The Strawberry Monsters

The Strawberry Monsters

male eastern box turtle (note orange iris)

They were there this morning, as I'm sure they have been every morning--to plunder. To eradicate. To destroy every last trace of red... from the strawberry bed.

They hide out on the bank full of hostas. And had I not been watering the garden of a friend, I might not have ever witnessed these assassins at work, though their depredations had been described to me before. My friends have tolerated the assault, because, like me... well, their hearts are a little on the soft side, too.

They are Eastern Box Turtles.

Terrapene carolina carolina

. Lover of strawberries and other fruits. And lots of other stuff, since they are omnivores. Mild mannered, slow moving--but you can see the evil lurking in their eyes. At least, you can see it when they've just nommed all your strawberries!

The Eastern Box Turtle is the state reptile of North Carolina (AND Tennessee), and he's a cutie. [I'm reckoning these states chose box turtles instead of copperheads as state reptiles because the box turtles had better lobbyists.] He is a

land

turtle, so do NOT throw him in a pond if you find one. The pair I observed this morning have landed in a vat of chocolate, because my friends cherish their presence and do not

begrudge them the strawberries (and other things) they consume. They just plant more strawberries.

female eastern box turtle (her irises were brown)

Females will grow larger than males, up to eight inches long. The males have red to orange irises, where the females have brown to yellow. There are many c

olor variations, with younger turtles being the more vividly colored. The female shell is typically more "domed," and the male's shell is slightly concave on the bottom to facilitate mating. Like the rest of the animal kingdom, box turtles need access to fresh, clean water, but do not require it for the successful production of young (since they are reptiles, not amphibians). It is thought that young box turtles are carnivorous (sound like any other critter we've discussed, lately?), though good data has apparently been hard to come by.

A hinged shell that allows these turtles to completely "box" themselves in is what gives the species it's name. Besides strawberries, they also eat earthworms, slugs, insects...and also grass and flowers. However, if I were to find one in my garden, I would certainly endeavor to keep her around, since my friends have hostas that are far less slug-eaten than mine! Moist, forested areas are where box turtles are the most healthy and that description certainly fits the edges of their property. "Messy" areas, which are also good for birds, are another feature you will need to keep box turtles happy.

Male box turtle showing off his sexy legs

According to Indiana's site, high population density is essential to the species because the males search for mates by sight--quite a chore from three inches off the ground in dense, moist woodlands! It is for this reason that it is important not to remove the creatures from the wild should you come across one, since only two or three young may survive from a clutch of eggs. You don't want to take home the only female around!

Finally, I'm quoting directly from Virginia's website as to food sources, so if you have enough property to encourage a population of box turtles, you'll know what to plant/leave in place. These turtles will consume: 

"Fruits include blackberry, mayapple, elderberry, sweet low-bush blueberry, maple-leaf viburnum, muscadine grape, white mulberry, wild strawberry, black cherry, and wineberry. Animals eaten are slugs, terrestrial snails, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, dusky salamanders, slimy salamanders. Mushrooms are also consumed."

Add domestic strawberries to that list.  :) 

Sources: 

The Eastern Box Turtle

Wikipedia

Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources

Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries

Getting Thrashed

Getting Thrashed

Sweet Kate

Sweet Kate