by Kyle Sweet, Sanctuary Golf Club Superintendent
The hot, rainy weather throughout Southwest Florida in August certainly brings about an increase in activity of our areas reptiles and amphibians. The Florida Box Turtle is no exception and can often be seen lumbering along the edges of wetlands or crossing a road this time of the year. This ornate turtle is distributed throughout the state of Florida, so if you don’t see it here there’s a good chance you see one eventually in our great state.
The Florida Box Turtle is found in damp environments such as wetlands as well as upland flatwoods that possess significant cover and moisture retention. Like most Box Turtles, the Florida Box Turtle spends the majority of its life buried in the underbrush or underground, entering into a somewhat dormant stage from November – February in Florida. At this time they are inactive and difficult to find. Of the box turtles, the Florida Box Turtle, much like their human counterparts, are less tolerant of the cold as compared to other box turtles throughout the country.
The name “Box“ turtle is derived from the turtles ability to close up tightly like a “box” when in danger or threatened. Box turtles possess a hinged Plastron, which could be described as the underbelly, that makes it possible for the turtle to pull in its legs and head and close the plastron tight the carapace, which is the large top shell of the turtle. This protects the sensitive flesh of the turtle. This protection aids in the ultimate survival of the turtle, but the Florida Box Turtle is considered a vulnerable species and suffers from predation of eggs and juveniles from raccoons, coyotes, foxes and birds. They also suffer from habitat loss, vehicle strikes and pollution.
Generally, the male box turtle is larger than the female, but the largest Florida Box Turtle ever documented just happens to be a female and found here at The Sanctuary Golf Club just a few years ago. This was documented by Chris Lechowicz at the Sanibel – Captiva Conservation Foundation much to his surprise!
At a quick glance, it’s difficult to determine the sex of a Florida Box Turtle. Some key identifiers are that the male box turtle usually has bright red or orange eyes whereas the female has dark red or brown eyes. Another key difference is that the males typically have a concave plastron and the females is much flatter on the bottom.
It goes without saying that turtles don’t move that quickly. Roadways throughout Sanibel and Captiva dissect many protected habitats and turtles are often crossing these roads. As slow turtle can easily be mistaken for just debris in the road and too often are the victims of car strikes. Please be cautious while travelling throughout the islands for turtles sharing the road. If you assist a turtle to cross the road always remember to bring it to the side that it was headed to.
With the assistance of many residents on the island, SCCF is conducting an island-wide study of the Florida Box Turtle to better understand our unique island population. Ongoing research and preservation is important to protecting and understanding this long-lived, unique reptile of the state of Florida.