Last week, I was leading a group on a nature walk around Nancy’s Meadow when one of my students spotted an Eastern box turtle. With its high, domed carapace marked in a pattern of golden lines and spots, the box turtle is easily identifiable and quite common. But spotting one in January? Not so common.
Turtles are true hibernators. During the winter months, these charming members of the reptile family are in a deep sleep, burrowing under leaves and dirt until the arrival of spring. They don’t eat during hibernation, and their heart rate and respiration slow significantly. It’s true that box turtles will occasionally wake on warmer days, but January temperatures usually assure the turtle plenty of beauty sleep.
Despite my fears that a midwinter turtle sighting is yet another indication of global climate change, I’m not one to let a teachable moment pass. My students and I examined the turtle’s scutes, or scales, and gently lifted the turtle to take a look at the lower shell that makes up the plastron. By the plastron’s concave shape, we could tell that this turtle was undoubtedly a boy. After christening him Gilbert, we tucked the turtle back where we found him and continued on our walk.
Weather forecasters predict more unseasonably warm weather for the upcoming week. How changing climate patterns will ultimately affect Gilbert’s health and well-being is harder to predict.
by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator
Photo by Matt Reinboldhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/furryscalyman/294137530/