This fall I am teaching a Diversity of Life course at Rosemont College in Philadelphia. My students will each be required to create a Nature Observation Blog, where they will post their observations of at least 15 animals, 15 plants, and 10 other organisms that they can find, identify, and observe during September. I will post links to my student's pages once they are up. Here is a sample of the type of posts they will be creating for each observation:
Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
I found this turtle while birding at Peace Valley Park, Bucks County, PA on 27 April 2011. It was in the middle of a grassy trail through the woods--about 3 yards from the closest bushes on either side of the trail. When I first observed it, the turtle seemed alert, raised up high on its legs with its neck extended up high. I watched it for a few minutes through my binoculars, at about 15 yards away. As I got closer, it slowly pulled into its shell. It remained tightly pulled back into its shell as I picked it up. After I put it down, I walked off about 10 yards and continued to watch it for a few minutes, but it didn't come back out while I was still there.
What was the turtle doing out in the open? Why was it alert--had it already seen me before I had seen it? When do box turtles assume this alert position? What sensory methods (sight, vibration, etc.) are most important for box turtles? How do they use those methods to detect and interact with their environment? How old and what sex is this turtle? How does box turtle coloration vary by age and sex?
Stickel, Lucille F. Populations and Home Range Relationships of the Box Turtle, Terrapene c. carolina (Linnaeus), Ecological Monographs, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Oct., 1950), pp. 351-378
Stickel found that the average home range for a male turtle was 330 feet in diameter, while that of a female was 370 feet, so looks like this turtle isn't going to be going very far--though she found that turtles do sometimes make extended trips outside of their home range. The ranges of turtles overlapped, so perhaps there are other turtles nearby, and they like to have a nice open spot for sunning themselves in their home range, so perhaps this turtle was sunning itself when I found it there in the open.
Pennsylvania Herp Identification