box turtle in Madison County for 20 years, how difficult must it be for a male to encounter a female.

I did finally see a box turtle in my driveway earlier this week, unfortunately, it had been run over. It was about half-grown. Few hatchlings survive, but this one was well on its way. Female box turtles are not sexually matured for eight to 10 years. They can retain viable sperm for years, but the proportion of infertile eggs increases as access to male turtle’s decline.

Lester “Digger” Duncan lives southwest of Paoli, Indiana in a sparsely populated area surrounded my thousands of acres of the Hoosier National Forest. With low traffic and plenty of woodlands, one would think box turtles would be found in abundance. Wrong. “They are almost extinct. When I see one on the road, here, I put it on the other side to the direction it was headed,” Duncan said.

From southwest of Richmond, David Moore said, “I still see a few walking the forest.” Josh Hagerman still finds box turtles in Brown County and even more in West Virginia.

In Indiana, Eastern box turtles are protected, you are not permitted to keep one in captivity or possess the shell. If you find one injured, beyond the capacity to recover, contact the DNR and they will direct you to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. You may not have the injured turtle in your possession any longer than 24-hours.

A woods I hunt in Owen County has a few Eastern box turtles. Now that I realize how rare they are, I will be looking for them during the upcoming deer season.