Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Turtle Project

Since box turtle patterns are said to be as unique as fingerprints, I've decided to see how many different individual box turtles I can identify on our 10 acres.

My memory is that they range over about 5 acres and they are not strongly territorial, so more than one can be ranging over the same territory or overlapping it significantly.

To help me in identifying and remembering them, especially while I'm out walking and away from the computer, I'm breaking my normal rule of thumb and personalizing them with names, where those names make sense. Here are a couple males that I've tagged so far....

Sam Spade is named for the spade-like mark on the back of his shell, an enlargement of the dorsal line there. He's a big, colorful male that I've seen twice - in about the same 50' area - in the last couple weeks.

Don Quixote is named for the wounds on the back of his shell. He's smaller and not very colorful - at first I mistook him for a female, since his legs show little coloring. I'm guessing that the scars are from a run-in with a lawnmower. I found him last Thursday morning, down on the path in the draw.

The third male that I've found hasn't been named yet, as I haven't noticed anything strongly unique about him yet. He's very colorful and good sized, with less marking overall than the other two. I last saw him about a month ago.

Interestingly, all 3 of these males (and several females) have been in the Cedar Grove/Draw area. How far away will they travel from this central location? Will there be a seasonal pattern to their travel? Has the drought changed their patterns this year? Will I see the same individuals from year to year? Lots of fun questions to answer!


Melanie said...

I'm amazed that you can tell them apart. .I didn't realize that the patterns on their shells were so unique.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Isn't that interesting? Tiger stripes are unique, too, as are zebra stripes, I believe.

ProfessorRoush said...

I'm for naming the third one "Helmet Head"...for the roughed up area of the shell behind and left of his head.

Gaia Gardener: said...

I actually think the roughed up area is simply dirt - I think he'd just come up from hiding out below ground...although I could be wrong. Pig Pen maybe??? (Or I'd thought about Beau Brummel, an English dandy who was known for his quiet clothes in an era of excess.) I really need to see him again to get the gestalt of his personality. (Yeah, I know...but I'm having fun being ridiculous about this!)

Patrick's Garden said...

It's awe inspiring to see the advance of science your latest project is accomplishing. But seriously cute post.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Patrick, You strike me to the core!!! Here I thought this was truly cutting edge stuff! LOL!

You'll be thrilled to know that I've recently added a 4th male to my line-up - one we saved from a suicide mission, crossing the road from one highly plowed field to another highly plowed field. His name is Stumpy because his left front leg is missing all but one claw. He's not letting it stop him at all, though!

Carey Mitchell said...

Happy to see that someone else has turtles in the yard.

I have one, named "Mama" who has been around for 3 or 4 years. Last year she got tame enough to eat strawberries from my hand. She spent much of the summer under some boxwoods in front of the house; it is only about 15 feet to the tomatoes and strawberries and she made the trek several times a day.

This spring I found a newly hatched youngster while mowing. Took him in to show the wife and when I went back there was another female, about 1/2 Mama's size, just a couple of feet from where I found the little one. I turned around and there was yet another full-grown female eating a tomato - all within a 10 foot radius.

During the next 4 days I found a total of 7 box turtles, including 2 young, all less than 20 feet from the 2 tomato plants. I identify them with dots of paint (no harm, same as nail polish on fingernails).

One female, called "3 Dot" for her 3 yellow dots, has occupied Mama's place under the boxwoods since May; I see her nearly every day. She will now take strawberries from my hand.

We will be downsizing in the spring. I told the real estate lady that the contract will include specific requirements to take care of my turtles.

We also have a pair of barred owls who have nested in a hollow tree across the street for almost 10 years. They and their offspring perch on the neighbor's deck railing and keep them awake all night. Last week the adults were in a poplar in our back yard and one spent some time on our deck rail. The sounds they make in addition to their classic hooting are amazing.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Carey, your turtles sound like a great "family"! Finding 3 within a 10' radius?! That's awesome.

I'm sorry to hear that you are downsizing and leaving your home next spring, but I hope that whoever moves in will adopt your turtles and take good care of them into the future. Meanwhile, you'll have a new place to explore and make your own. That's not all bad!

Best of luck - and enjoy your time with turtles and owls....

Cynthia, aka Gaia gardener