Turtle time

By David Broyles

July 18, 2013

Being in the line of work that I’m in has given me extra incentive to attempt not to be oblivious of things going on around me. Often, it is what’s happening just on the outskirts of an event that becomes a lens to view it under. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sight hound tendencies in my genome and I regularly seem to rediscover I’m not seeing a forest for the trees.

One such “ah ha” moment happened recently when Ranger Nick Bowman casually mentioned an ongoing project known as The Box Turtle Collaborative. What? It sounds like something akin to the Borg on Star Trek, but it’s not. Questioning Bowman later I found out this and its grassroots component, The Box Turtle Connection, have been quietly amassing data about the little shelled rascals for years.

It seems biologists have noticed what they think is a steady decline in box turtle populations in North Carolina and they’d like to know why. This requires measuring, tracking, marking and GPS coordinates for sightings. Lemme just say I like box turtles. I think they have a lot of personality and the little armored beasts have earned a soft spot in my heart.

Whenever I am scared by the prospect of an awful day, I consider the lowly box turtle. Does it have speed? No. Neither does it appear to possess fearsome weapons, cunning, stealth or a host of positive attributes its woodland neighbors have.

It does appear to have a marked ability to be overlooked. Not the best of cloaking devices but haven’t we all wanted to have this ability in small doses from time to time. The turtle lugs its home around with it and even that isn’t a luxury camping trailer. It’s major two virtues are it is a protective shell and the turtle can completely hide as it hisses a warning to anyone grabbing it like it was some kind of low dollar leprechaun.

No greater metaphor for everyone’s inner Don Quixote exists than the yearly sightings of box turtles crossing the road. Wow. Talk about a task fraught with peril. Oh, the toll highways have taken on turtles in particular and wildlife in general. Sure groundhogs lick salt off gravel and possums forage for roadkill, but the menu comes at a price. The same is true for turtles heading for areas to lay their eggs.

Yes, I blush to admit I am one of those persons who will pull off the road whenever I can and run out, lecture the turtle and place it on the other side of the road. I don’t know why exactly, but it’s just I have so often found I am the turtle in Life. I hope the folks with the Collaborative can find out the answer.

The Box Turtle Collaborative is a team of scientists, educators and wildlife professionals who are interested in learning more about box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) in North Carolina. Representatives from two universities (Davidson College and UNC Greensboro) and four state agencies (NC Wildlife Resources Commission, NC State Parks, NC Zoo, and NC State Museum of Natural Sciences) came together in 2007 and initiated a plan to collect data on box turtles from around the state. There’s room for input from us average folk as well.

Interested persons may contact Ann Berry Somers, Chair Box Turtle Collaborative Department of Biology at UNC Greensboro, P.O. Box 26179, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170 or email at or contact Gabrielle Graeter, NC Wildlife Resources Wildlife Diversity Biologist by emailing

David Broyles is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at or 719-1952.