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Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network - Réseau Canadien de 
Conservation des Amphibiens et des Reptiles

Terrapene carolina
Tortue tabatière / Eastern Box Turtle


Tortue boîte de l'est

Description
Eastern Box Turtles reach a maximum of 20 cm carapace length. They have a high domed carapace with a shallow keel. The carapace has highly variable bold patterns, usually of yellow, orange or red streaks or blotches on black or brown. The plastron, which is usually plain, has a single hinge which permits box turtles to close the shell tightly at both ends when the turtle withdraws into its shell. Hatchlings have a much flatter carapace with a pronounced keel and are generally a plain grayish brown with a yellow spot on each large scute.

Confusing Species
Blanding's Turtle has a hinged plastron, but this cannot be closed completely. The carapace is flatter with numerous light spots. The Stinkpot has a hinged plastron but it is small with areas of soft skin between the scutes. It has light stripes above and below the eye.

Distribution
In Canada, the Eastern Box Turtle is restricted to southern Ontario, primarily in the Point Pelee area. It is distributed through much of the eastern United States as far south as Florida and Texas.

Habitat
The eastern box turtle is found in open woodlands, grasslands or marshy meadows. They are primarily terrestrial but may soak in mud or water during the day as a means of controlling body temperature and preventing dessication. Females may also soak before and after nesting.

Reproduction
They become sexually mature at five to seven years of age. Mating activity starts in May and nesting occurs from May to July. Females can store sperm and after a single mating can lay fertilized eggs for up to four years. They deposit three to seven thin-shelled eggs in shallow (76 - 100mm) flask-shaped terrestrial nests in woods or on open, elevated patches of rich soil. Females commonly lay two clutches of eggs in a season. The eggs hatch in September or October but the hatchlings remain in the nest over the winter.

Natural History
The eastern box turtle is a diurnal species, basking ind foraging during the day and resting at night. They are primarily carnivorous and will feed in the water as well as on land. Main food items include terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, fish, frogs and carrion but they will also eat roots, stems, fruits and seeds. During the winter box turtles hibernate in burrows under loose soil or organic debris. They are freeze tolerant and as much as 58% of their body water can freeze, with ice forming in the body cavity and surrounding muscles and limbs. Individuals thaw slowly when the temperature exceeds 0oC.

Conservation Concerns
Based on archaeological evidence box turtles were native to Canada up to the 1500's after which their numbers were so reduced that it appeared they had been extirpated. They are popular as pets because they are easy to keep. It is likely that the rare individuals observed in southern Ontario in the twentieth century were released pets. According to COSEWIC there is insufficient data available to determine the conservation status of these populations in Canada.