Art on the Move

Jun 29, 2015

Frequently, I see ornate box turtles crossing a country road or highway. Because I like this home-carrying little reptile, I dodge these little speed bumps. While seeing them slowly lumber across the road triggers a smile, I hadn’t thought much about these Kansas state reptiles until recently.

This summer, I’ve been waking up early to enjoy the cool morning air as I water, weed, and pick veggies. A bonus of rising with the sun is meeting some of my yard neighbors that hide during the heat of the day.

One of those new friends is a good size box turtle that hangs out under my rose bushes in the mornings. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and today we met officially. This terrapene ornata, according to scientists is at the larger end of expected sizes for a box turtle.  I’d guess its shell is three to four inches across and five or six inches long. I didn’t have a measuring tape on hand at 6:30 a.m. for an official measurement, but it’s bigger than most turtles navigating Kansas roadways.

This particular reptile’s shell is dark with distinct yellow markings on the scutes or plates. Before she tucked her head inside her shell, I noted yellowish rather than reddish-orange eyes, which means she meets the criteria to be called “she.”

Like all box turtles, she has a hinged plastron that lets her tuck her head and limbs safely inside her shell. This ability frustrates hungry coyotes and other predators, but it won’t stop a vehicle cruising down the highway, one of this creature’s worst enemies. The minute she sensed me heading her way, she tucked in everything tuckable and turned into a pet rock.

I confess I still picked her up even though she made it perfectly clear she wanted to be left alone. Like any unhappy female, she promptly got even. Without sticking out head or legs, she peed and made me jump backward to avoid a splattering.

Once I finished my inspection of her gorgeous masterpiece of black and yellow shell, I rewarded this pretty girl. I set a couple of pieces of melon in front of her so there would be a little something to make her day when she finally stuck her head out. Apparently, she can smell and likes cantaloupe because it was gone by the time I got upstairs to spy on her through the window.

After researching facts about box turtles, I can see why she likes her flowerbed home. I keep it damp, there are lots of sow bugs or roly-polies and other insects to meet her carnivorous dietary needs, and the temperature is more agreeable in that dark corner than most places in the yard. Containing the softest soil on the hilltop, it’s a great place to dig in to hibernate for the winter, which might explain my new friend’s greater than average size.

From now on, she’ll get a daily serving of melon or fruit to enhance her diet. With room service like that, this lady will be glad to call this corner of Trego County home. I wonder how big my walking work of art will be next summer.