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Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 6:27a
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

A Note on Box Turtle Reproduction

David S. Lee
Tortoise Reserve, Inc., P.O. Box 7082, White Lake, NC 28337; E-mail: TorResInc@aol.com

Robert B. Lyons of Purellville, Virginia, provided photographs and a brief written report on the following activity of a female eastern box turtle.

On the morning of 28 June 1994, Bob Lyon found a female box turtle digging a nest in his garden. She was missing her right hind leg from the knee down, yet she laid three eggs and refilled the hole. All the digging and filling was done with the left hind leg, with no apparent movements of what remained of the right leg. Two of the three eggs dropped directly into the nest hole, one egg, which could not be positioned because of the missing leg, was hung up and remained above and to the right of the nest chamber as the hole was backfilled. The entire process lasted about an hour and a half (11:00 to 12:30 AM). Once nesting was complete the female turtle walked back into the woods. She appeared to “...walk as straight as any other box turtle”.

On the morning of 24 September 1994 the family dog discovered an empty egg at the surface of the ground where this turtle had nested. Bob scratched loose the dirt and an “inch or two” down found empty shells of the other two eggs. Apparently this nest was successful.

From the photos it is obvious that this turtle was old. The anterior marginals are missing and the shell damage extends into the costal and marginals. Vertebral scutes and several marginals appear to be flaking off and in a number of place the carapace bone is exposed (coastals, vertebrals and marginals). The right side of the shell is quite damaged with scutes absent from nearly 50% of the carapace. The shell appears to be long healed (shell descriptions from photos). This damage is consistent with a turtle being hit by a car. Lyon’s niece recalls placing a band-aid on the right hind leg of a box turtle she had discovered in the same yard about 35 years previously. The shell was broken and the leg was nearly severed as a result of it being run over by an automobile. Could this be the same turtle? I wouldn’t rule it out.

I submit this note not because of any academic merit, but because I have seen several published articles addressing concerns about egg laying in female turtles with missing limbs. In sea turtles artificial hind limbs have even been placed on females so that they could nest. The resilience of turtles and their ability to continue to contribute to the population even when severely handicapped is one of the factors that makes them so endearing.