Monday, April 16, 2012

Slow and Steady...

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Slow and Steady...

Delaware Indians called them “sticky heels,” and they are well known for their perseverance and wisdom. If you asked me what animal I think that I most resemble, I would tell you I’m a turtle.

Once, our daughter looked at hubby and me relaxing in our brown leather recliners and laughingly proclaimed us her “turtles” because she said we looked like we had rolled over and couldn’t get up. The list of similarities identified by our children between us and the longest living vertebrates continued to grow.

When we travel, we like to be self-sufficient taking our comforts (pillows, snacks, beverages, etc.) with us. I drive the speed limit or under. Remember, “55, stay alive.” We usually don’t stray too far from home and like familiar things.

Finally, my license plate says “Turtles.”

When we were in college at East Carolina University and traveling home on weekends, if we saw a turtle crossing the road, we stopped and put it on the side of the road in the direction in which it was headed. Thus began our attachment to the reptiles.

This year we’ve already seen several box turtles in the yard probably foraging for food, seeking warmth in the sunshine, or looking for a place to lay their eggs. Because they move so slowly, they are one of the few wild creatures that you can examine closely without bothering them.

The April/May edition of the National Wildlife magazine contains an informative article by Janet Marinelli about box turtles (click here to check out the article). Like so many animals today, their habitat is being threatened by land development and poachers who sell them as pets.

In 1979, the NC General Assembly designated the turtle as the official state reptile. Although they appear to be mundane creatures, they contribute to the environment in many ways.

March through October are active months when they lay eggs, gain weight, and eat almost anything that crosses their path including insect pests, snails and slugs. They are also considered valuable agents in the process of spreading seeds.

Seeds of plants such as mayapple, pokeweed, elderberry, persimmon, and summer and frost grapes benefit from passing through the gut of turtles which increases their germination.

Female turtles can often be seen digging depressions in which they will lay their eggs. Unfortunately, they are sometimes eaten by raccoons, foxes, or crows. Female box turtles can actually store sperm which allows them to produce eggs for several years.

You can attract turtles to your yard by cultivating wild species that produce fruit that they favor. Leave areas of natural leaf litter mulch where they can sleep. Clear, sunny areas are perfect for basking and laying their eggs while shady moist areas provide places for them to spend the hot summer days.

Try to walk around your yard before you mow because lawnmowers like cars are treacherous for the reptiles. Finally, take a lesson from the turtles, and slow down yourself.
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