The Box Turtle

by James L. Cummins

The term “box turtle” can refer to either the Asian box turtle or to the North American box turtle. Box turtles are characterized by their domed shell which is hinged at the bottom. This hinging allows the turtle to tightly close its shell providing better protection from predators. While this domed, hinged shell is common to both genera, the turtles differ in habitat, behavior and appearance.

The North American box turtle, which is what we will be referring to in this article, is omnivorous. Their sharp eyes and keen sense of smell help them to find foods such as snails, berries, fungi, slugs, worms, roots, flowers, fish, frogs, snakes, salamanders, birds and eggs. Their feasting preference varies by season but there is a definite trend as to age. The young are primarily carnivorous leading them to hunt for their food in ponds and streams during their first 5 to 7 years, while the adults usually feed on land as they tend to be more herbivorous. However, box turtles eat no green leaves.

Temperatures tend to determine activity rates. The preferred body temperature of the box turtle is between 84˚ and 100˚F. This is why in the heat of summer, box turtles restrict their activities to mainly mornings or after it rains. If they get too uncomfortable in the heat, they will hide under decaying logs and leaves, crawl into abandoned mammal burrows or dig into the mud. In the spring and fall, with the cooler temperatures, the box turtle will forage during daylight hours, sometimes stopping to bask in the sun for warmth. Box turtles are active in daytime and will scoop out a shallow bed for the night.

Box turtles go into hibernation by November in the Northern regions, but remain active on into December in the warmer Southern climates. To hibernate, they will dig up to 2 feet deep. They often return to the same place to hibernate and sometimes more than one turtle will share this place. Hibernation typically lasts until April.

These turtles have a home range with a diameter of 750 feet or less in which they normally stay. For unknown reasons, they will occasionally journey beyond their range and will find themselves within the space of another turtle. Though this seems intrusive, when found together, these turtles show no antagonism towards each other.

The biggest problem facing the box turtle is habitat destruction. Woodlands converted into farmland have reduced the range of these turtles in many states. The remaining available land is often fragmented with housing projects and roads. These obstacles break up the turtles’ habitat.

A further threat includes the capturing and selling of wild-born box turtles. Some states, such as Indiana, have laws against the collection of turtles from the wild and in many states it is illegal to keep them without a permit. Collecting box turtles from the wild may cause irreparable damage to the turtle population because they are already hindered by a low reproductive rate compounded by their inability to easily find a mate.

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American Green Tree Frog

American Green Tree Frog

by James L. Cummins

The American green tree frog is a common species of tree frog belonging to the family Hylidae. It is native to central and southeast United States, and their geographic range runs from the eastern shore of Maryland to southeast Florida, with populations as far west as central Texas and as far north as Delaware and southern New Jersey.

As indicated by their name, they are mostly a bright green color with a lighter white or cream-colored strip from the side of the head down to the flanks. However, the coloring can change depending on lighting or temperature making them appear anywhere from a bright, yellowish olive to a dark green, almost brown color. These frogs are small and have extremely porous skin.

The green tree frog is nocturnal, and the males are especially active and vocal at night. If you consider keeping one of these adorable creatures as a pet–with its big eyes and perpetually smiling mouth–it is best to keep it separate from sleeping quarters.

This tree frog has the same temperature requirements as humans, thriving at temperatures between 70° and 75°F, with humidity levels around 50 to 60% during daytime hours. It is no wonder they are so perfectly suited for southern areas.

Green tree frogs feed primarily off insects. Fruit flies, moths, worms, house flies, mosquitoes, and other insects are devoured by these frogs, but crickets are their preferred meal. It seems the more active their meals appear, the more attracted the frogs are to that food source.

As the name suggests, the tree frog is tree-dwelling, but they also must have a clean water source, especially in breeding season. Therefore, this species is commonly found near lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, and other wetlands. They particularly prefer habitats with floating plants such as lily pads, duckweed, grasses, or cattails.

Breeding for this frog is highly influenced by day length, temperature, and precipitation. While the reasoning of this is not completely understood, it is well-documented that the frogs generally breed following rainfall. Also, males call more frequently as temperatures rise and daylight hours increase.

Most American green tree frog females breed once a year, but some have multiple clutches in a single mating season. Once a female frog has accepted a male’s breeding call and he has fertilized her eggs, she deposits her clutch in shallow water among aquatic plants. Clutch sizes usually average between 700 and 800, although there have been numbers as high as 2,100. The fertilized eggs will hatch after a week, and the tadpoles will complete their metamorphosis into frogs within a month.

Although many frogs and other amphibians are in decline worldwide, the American green tree frog seems to be an exception. While they do face some threats, they are listed as “least concern” by International Union for Conservation of Nature, which notes its population as large, stable, and widespread.

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