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eastern box turtle

Eastern Box Turtle Conservation

We study and monitor eastern box turtle movements, home ranges, growth and survival, and when possible, protect their nests. We’re currently monitoring headstarted turtles recently released back into their natural habitat.

The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is Massachusetts’ only fully terrestrial turtle. Box turtles are more common in southern states, but here in Massachusetts, near the northern edge of their range, they are rarer, and populations have declined significantly in recent decades through habitat loss and fragmentation. Box turtle populations are largely concentrated in the southeast of the state and the Connecticut River Valley. Although there had been scattered reports of individual box turtles in northeastern Massachusetts, sustainable populations were thought to be potentially absent from this area.

In 2017, Zoo New England staff discovered a small but significant population of box turtles in northwestern Middlesex County, and began studying the turtles in order to better understand the population. We monitor turtle movements, home ranges, growth and survival, and when possible, protect their nests. In 2017 and 2018 we collected a small number of hatchlings from protected nests and headstarted the turtles in order to determine whether headstarting might be a viable option for boosting small box turtle populations. We’re currently monitoring the headstarted turtles in the wild, studying their behavior and survival post-release. We have also worked to create new nesting habitats for this population and protect their nests whenever feasible.

We also collaborate with other box turtle researchers around the country to collect similar data to compare our box turtle populations here in the north with other populations throughout their range. Additionally, we've partnered with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to help them monitor adjacent populations just across the Massachusetts state line. We have also begun headstarting New Hampshire box turtles in an effort to boost the population in that state, where the eastern box turtle is listed as Endangered.

➤ Check out the latest turtle tales from our field conservation blog.