Three Toed Box Turtle Determination

In the spring the box turtles move from the west side of the road to the east side. In the fall they go the other way. Both ways the turtle determination to get across is remarkable.

People don’t think about wildlife movements when they put in roads. This is true all over. My road is a good example.

turtle determination to climb
Having passed the first hurdle of crossing the road safely, this three toed box turtle climbed down into the ditch and now faces the climb up the slope. If a turtle falls and lands on its back, it is doomed.

The road is cut into the sides of hills leaving it lined with steep slopes and deep ditches. Some of these have close to vertical sides. Brush cutting keeps the vegetation down leaving bare dirt in many places.

Coming home the other day I spotted a turtle heading across the road. I stopped and watched as it was walking briskly.

Three toed box turtles aren’t really turtles. They are tortoises and have stout legs. They don’t live in water. They are vegetarians.

turtle determination put to the test
A bulldozer came by and dug into the side of the hill many years ago to construct the road. Rain runoff has created small gullies down the slope. But much of the slope remains an almost vertical climb. After dry weather, the dirt is crumbly and slips out from under scrabbling feet. The box turtle slips down 2 steps for every 3 it takes.

Then I realized it was headed for one of those almost vertical bare dirt slopes. With true turtle determination this turtle tackled the slope.

Dirt slid down under its feet. It kept on climbing. The next dirt avalanche took it back to the base of the slope.

Turtle determination took the turtle back to the attack. This time it angled across the slope and ended up under exposed tree roots.

I went over and picked up the turtle. It promptly retired into its shell. I placed it at the top of the slope and waited.

Several minutes went by. The shell rocked as the turtle peeked out. Then it slid down the slope.

Copying turtle determination I picked it up again and placed it more securely at the top of the slope. And waited.

success with help for box turtle
Box turtles are cautious creatures. After slipping back down the slope and being air-lifted back up, this one is warily looking around, feet safely inside its shell. It will stay this way for a long time as turtles are very patient, unlike me. They never have immediate deadlines unless it is to fold up for safety.

The clock ticked. I had to get home soon as sunset was approaching. Chores needed doing before dark.

A head came out. The turtle looked around and saw me still standing there. It watched me as I watched it.

Finally I had to leave. Since I didn’t find the turtle at the base of the slope the next day, its turtle determination had taken it further up the hill to its winter quarters.

More wildlife essays are in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.