know it’s spring in Wendy Croswell’s garden when
more than flowers begin to bloom.
truly gardening season when, and only when six eastern
box turtles – three males called Murtle, Flash and
Fred and three females known as Ms. T, Tutu and Louie
— wake from their winter sleep in her southeastern
nine years ago, Murtle showed up — I just thought he
was so cool," she says.
had seen one that had been run over in the street and
thought how sad that we are taking over their habitat.
Since my yard is a wildlife habitat — how prefect to
host turtles. Ms.T followed a year or so later — she
was almost run over by a golf cart. I think she had eggs
because the next spring I kept digging up babies."
turtles emerge covered in soil and bits of mud, looking
a little sleepy and out of sorts. Croswell captures
their every movement and mood with her cameras, a Canon
Rebel or Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS24, posting daily antics
on her Facebook page @Wendy Waterman Croswell. There are
always tales of humor and wit, in Croswell’s unique
way, to go with each turtle entry.
out last year, as I do most mornings, scanning the
garden and yard for turtle activity, I saw the strangest
thing – Ms. T tipped up on her end," she says.
had to look twice because I couldn’t believe what I
was seeing. I then ran for the camera because I knew no
one else would believe it either. Murtle was close by.
She normally just closes up her shell when he’s
around, so I don’t know. I have never found him in
this position since."
seems some of those positions amount to turtle love, as
evidence by the dozens of baby turtles Croswell now
feeds meal worms to until they learn to forage on their
makes no extra effort to keep the turtles in her yard
because they seem to naturally want to hang out there.
The yard is fenced but they can easily dig under if they
have it good," she says.
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bought mealworms when Baby T was little, dug up worms
and grubs, which are nasty. So funny how they fight over
worms — seems like they would rather grab it outta the
other one’s mouth.
love fresh fruits and veggies but will eat table scraps,
too. I have seen two of them at a pile of dog poop,
eating. I don’t kiss them!"
turtle in its own way shows off its own personality. The
girls seem to hiss, more, according to Croswell.
found Murtle on Ms. T and thought he was beating her up,
only to discover he was a male and trying to breed. I
made him mad and he hissed at me," she says.
T likes Flash more than Murtle. The boys tolerate each
other – I don’t try to feed them together."
garden is mostly a shady spot so the turtles love
hanging out there among the coolness on hot summer days.
Her favorite garden plants include sweet-smelling white
ginger, peonies, lily-of-the-valley and hostas.
Hummingbirds flock to her Black and Blue salvia and
"peanut butter tree," which is often called
the butterfly tree for its ability to attract dozens of
black swallowtails. Named Clerodendrum trichotomum, the
tree features leaves that smell like peanut butter when
rubbed and fragrant flowers that attract hummingbirds
and butterflies, followed by black-blue berries that
occasion, Croswell has sought the advice of turtle
experts at the Virginia Living Museum – www.thevlm.org
— in Newport News, Va., where Travis Land is
can be a variety of turtles that you will see pass
through yards throughout the year, but the eastern box
turtle, or Terrapene Carolina, is the only one species
that lives permanently on land, according to Travis.
These turtles can be highly variable in color — from
dark browns, to mixes of bright reds and yellows.
However, every individual of this species will always
have that iconic, highly-domed shell.
become very active after rainstorms, and will eat a wide
variety of food in the wild since they are
omnivorous," he says.
people have reported seeing box turtles around their
gardens taking advantage of any food that has fallen on
the ground. Since these turtles usually will stay within
a relatively small territory during their life, it’s
very common to see the same box turtle year after
other species of turtles that people may see passing
through their yard are a few different species of
aquatic turtles. Nearly all of these will most likely be
females seeking an area to lay their eggs. It is highly
advised to let them continue the way they are heading,
as they have a very specific area in mind that they are
trying to get to. These turtles are known to travel
significant distances from the water in order to find
the site they lay their eggs year after year. These
river cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna)
redbellied cooter (Pseudemys rubriventris)
turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
snapping turtle is one that I would advise people to
leave alone if at all possible," he says.
can be very aggressive when confronted or cornered out
of the water, and have a very long neck (up to
three-quarters the length of the shell) that they can
use to bite things with tremendous force. They will turn
to face their aggressor, so leaving them alone is
usually the best course of action."
attract and protect turtles in your yard, do not use
fertilizers, pesticides, or other chemicals in your yard
or gardens because the turtles eat the bugs and fruit
that will have those products on them, according to
mowers often cause a lot of box turtle injuries because
homeowners mow tall grass and don’t see them.
distribute seeds from the fruit they eat, and they are a
joy to see in the wild," he says.
experience, though, turtles don’t make good pets –
they are very messy and live a long time."
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turtles prefer lots of leaf litter and low-growing
vegetation. A small pile leaves or wax myrtle branches
will serve as a good hiding spot. Box turtles are mainly
attracted to food items by their color, so bright red
strawberries and tomatoes are generally favored. A dense
patch of strawberry plants perfectly combines cover and
native plants that box turtles will also eat include
mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), pokeweed (Phytolacca
americana), and jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum).
black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), elderberry (Sambucus
canadensis), mulberries (Morus species), blackberries (Rubus
species) and American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).
of non-releasable turtles are available through rescues
not move a box turtle to another habitat. They have a
small home range and excellent homing abilities. They
will attempt to cross a six-lane highway to return to
their original home.
Virginia Herpetological Society where you can get help
identifying turtles at its Facebook page at
Kory Steele of Newport News, president of Virginia
Herpetological Society at www.vaherpsociety.com
Van Mullekom is the garden/home columnist for the Daily
Press in Newport News, Va. Follow her on Facebook@Kathy
Hogan Van Mullekom, on
Twitter @diggindirt and at Pinterest@digginin. Her blog
can be read at Diggin@RoomandYard.com. Email her at
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and at Pinterest@digginin. Her blog can be read at
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Her blog can be read at Diggin@RoomandYard.com. Email
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