Recognized Subspecies in VA: Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
Size: 4.5 - 6 inches
Status: Tier IIIa | Though no decline is evident
The Eastern Box Turtle is a common sight on the roadways of the state, especially on wet days. This species has been under some debate in years past over if these animals are in decline or not, and honestly in Virginia there is no evidence they are declining. Furthermore, some North Carolina studies are showing they are thriving in our sister state. I will leave it there, but I will add some quick links to some good sources for that, but just know they are protected in Virginia and it is illegal to possess this species. This species will eat nearly anything edible such as fruit, worms, insects, frogs, and even carrion. This species can swim, but struggles in moving or deep water, so never release a Box Turtle in water. It is not rare to see these animals with swollen abscesses on their upper necks. This is usually an ear infection (yes, they have inner ears but no external ears) and is usually not life threatening. These ear infections have been linked to vitamin A deficiencies, usually caused by a slow, spring metabolism.
Adults typically have brown to black shells with yellow to orange accents. Males usually have red eyes, concave plastrons, and brighter colors; while females have brown or orange eyes and flat plastrons. This species has a hinged plastron, allowing the front and back to completely close. Juveniles are usually flat, solid olive, and have orange knobs on their backs.
Similar Species: Adults are rather unmistakeable, yet juveniles can be confused with Eastern Mud Turtles. Both species have hinged plastrons, but the Mud’s plastron is a bit looser and the species is more ovaluar than the Box. If you are really struggling with the two, Mud Turtles have a claw-like spine at the end of their tail.
Maps and External Sources
Herping Virginia encourages all naturalists to practice ethical, safe, and sustainable herping. The use of proper herping methods and techniques is beneficial to both wildlife and herpers. Visit the links below for more information.