The Seasonal Almanac: The Box Turtle, Daylight Saving Time and Finale of the Comet and Mars

The Seasonal Almanac covers astronomical events and nature, including all about the box turtle, who is on daylight saving time and the finale of Comet Hale-Bopp and Mars.

| April/May 1997

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    The longevity of turtles is also remarkable. This seems especially surprising for such a relatively small species. Box turtles have a life span much like that of humans.

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The Seasonal Almanac shares astronomical events in April and March 1997. This issue includes information on the box turtle, is daylight saving time really necessary and the best all-around chance to view Comet Hale-Bopp. 

They're almost everyone's favorite reptile. Well, okay, that's not saying much. But turtles really are one of our world's most unusual and fascinating creatures, and there is something that both adults and kids find downright likable about them (even those turtles that aren't teenage, mutant, or ninjas).

By midspring, many of us living around freshwater or forests will notice turtles out and about. Actually, five of the six families of turtles are sea creatures that most people never get to see. But I'd like to concentrate on the land turtles, or "tortoises," and specifically on one of the most remarkable: the box turtle. Of course the most amazing thing about turtles is that their ribs have grown out to form a more or less protective shell around them. But no species has taken this further than the box turtle.

It's shell (or carapace) is highly vaulted, almost spherical, and the shell underneath the belly (the plastron) has a hinge running across it. This arrangement allows the box turtle to pull head, legs, and tail completely within the shell (the legs of turtles are attached within the ribs). In some individual box turtles, the shell closes up so tight that not even a knife blade can slip in. There is no other species on earth even remotely like it.

The longevity of turtles is also remarkable. This seems especially surprising for such a relatively small species. Box turtles have a life span much like that of humans: They are not fully grown until about 20 years old, and many have lived to be 70 or 80, with a few probably reaching 100. It's strange to think of the same 6 inch-long creatures plodding the woodlands around where you live, decade after decade, for an entire human lifetime. But then again, I plod along fairly regularly myself.

The Eastern Box Turtle is common across much of the eastern US., but there are a few other species and subspecies of box turtle sharing its range—and extending that range west of the Appalacians and even to the southwest. You are unlikely to confuse a box turtle for another kind; a more interesting trick, however, is distinguishing a male from a female. If you can get a close enough look before the turtle withdraws into the shell, check the eyes: The male's are usually a bright red, while the female's are brown or dark red. A more certain, if less easy, distinction is a concave area in the plastron of the male.

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