Last year I would have said this was one of the luckiest Box turtles around. He’s large, bright colored and outgoing. And though he lives in a small nature preserve in the city, he has an excellent territory with many female turtles around. In my post from 10/16, “Tale of Two Turtles”, I contrasted him with a poor captive boxie that appeared to have been dumped at the LNC. But life has no guarantees, and wild animals have no health care. This past spring, I happened to spot him just emerging from his winter sleep – and it was obvious that something was not right.
Still crusted with mud, he was moving sluggishly on that warm early spring morning. One of his naturally very red eyes was redder than usual. It appeared to be filled with blood, partly obscuring the pupil. What injury or illness could have caused this? Could he see from this eye? Questions I couldn’t answer; so I noted his condition in my turtle data book (one of the most frequently observed boxies, he’s sighting # 37, 87, 138, 216.) I saw him a few days later, still waking up, and did not see him again until about a week ago.
He was near the new trail, which likely cuts through his small home range. Quite unconcerned, he just stood and looked up at me, which is odd behavior for a wild box turtle. And his appearance was so different I didn’t recognize him at first. The distinctive black facial lines finally jogged my memory, and it dawned on me who this was! He’d obviously suffered a setback in health. His formerly bright orange facial pigment had faded, as well as the red pigment in his right eye. I wondered if he could even see from the affected eye. He didn’t make any effort to get away or hide, as most wild boxies will do, so I moved him behind a log out of view from the trail.
Our most recent encounter was reassuring – one morning a few days ago I went out to work at loosening up up the compacted soil of the old trailbed. There he was, hunting snails for breakfast, on the section that had already been turned with the shovel. I was glad to see he benefitted from our digging, since he appeared to have lost weight as well.
In my reading about wild Box turtle diseases, the most common issues appear to be respiratory and eye infections, and ear abcesses. Periodic outbreaks of bacterial infection are not uncommon, and turtles are also susceptible to the ranaviruses that are decimating amphibians. The risk of spreading infection is one more good reason not to move Box turtles around, or dump them in this or any other forest.
I’ll never know what afflicted my old acquaintance, but it’s good to know he was strong enough to survive it. Hopefully he’ll patrol his home range for many decades to come, and father many more baby turtles!