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eastern box turtle

Eastern Box Turtles

The Eastern box turtle (Terrapena carolina carolina) is Massachuetts’ only terrestrial turtle. Box turtles are more common in southern states, but here in Massachusetts, near the northern edge of their range, they are much less common, 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 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 an adjacent population just across the Massachusetts state line.

In the News: ZNE helps provide housing and critical care for illegally trafficked turtles

Nearly 100 eastern box turtles were recently confiscated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from an illegal shipment, many suffering from ear and eye infections. They needed treatment fast. As part of The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Turtle SAFE program, our veterinary team at Zoo New England along with New England Aquarium and Roger Williams Park Zoo & Carousel Village were able to provide housing and critical care for these turtles when they needed it.

Sadly, as the weeks passed and symptoms in many of the turtles became more severe, it was discovered that a ranavirus outbreak was responsible. The likelihood of disease transmission grows drastically with these types of mass wildlife shipments. Dr. Chris Bonar of Zoo New England says, “Sadly, these confiscated turtles are a stark reminder of the realities of the illegal trade in wildlife. We hope that through their story we can better educate the public to reduce the demand and prevent future incidents like this.”

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From our Blog

Visit our Field Conservation blog, where you can expect tales from the field, interesting nature facts, and the occasional guest post from one of our local – or international! – community partners. Here are a few "turtle tales" from the blog: